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The Post-Dallas Kumbaya Window Begins to Close

By       Message John Grant       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Someone's crying, Lord, kumbaya

- From the Gullah song meaning, Lord, come by here and help us

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There was a true kumbaya moment after the Dallas cop massacre similar to the moment after 9/11 when sympathy was expressed for America from many unexpected quarters around the world. That window began to close when US leaders took a hard line and vengefully attacked an un-implicated nation to counter the very sense of vulnerability that moved people of the world to sympathize with us. Similarly, the sympathy for attacked cops in Dallas may be evaporating thanks to a familiar sociological dynamic involving in-group, out-group identification.

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Sociologists and psychologists call this "the ultimate attribution error." As explained in an interesting New York Times article by Amanda Taub, it's when people "attribute another group's positive actions to random chance or circumstance but assume that [the other group's] negative actions reflect the group's core nature." That is, in times of stress, people "circle the wagons" around their own kind based on a belief that their motives are human and honorable; those of the projected enemy are the essence of pure evil. "Once you dehumanize them, it's easier to justify violence," says Professor John Dovidio of the Inter-Group Relations Lab at Yale.

This can be seen on both sides of the Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter conflict. For me, it involves anger, laziness and a failure of courage to see or listen to or talk with a perceived enemy. Better to huddle up with your own pack and project your fears on the other guy.

Sean Hannity and a Black Lives Matter protester
Sean Hannity and a Black Lives Matter protester
(Image by unknown)
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As I bounced around cable news in the days following the Dallas cop massacre, no one was worse (maybe I should say "better") at this than the odious Sean Hannity. (I confess, I'm biased: Sean Hannity is the root of all evil.) Hannity loves to point out his enemy's shortcomings: that is, that examples of bad-cop behavior becomes for some an overarching metaphor for all-cops-are-bad and the System is totally based on white supremacy. The trouble is, he then does the same thing ten times over.

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Five days after the Dallas massacre, on July 11, he opened his show with: "The left's war against law enforcement is now intensifying." He proceeded to present a highly energized, demonizing tirade against Black Lives Matter that should be studied as a classic example of the ultimate attribution error. He exploited an out-of-context chant from people reportedly attending a Black Lives Matter demonstration a year or so ago. The chant was: "Pigs in a blanket; fry 'em like bacon. What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want 'em? Now!" There's wide agreement whatever happened in this case wasn't the Black Lives Matter movement's finest moment; but it certainly did not characterize the greater movement, which is non-violent. Nonetheless, Hannity brandished the quote like a weapon, hacking and slashing, using it to interrupt and batter any of his guests who made even the slightest effort to defend or explain Black Lives Matter. Without a hint of embarrassment, he employed it over-and-over-and-over-and-over. (So many iterations are necessary to capture Hannity's untempered bullying style.) Guests like Geraldo Rivera and Daryl Parks, an attorney for the Michael Brown family in Ferguson, were simply overwhelmed and gave up trying to explain how he was twisting the matter. These men would have had to bellow or punch him in the face to be heard. Hannity then closed that part of the show and moved on to nauseatingly stroke Rudy Guiliani, who further demonized Black Lives Matter as the worst thing that ever happened to African Americans. His mayoral term and his "broken windows/stop-and-frisk" police policy, of course, were literally the best things that ever happened to African American New Yorkers.

I imagine millions of retired white Americans in loungers eating this stuff up. If that's all one watches or reads on the story, the ultimate attribution error rules. It was said of Ronald Reagan that, like Giuliani, his assurances that his policies were good for minorities and Black Americans was to assure white Americans they had no cause to be concerned: He had African Americans' interests at heart. On top of such reassurances, the relentless attack on Black Lives Matters acts as a classic propaganda campaign to form in the minds of the audience a well-defined enemy. These are the bad guys, the cause of all our problems. It's the identical dynamic that emphasizes "radical Islam" in the War On Terror context. It's an example of branding the ultimate attribution error as a catchy, memorable phrase. RADICAL ISLAM. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Hear the words intoned over and over enough associated with pure evil and a true warlike mindset is established. Since their tool is language as obfuscation -- versus language for clarity -- their efforts spew out a fog of war, which further makes their "enemy" stand out starkly in the fog.

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I'm a 68-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and (more...)

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