“My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot” — my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood.”
– King Solomon (Proverbs 1:10-16, NIV)
Over the past several posts, we have been discussing the psychological and emotional needs of Identity, Stimulation, and Security. This is an elaboration of anthropologist Robert Ardrey’s explanation that, once a man has seen to his bodily needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, he needs to satisfy these emotional needs to function optimally.
In this post, I want to examine what the gladiatorial spectacles of ancient Rome and today’s activists have in common when it comes to the need for stimulation.
Same as it ever was
Historians tell us that as imperial Rome ran out of steam, the emperors bought peace and prolonged their grip on power by giving the people amusements — bread and circus. The decadent and largely idle citizens were less inclined to rebel if they had food to eat and public spectacles to titillate them. Gladiators fought to the death for the pleasure of the jaded crowds. Emperors staged wild animal hunts and mock sea battles. When mortal combat didn’t offer the same fizz, there were politically expedient and cruel executions of criminals and Christians to provide stimulation. This is the origin of throwing Christians to the lions.
While we have not returned to featuring death (yet) as a staple of popular entertainment, human nature persists in its need for stimulation. Perhaps you have noticed the way traffic slows down whenever there is a traffic accident. Radio traffic reporters around here refer to this effect as “onlooker delays.” People want to know what happened, to whom, and how bad it was. As disruptive to traffic flow as it is, I have a hard time believing the rubberneckers are motivated by altruism. As Don Henley sang, “It’s interesting when people die…”
If it bleeds, it leads
Speaking of Dirty Laundry, that song made the point that jaded people gravitate toward others’ misfortune for an illicit thrill and, just maybe, to feel better by comparison. Marketers know this, as do the producers of local and national news programs. The saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and the more sensational and salacious, the harder they’ll push it. Why do they do this? They are attracting an audience for their own ratings, and for their sponsors’ advertisements. This is the business model for commercial television — but you knew that.
The internet is not necessarily better
Perhaps, like us, you’re among the cord cutters — people who have canceled their cable subscriptions to watch what they want on their own schedule. I have found that this is a great way to free my mind from the manipulations of other people’s agendas. My time is mine, as it isn’t ruled by some programmer, and I am less susceptible to the fear-based selling that undergirds a lot of news promotions — “That thing on your bum could be cancer. Film at eleven.”
But, the internet operates in large measure on the same principles as television — just without the time constraint. A provocative headline, a suggestive image, or a promise to reveal some dirty secret are the standard formula. It must work enough of the time, because if it didn’t, you wouldn’t see it so often.
Look, I’m absolutely trying to attract eyeballs to this site. I do this because I believe I’m offering something worthwhile. Although I’m currently looking at some affiliate marketing opportunities, I’m not selling anything, and I don’t intend to put the blog behind a paywall. (Notice my clean, ad-free website? You’re welcome!) At the same time, I don’t want to use tawdry gimmicks to trick people into reading these posts of mine.
However, many of the most popular websites depend on ad revenue for their upkeep, and for their owners’ liveihoods. I have no objection to this, but these revenues don’t come from ads that people don’t see. Thus, copywriters attempt to appeal to readers through headlines that will arouse curiosity — clickbait anyone?
FOMO turned up to 11
Television and the internet both benefit from the popular notion of FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. We human beings are powerfully social creatures, and we prize belonging. Of course, the opposite of belonging is being cast out, of being alone.
What’s this about activists?
We’re going to cover that in greater detail in the following post. For now, I’ll say that popular causes appeal broadly to both the bored and the aggrieved (not always mutually exclusive, by the way). Provide a cocktail of Identity, Stimulation, and Security, and you can round up quite a squad. You can belong, and you can interact with other people in real life. And if you believe in the rightness of your cause, you and your group can take action to make a difference.
These facets are neither good nor bad in themselves. Sometimes restlessness can be a divine call to action, but the action must be toward a positive outcome. And that evaluation has to rest on something more solid than feelings. We’ll talk more about this.
News you can use
I am auditing my intake these days to ensure I don’t get lured by shiny objects or co-opted by an ideology. My primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ, and neither the Left nor the Right reflects Him adequately. I hasten to add that I don’t reflect Him perfectly, either, but I am getting better — slowly.
Not everyone who clamors for your attention is worthy of it. And worse, some people are trying to lure you into trouble. But remembering that I am His enables me to step back and ask questions about the origin of an idea, the motives of those promoting it, and the consequences of adopting it. As you scroll and surf your way through this life, I recommend that you do the same.