Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Brief Thought on Fear

One of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "Fear is the mother of morality." This quote was brought to the forefront of my thoughts while reading on Confucius and his ways of the Superior Man. The correlation to the Nietzschian Ubermensch immediately disclosed itself, but it was the three items that Confucius noted which made me pause.

“The way of the superior man is threefold, but I am not equal to it. Virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from perplexities; bold, he is free from fear.”

When do we consider that we fear something? Fear seems to arise from a lack of control. Death, for example, can be a prime motivator to believe in a God. For Confucius, knowledge was "the" component to being superior. For Nietzsche, not being a "slave" elevated the person. Each thinker expressed a common sentiment: it is freedom which we desire to attain and in this freedom we become better.

Back in college I had to give a two minute unprepared speech on the famous FDR quote regarding fear. I argued that the statement "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" was wrong. Fear can be a great motivator, but only when we are strong. I find this sentiment in the superior man reference, but in a different approach.

Confucius would want us to be free from fear by being bold. It would be easy to read this as we should not fear but I do not feel that would be accurate. Through virtue and wisdom we attain a level of confidence and vision so to embrace and overcome fear. What this demands is a high level of honesty to self and others, and to a greater degree personal accountability. As long as I am binding myself to a belief system which inherently has me limited I will turn to it when fear grips me.

This idea is obviously deeper and more complex than a hit and run blog entry but at the surface there is a basic element at work. While we sit and marvel at those around us who overcome and succeed, what is it that holds us back? Fear of public speaking, fear of humiliation, fear of loneliness or fear of failure are but a few stones. Honesty towards the obstacles is a start which then leads one to the "path'. Once on the path we must be careful that fear does not handcuff us in a manner that Nietzsche warned: that being a system which requires acceptance of rules without question. It is then that we can be bold enough to see the stones not as obstacles but as parts of the path which we are creating.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

With the recent press surrounding Shirley Sherrod's unfortunate firing we have been given the opportunity to reflect on a few evident and elemental aspects as to how we should express and obtain information. The fear tactics used by the Left during the recent Bush administration (loss of privacy) along with those used by the Right related to Obama (Socialism) predate this event but carry the same poison. The easiest thing to do when confronted with an idea is to react. The more difficult approach is investigation as it could inherently change one's established beliefs. In either example above the individual is faced with the problem of trust. Do I trust the source? Do I trust myself?

What is at the heart of the Sherrod issue? Some would have you believe (Keith Olbermann) that it is a mandate against Fox News and the right in general. Some would have you believe that it is a commentary on the racism within black institutions (Andrew Breitbart). There are other red herring's at play as much as there are other examples that could be given. Though there may be an element of truth contained within these positions, they do not represent the greater concern. What they do is to rally a specific segment of their audience by feeding to their established opinions on certain issues and in doing so actually illuminate where the heart resides.

In an article from The Guardian, Lola Adesioye writes:

That the NAACP, itself supposed to be an organisation concerned with equality, was so fast to denounce Sherrod as "shameful" is another surprising twist – it also had to backtrack once the full video was made available. Rather than taking responsibility for not using due diligence and checking the facts, the NAACP said it had been "snookered" by Breitbart and Fox News. The truth is, the NAACP was not "snookered"; it simply failed to act in a professional manner.

Conservatives can defend the idea that Fox News is "fair and balanced" but the fact remains that it is watched primarily by Conservatives. The same can be said for any "liberal" media outlet. What is highlighted in this quote by Ms. Adesioye is that there is a truth value assigned to today's journalists to the extent that if we hear, see or read it we are inclined to believe it. How often does one, after listening to Olbermann or O'Reilly or Limbaugh or Maddow, take the time to investigate their opinions or the opinions of their guests? And if we convey their opinions as fact, how often to we blame them for the information?

When writers like Leslie Savan try to paint this in a political light, Weapons of Mass Distraction, the sentiment conveyed is that it is a problem of politics. While it is true every media outlet (save the likes of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and CNN) should have delivered a highly visible apology, the idea that only the Right is the enemy plays into the problem. As was noted on the Today Show this morning, that problem is the politicizing of journalism. The once trusted media outlets have become the pawns to the political powers that either invest in them or for whom they have ideological agreement. Even more frightening may be the power of advertisers to dictate content.

If the news has become nothing more than opinion pieces we should all be careful. Broad sweeping generalizations are an easy red flag and serve to do nothing more than divide us into our little groups where we feel validated and safe. To put this in a different "color", do you recall the Duke Lacrosse incident? Do you recall how the media handled it along with political figures within the state and the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Do you recall who did and who did not issue apologies? To a more recent incident, there is Obama's public assertion that the Harvard acted "stupidly", only to find out it was his friend professor Henry Louis Gates.

These tactics are not isolated to a particular political party or special interest group. We, as citizens, need to be better educated on events and more critical of the information we receive. It goes beyond questioning the source to questioning intent. Much like Shirley used the moment in her speech as opportunity to change, so should we use her conflict for our personal benefit. As long as we empower politicized or "shock" journalism that is the information we will receive. By questioning intent and digging for more information we better serve ourselves and our community.