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The Speed of Emotion

“In The Making of the President, 1960,[1] Teddy White lamented that TV might spell the death of serious politics: to give a thoughtful response to serious questions, a politician needed a good thirty seconds to ponder, but television allowed only five seconds of silence at best. DDB [the ad agency of Doyle Dane Bernbach[2]] found nothing to lament in the fact. They were convinced you could learn everything you needed to know about a product, which in this case happened to be a human being, in half a minute—the speed not of thought but of emotion” (Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein, © 2001).

It seems Theodore H. White was right—about both left and right. Much of our political news, views, tweets, trailers, and posts proceed at the speed of emotion. No need for thought, memory, fact checking, sourcing, courtesy, caution, truth, or déjà vu. Ads, images, sound bites, talking points, “spontaneous” stagings, and so forth—often market-tested for trigger-efficiency and -effect—all set on “speed” and ad nauseam recycle. “Truth” verified by repetition. Enhanced by selective, romantic myth-making!

And though both left and right get caught up in the speed of emotion, there seems no crowd more addicted to “speed”3 than the fractured far-right—particularly Tea Partiers and libertarians. These far-rightists, despite their professed devotion to “individualism,” freedom, and “free markets” have a remarkable predisposition to flock to authoritarian, charismatic leaders; to conform to group-speak without personal examination of issues; to repeat emotive phrases as end-all answers; to denigrate the individualism and freedom of everyone to the left of them; to disregard ideological contradictions4; and to advocate violence when “democracy” does not favor their worldview.

Since many to the right claim an affinity to the Christian faith and to an “end-of-times” scenario, perhaps a look backward to the “beginning” and forward to the “end” might prove enlightening.

What powerful groups in the “beginning” of Christianity was so convinced they were right, so devoted to preserving their faith/ideology, and so alarmed at the “devilish” doctrines of a popular itinerant preacher that they devoted themselves to his destruction? Could there be any parallels in our day? Are we so convinced we are saving freedom and the American Constitution that we kill the very (“devilish”) reforms that might preserve a MORE perfect union? Remember Peter and the dream that opened him to the inclusion of Gentiles in his gospel—a complete reversal of prior belief?5

And what about the “end-of-times”? What does John the Revelator identify as the great opposition?6 Have we been caught in a masterful diversion and deception exacerbated by the speed of emotion? So obsessed with socialism, we miss the Trojan horse cavorting in our midst. The Trojan horse we unfetter and feed to excess as if it were a living thing!

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we can be enlightened by higher truths IF we are not open to new perspectives.

Perhaps it is time we took the time to temper emotion with thought, memory, research, and honesty about ourselves, our ideologies, our hypocrisies, and the possibility of “being partly right and partly wrong.”

There are options to the speed of emotion. Yes, TV and the internet may overwhelm us with emotive pitches, BUT the internet also gives us the speed of access to fact checking, verifiable history, reputable research, sworn testimony, rational observation, diverse opinion, and communities of thoughtful discourse. Surely, the present speed of emotion, untempered and unbalanced, as we have seen in recent months, cannot continue, if we are to survive as a nation. Emotions are ONLY A PART of who we are. Reason, research, and balanced thought must also precede action. In paraphrase of Mark Twain: “The person who does not think7 has no advantage over the one who cannot think7.”

1. Published 1961; best-seller and 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner for general nonfiction
2. The ad agency of Democrats JFK and later LBJ. Republicans became quick imitators.
3. Speed can manifest both as reactionary, knee-jerk explosions or frantic running in place at the speed of “NO,” “NO,” “NO.”
4. One of their main ones is the redistribution of wealth mantra. See
5. See New Testament Acts 10 for Peter’s enlightenment. Also, could Paul’s words have any parallels? “… they have a zeal of God [or freedom or free markets], but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness [or point of view], and going about to establish their own righteousness [or point of view], have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness [point of view] of God. (New Testament Romans 10:2-3). How does God view the rich and the poor? Are free-markets free or just facades to justify power and elitism? See also
6. New Testament Revelation 17 & 18
7. and study, research, ponder, fact check, remember