Perspectives: Distraction polarization, a flourishing industry

Roman Circus | Painting by Albert Kuhn 1913 | U.S. Public Domain

OPINION – It’s tempting to look down our noses at how the ancient Romans could have failed to notice their empire rotting and collapsing around them.

While we enjoy the luxury of hindsight, it’s not like the warnings weren’t there for the Romans to notice. How could they have been so inattentive?

Historian Edward Gibbon in his exhaustive “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” pointed to five key symptoms that Roman culture was deteriorating:

  1. Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth
  2. Obsession with sex and perversions of sex
  3. Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original
  4. Widening disparity between very rich and very poor
  5. Increased demand to live off the state

If this list causes a bit of discomfort at the recognition of its parallels with modern America that simply means you’re paying attention.

Doubtless, there were Roman citizens who recognized the increasing debt, the civic decay, and the growing disorder of their empire. Too many Romans, however, were focused on bread and circuses that were meant to keep them distracted.

In our time, the bread and circuses are just as real but the forms they take aren’t always as garish and easy to identify.

Reality TV, professional sports, and pop culture are the obvious distractions. Anyone who has read Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda,” will be familiar with the institutional manipulation of public opinion. Bernays vividly described how the few could exercise power over the masses when he wrote:

In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

However, the distractions that tend to do the greatest damage are subtler. They serve not only to distract us, but also to divide us.

One tactic that is being used to great effect in our day is the use of polarization.

A perfect example of the industry of polarization can be seen in the current campaign to force the Washington Redskins to change the name of their professional football team. The U.S. Patent Office last week canceled six of the registered trademarks of the Washington Redskins on the grounds that they are disparaging to Native Americans. This alone won’t force the Redskins to change their name, but it does ramp up the pressure to do so.

Taking her cue from the guardians of approved opinion, one MSNBC host went so far as to refuse to say the name of the team and to warn viewers that the upcoming story contained a “racial slur.” No doubt our fragile psyches would have fallen apart like a soup sandwich had we not been warned in advance how to feel.

The beauty of this polarization technique is that it doesn’t have to be based in reality. “Redskin” as an epithet hasn’t been used since the days of B-movie westerns. It’s an issue that virtually no one has cared about throughout the 82-year history of the Washington football team.

This crusade isn’t about righting an actual wrong.

It’s about encouraging people to divide up into camps as quickly as possible and then goading them to support their side with as much vigor as they can muster. The Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world have pioneered this practice of creating a polarizing cause and then rising to the top of it to collect money and votes.

Now it’s being utilized by a growing number of advocacy groups that are intent upon controlling others into conformity through guilt and shame. They lack the persuasiveness to make a rational case in the court of public opinion, so they opt for feigned outrage and accusations of insensitivity.

The twisted version of diversity they’re aiming for is a society of people who look different but think exactly alike.

“Thoughtcrime” was a term coined by George Orwell his novel “1984” to describe the serious offense of thinking beyond what was allowed. To this end, certain words were forbidden so the people could only think what those in power wanted them to think.

In our day, this manipulation of language is serving the purpose of training us to think only in approved terms while simultaneously preventing us from uniting on the most important issues.

Given some of the historical warning signs of increasing debt, civic decay, and global instability around us, we can’t afford to be distracted by things that really don’t matter.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • JAR June 23, 2014 at 11:52 am

    It’s apparent you usually have the time on one day a week to think clearly (Sundays). Your stuff on Mondays/ Tuesdays seem to make sense regularly. a A+ on this one.

  • Brian June 23, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Great article. The strategies of saul alinsky (whom this president and his cronies follow religiously) were deeply rooted in and expert at this type of polarization. Gibbons also noted other important symptoms of the fall of the roman empire, that directly apply to America today: rapid increase of divorce and decline of family and home; higher and higher taxes, and the use of that revenue for bread and circuses; a mad craze for pleasure, with sports constantly increasing in risk and brutality; building of massive arms and armies, even though the real enemy was within: decadence; the decay of religion, fading into mere form and having no actual influence on people lives or behavior. Unfortunately we’re making pretty much ALL of the mistakes they made in Rome, and the fallout and cost will be tremendous.

    • Roy J June 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Decay of what religion? Which era of the Roman Empire are you referring to?

  • Duchess Vera June 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I am disappointed that the other end of the spectrum of manipulators is not mentioned even once. How about “George W. Bushes” of the world? “If you do not support declaring war on Iraq, you are not a patriot”? How about Tea Party activists – “If you are not a Tea Party supporter, you are not a patriot”? “If you believe in climate change, you are a socialist”… List goes on. And lead poisoning of Rome’s water system is not mentioned either.

  • LOL'd June 23, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    “Distraction polarization, a flourishing industry”

    i didn’t read the article, but isn’t this Hyde’s very own industry???

  • S Steed June 23, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    I’m sorry but this makes all of us head in the sand ostriches very uncomfortable. I wish you would just do what everyone else is; and keep blaming all our problems on the gays and the pligs. It used to be abortion but we seem to have gotten board with all the talk of baby killing (After 8 or 10 years people get calloused I guess). If we don’t talk about it for a while though, we can bring it out again: after a future embarrassment we’d like everyone to forget.

    • Maggie June 24, 2014 at 8:49 am

      Some of us can actually identify more than one problem at a time, and attempt in whatever way possible, within the law to call attention to and have action taken to correct that which is detrimental to a society. However that pretty much seals ones fate as a crazy racist, homophobic ,religious fanatic ,right wing conspirator. Alas ,we are still stuck with 7 ,24 hour days in every week just like the rest of you. So we prioritize. Hang in there Mr Steed, in the immortal words of Arnold “We’ll be back.”

  • Maggie June 23, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Many in our society know nothing about history so it is so very easy for those who wish, to repeat it . It is easy to convince the uneducated that the Washington Redskins controversy is important and racist if you know nothing about real racism, especially when you have Sharpton and Jackson joining the cacophony. How would they make a living should racism not be kept alive. So they work to keep it alive in uneducated minds.
    Uneducated masses are always easier to lead if you provide just enough for them to stay afloat and survive. The US falls further and further behind industrialized countries in educating our children but our schools excel in teaching our children that the USA and it’s citizens are not exceptional.
    So until the truly educated are eliminated they will have to continue with the distraction and polarization until we really have nothing to offer the world. We will be what some leaders in world history wished for, non exceptional, dependent workers. Oh wait, that already exists in socialistic ,communistic countries all over this world. Ummmmmm, you would think that would catch the attention of even those who know nothing about history.

    • Anney June 28, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Real issues are continuously being ignored, however I do believe that openly accepted racist terms shouldn’t count as a non-issue. Believe it or not, “redskins” is a highly offensive term which highlights an oppressive era. You would never have a football team with a name like “white cracker”. You would never have a football team with the n-word in it’s title. Quite frankly the reason changing the name of the team is a big deal is because of people’s opposition. This isn’t banishing the word, this is asking for respect. Legally, the team shouldn’t have to change it’s name, however the protests will hopefully show them that the name is wrong. These protests shouldn’t be discounted as distracting fanaticism.

  • JSD June 24, 2014 at 6:37 am

    It seems to me that organized religion has been another proponent of polarization, or “distract and divide”, since time immemorial.

  • philiplo June 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Mr. Hyde wrote, “It’s an issue that virtually no one has cared about throughout the 82-year history of the Washington football team.”

    This is not true. Unless we count the National Congress of American Indians as “virtually no one.” Fitting, considering how easily native Americans are dismissed and forgotten in U.S. society.

    The NCAI has, since 1968, been battling against insulting and derogatory symbols referencing native Americans, like the name and logo of the Washington, DC, football team. You can read their policy paper and see for yourself that the fight has been going on probably longer than Mr. Hyde has been alive.

    • Anney June 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      For anyone who has ever finally reached equality, they would like to be called by their real names. Call it sensationalism, but hasn’t the Mormon church done the same thing by asking their members to refer to themselves as members of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, rather than as Mormons? I agree with the notion that the media employs distraction, however the author of this article should use real examples rather than racist whining.

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