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Outrage and condemnation followed the news of Missouri State Rep. Cynthia Davis (R) denouncing a summer food program for low-income children who rely on free or cheap meals from schools during the school year. It wasn't merely that she opposed providing food for kids who would go hungry, but she did so by saying that "Hunger can be a positive motivator." The echo of "let them eat cake" was thundering, and one would be forgiven for wondering at first if it was a parody from The Onion.
As reprehensible as her position is, though, we must keep in mind she was merely expressing directly and honestly the underlying agenda of political conservatives for generations — religious conservatives included. Cynthia Davis is herself a good example of this because she is the owner of the "Back to Basics Christian Book Store," so she's not just speaking as a professional conservative politician, but also as a professional conservative Christian. Her arguments in defense of her words weren't political and economic, but rather religious and heavily laden with the "family values" rhetoric so beloved by the Christian Right.
I say that it's an agenda and not merely an attitude because Cynthia Davis was describing a situation that is imposed or at least exacerbated through deliberate action and for the benefit of others rather than a situation that is merely tolerated without regard for the consequences. An important thread running through many Republican policies leads back to one fundamental principle: deny people as much as possible of whatever they need to build a stable, predictable life and thereby make them more dependent on what little they have.
This makes it easier for people to be exploited by those in power because the people are too afraid to lose what little they have and will tolerate far more abuse, discrimination, mistreatment, and exploitation in order to hold on to the crumbs. The attitude of so many conservatives towards those being exploited is at best just contempt because they are little more than a means towards the end of self-enrichment. Liberals and Democrats often aren't much better, playing the political good cop to the conservatives bad cop — and in good cop vs. bad cop, you have to remember that both are cops who are seeking the exact same end. Neither is on your side and neither is your friend, but one pretends to be in order to make it easier for you to willingly assist in your own destruction.
Motivating the Masses
Cynthia Davis' statement is just a blunt way of stating the principle that government needs to inculcate enough fear, pain, and neediness to keep people focused on meeting their immediate needs and divert their attention away from larger political goals such as freeing themselves from exploitation. Hunger is a motivator because when you're hungry, you're most concerned with just getting enough to eat. You don't have the energy, drive, or time to organize politically to fight to end the policies which keep you and others hungry.
If people were freed from food insecurity, they might start to look around and wonder why social, political, and economic systems can't be reworked to provide for other basic needs as well. Of course, denying people enough food to eat is just the most extreme form of denial which is used to keep people afraid and needy. There are many other social policies which have similar effects individually, and a massive social impact all together.
Opposition to universal health care ensures that people can't change jobs without worrying about the ability to transfer health benefits. Right now, businesses can hold people to poor-paying jobs by providing them with mediocre health benefits which they are afraid to lose. Even though many businesses are straining under health care costs, not all are willing to lose this leverage over workers.
Naturally, unionization must be inhibited and undermined at every possible turn. Unions might encourage workers to compare notes, learn how much they have in common, and use their collective power to achieve their goals together. Without unions, it's easier to keep workers weak and in fear because they are only able to act as isolated individuals against massive corporations.
Government regulation has to be fought because it can do such a good job at creating safer environments for people — not just the working environment, but the overall natural environment as well. When people don't have to worry about their food, air, and water, they live with less fear in general and this frees up time for other things like political activism. Limiting regulations and failing to enforce those which do exist ensure that there is always a certain minimum level of fear in the background, distracting people from more political matters.
Immigration is a great way to make people afraid because latent racism and xenophobia can be marshaled to make people fear losing their jobs and social status to dark-skinned foreigners. Workers are more likely to submit to corporate demands if they are afraid that an immigrant might come along and take their job for less pay — or that their job can be sent abroad for even less pay. Closely associated with this is the fear of terrorism which can be used to get people to submit to ever stricter police controls over legal behavior. Both business and government are monitoring us in more places and times than ever before, and the people meekly submit to this because they fear what their watchers tell them might happen otherwise.
Preserving the Power to Exploit
When people are hungry and afraid, fewer will take a chance on demanding more than what little they have been given — certainly too few to organize into a movement that can create new, better conditions in which fear and hunger can be reduced. Unfortunately, just such a movement is needed for changes to occur because those with power — the good cops and the bad cops — won't hand over any more to the masses than is necessary to keep them quiet. Then they'll tell you that it's in your best interest to support their power and submit to their decisions while keeping you too afraid, too busy, and too hungry to easily organize and fight for something better.
New Propaganda Poster Site: I just wanted to post another reminder about site I created to provide ready access to all the posters and sermons I've created for the General over the past years. I've actually updated the look of the site and I think it's better now — cleaner and easier to use.