December 06, 2017
David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, was quoted in a December 2 Wired.com article, titled “Trump and the Risk of Digital Hate.”
The article draws parallels between Nazi propaganda (and other acts of hate-mongering that seek to portray the enemy as dangerous) and President Trump’s retweets of videos (in some cases, fraudulent videos) of Muslims committing violence. The author paraphrases Smith’s concern: “...the president and the general public have not learned history’s lessons about the impact this type of fear-mongering can have.”
Smith is credited with making the point that if historical lessons are ignored, we risk getting caught in the trap of believing that mass atrocities are preceded by clear warning signs.
Smith explains that genocides typically start with a leader’s portrayal of powerless groups as menacing threats. He points to the example of caricatures of African American slaves in the pre-Civil War South. “African Americans were the most vulnerable members of the population,” he stated, “yet, they were represented as violent monsters, particularly African American men, who were represented as almost super-human in the danger they posed.”
The article goes on to discuss the reasons why such erroneous and damaging portrayals of others pose an even greater threat to society in the modern age: social media enables “information” to travel faster, to reach more people, and the number of shocking images that people view every day numbs us to displays of hatred.
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