A Glimpse of Our Social Unconscious on Facebook

Maybe you didn’t see this:  a poll posted on Facebook Saturday asked, “Should Obama Be Killed.”  The poll was quickly removed, but not before 730 people responded.  According to the Huffington Post yesterday, the Secret Service is investigating. (See”Obama Facebook Poll: ‘Should Obama Be Killed’ Pulled from Site.”)

There is nothing about it in The New York Times today or The Wall Street Journal, and a quick survey of other blogs brought up very little — though apparently CNN noted it this morning and The Associated Press had a story.  The absence of corroboration makes one doubt oneself.  Was it a hoax?  Did I imagine it?

As a psychoanalyst, I have learned to take fleeting impressions and thoughts seriously.  They don’t tell us what a person is determined to do, but they do tell us what is buried in the mind – especially what people don’t want to know they know.  And the fragmentary record along with self-doubt and confusion are also hallmarks of an unconscious process – a process struggling to remain unconscious.  The Times and the Journal may think the Facebook poll isn’t really news, more of a prank.  They may also believe it would be irresponsible to report it, an indirect way to promote a heinous idea.  But my experience also tells me that ideas that are unacknowledged have an unfortunate tendency to live on.

What lends support to this thought is a host of recent corroborating events. Over the weekend, Trent Franks (R-Ariz) accused the president of being “an enemy of humanity.”  (See Politico, “Franks: Obama is the “enemy of humanity.”)  Two weeks ago, the House formally rebuked Joe Wilson (R-SC) for shouting “You lie” during the president’s address. Recently a US Census worker was brutally murdered.

I don’t worry about the president so much.  I think the Secret Service does not discount “cranks” as readily as we tend to do.  But I do worry about us, and the level of hatred and violence we are coming to accept.  Shortly after the election, many expressed their fear that Obama would be assassinated, as Martin Luther King had been, and John F. and then Robert Kennedy.  The idea of assassination is deeply embedded in our minds, a part of our political consciousness.

Fanatics may not get at the object of their hatred, but that does not stop them from getting at someone else, nearer to hand.  And the first step is often to see them as less than human, a different species.  That makes it easier to kill them.