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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fear-Based Initiatives: Capitalizing on Fear & Loathing

Fear-Based Initiatives: Capitalizing on Fear & Loathing
Image © Austin Cline
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There's no denying that fear is a great motivator. It is in fact one of our most fundamental drives - we wouldn't survive without it. Leaders of all sorts - political, religious, familial - have surely used fear for as long as humans have lived in social groups. Men have used fear of violence and financial ruin to keep women in line. Parents have used fear of hairy palms to suppress kids' natural sexual instincts. Priests use fear of eternal torment to ensure social unity. Kings use fear of domestic oppression to preserve loyalty. Dictators use secret police, secret courts, and secret prisons to create the fear needed to eliminate dissent.

A certain amount of fear is probably healthy - complete fearlessness would be more of a liability than a virtue. At the same time, though, it is not healthy to have fear as a basis for action, policy, or decision making. It's healthy to have a little fear of a hot stove, for example, but when decision-making is based on fear, you may never turn the stove on or may never even learn how to use it properly.

Fear should be a basis of concern or caution, but a mentally, psychologically, and emotionally healthy person is able to see beyond that fear and base decisions on other interests. You can't act as a free, independent, and autonomous person unless you move beyond your fears.

The same is true of communities and nations - there can't be growth, progress, or development in any society ruled by fear. Politics and political parties are also not healthy if they become obsessed with fear or the origins of fear: enemies, threats, wars, disasters, etc. Problems like these will always be with us and always pose a danger, but you can't focus on them alone because there are too many other interests to take into account. It's smart to take potential threats into account and plan ahead, but society itself will not move ahead unless it moves beyond that.

This explains a lot about the Republican Party today, I think. Their faith-based initiatives are largely a means for pandering to evangelical churches, not a sign that real faith or hope can be found at the core of Republican politics. Instead, the core seems much more involved with fear-based initiatives because they are offered as solutions to just about every issue that comes along in America.

Building a wall along America's southern border is a fear-based initiative to stop the brown hordes from engulfing a white America. Abstinence-only education is a fear-based initiative to prevent teens from discovering sex and learning that it might be possible to have sex without catching a disease or getting pregnant. Censoring government data is a fear-based initiative to prevent Americans from learning that the truth might be different from administration propaganda.

Aside from stemming from fear, all of these initiatives share at least one other important feature in common: they don't work. A wall along the southern border won't keep out illegal immigrants. Abstinence-only education doesn't stop teens from having sex or prevent pregnancies. Censoring government data doesn't keep it out of the hands of activists who can use it to prove how the administration has been lying.

The same is true of the administration's reactions to global terrorism. The Republican Party is trying to make people afraid of terrorism in order to gain support for legalizing the administration's warrantless domestic spying, but there is no evidence that their spying has actually provided any net benefits - and they refuse to tell whether it's led to any harm.

The administration is not just trying to promote fear, though. I think that they are themselves afraid - not just of terrorism, but of the American people themselves. It's Americans the administration is trying to justify spying on, and it's the people who will decide what happens to administration officials once all details of the various spy programs are released. There's a lot to be afraid of there.

This was originally a movie poster for the film O Despertar Da Besta, directed by José Mojica Marins. The victims' faces have been left untouched; the other faces have been edited to reflect appropriate political figures.

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