Opinion: Emotions

POSTED: 02/6/13 12:31 PM

When is something news? The old school taught us: dog bites man is no news. Man bites dog is. These days the definition of news is not that simple anymore. Psychiatrist Bram Bakker notes in an interesting op-ed in the Volkskrant that the news value of certain events depends for a large part on the emotions they trigger. At least: that seems to be the trend, and you never know where those emotions are coming from next.

In the Netherlands, the latest hot item is the demise of the SNS bank and the €3.7 billion practically $5 billion) the state forked over to safe these sons of bitches. With those figures floating around, it is hard to argue that there is no money left for a bit of debt relief for St. Maarten.

Bakker notes that the SNS story is a favorite topic on social media. People let go, he wrote, like they have just become the victim of a violent robbery. But the emotion that rules all these reactions obscures the reality. The SNS bank has been a mess for years, Bakker added, adding that the question is now where all those authorities were then with their highhanded opinions. Everybody has an opinion ready now, and if for those who are well-known there is always a medium prepared to open the microphone or to let the cameras roll.

Bakker notes that the events surrounding the SNS bank story fit with ease in an ever stronger trend to make the news value of events dependent on the emotions they trigger. When the parents of Tim Ribberink (a young man who committed suicide because he was pestered about his perceived sexual orientation) decided in an emotional impulse to publish his final words the whole country followed blindly.

When a radio journalist recently dared to question the events surrounding the suicide, fresh emotions surfaced, even while there were good arguments to take a closer look at the facts. the message was that Tim committed suicide because of bullying. But the reactions to “The silence of Tilligte” show that bullying is an understatement for the way the radio journalist was attacked after his broadcast.

Bakker has more examples: the story about the humpback whale Johannes that stranded on the Dutch shores and died. The high point of the emotional outburst surrounding this non-event were the death threats against associates of a seal center. It is almost incomprehensible, but the media gobbled it up, the way visitors of that local gossip web site swallow the lies Bibi Shaw serves her readers on an almost daily basis.

Bakker concern is that people seem to forget that all these emotions do not help us forward. If humankind had taken its cue from emotions throughout the ages the world would have looked a whole lot different today, Bakker points out. Just because humankind was able to control its emotions in difficult situation she became the most successful mammal on the planet – even though some people have a different view on this topic.

The most important explanation for the current economic crisis is irrationality, Bakker adds. In the financial sector people started to believe that the economy could grow endlessly. In the real estate business developers fooled themselves into believing that they would find tenants for every multi-million project they built. Just ask then owners of the Blue Mall in Cupecoy how that worked out – we hear that the tenants the project does have at the moment are not even paying a fixed rent. The only way to lure entrepreneurs to the mall was by having them pay rent as a percentage of their turnover. And while all these misguided dreams continued, politicians got lost in emotional debates about the Islam, thereby neglecting their duties as the supervisors in much more important fields.

Emotions are a fixed part of life. They belong to lifelike eating and going to the bathroom, Bakker notes. Neglecting emotions has the potential to lead to big mistakes. But taking all cues from one’s emotions could have exactly the same results.

It would be good if we took more time to look at the fact, before coming up with an emotional reaction, Bakker explains. As an example he mentions the reaction from people to the asylum seekers that lived in a camp near the place where teenager Marianne Vaatstra was murdered. They were found guilty without a trial (and without a shred of evidence) years before local farmer Jasper S. confessed to the crime.

Bakker: “It cannot be and it should not be that people who make a serious attempt to stick to the facts are threatened by those who are unable to control their emotions. That road leads to the end of our civilization.”

With some foreboding, Bakker ends his op-ed with the remark that his opinion will probably lead to a lot of sentiments from the underbelly.

This is exactly what we are experiencing in St, Maarten where clueless internet scribblers prefer insults, insinuations and outright lies that play on those underbelly-feelings as their tolls of the trade. But as long as there is a market for emotion – and there always will be – gossip will always draw some people in, if only because lies seem at times more attractive that facts.

At the same time, lies and insinuations always say more about the writer of those lies than about those that are targeted with them. In that sense, pitiful characters like Judith Roumou (who just entered our offices without permission as we are writing this with one of those silly video cameras in front of her face) tell us a lot about who they are. The thing is: nobody really wants to know.

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