10 Sep 2009

Nothing to Fear but...

While I was away, I reflected on the people and society we (Americans) live in. In particular, I thought of the debates over health care, state budgets, the housing market and (even!) water policies. What do all these things have in common? Rancorous, emotional, biased and intractable debates...

I've known for many years that people prefer not to change,* but the conservatism that we are seeing now is greater than I've ever experienced. Although this conservatism seems a mirror image of the radicalism that we saw under George Bush (starting two wars, massive spending, radical tax cuts, etc.), it is driven by the same emotion that many felt then: fear.

It seems to me that people are afraid now, and they were afraid after 9/11. In fact, it seems that they have been afraid for many years.**

In fact, I think that fear is the dominating emotion for most people, and for men in particular.***

So what's the upshot of fearful men? Control. A fearful man will compromise, back-down, take orders, etc. A fearless man will question authority, fight, and/or walk away.

Now step back and ask yourself how politicians (leaders) will respond to fear. Some may try to reduce it, but others will try to use it to further their own power and demagoguery. We know how Hitler and Stalin used fear. We see today how American politicians use it. Is there any difference? Yes, but only in magnitude. We are not exactly prepared to kill the Jews or Kulaks, but we are being told that "others" are trying to invade our country, poison our food, take away our houses, etc.

Note that power can be defined as control over others. A leader without followers is (relatively) powerless. A good leaders will have followers because s/he takes care of them; a bad leader will have followers because s/he makes them too fearful to take care of themselves.

I wonder -- seriously -- where this is all going. Will we (the People) be able to counter this fear? Will some leaders swim against the tide? Will we realize that some people are trying to use our fear against us, to control us?

Bottom Line: Freemen control their lives; slaves do not. If you are not in control of your life, consider how to regain it -- if you want to.

* My personal website (kysq.org) is named after "Kill Your Status Quo." I personally do not feel much fear. I've scavenged for my food; seen people die; lost my mother; and made my peace with what I see as the futility of life-after-death. Since I have nothing to lose (or do not fear losing what I have), I am willing to take care risks.

** I thought that Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine was brilliant in its treatment of fear in this country. Now that I think about it, Moore has made a career in highlighting the fears that we have: Fear of job loss in Roger and Me; fear of illness in Sicko, etc. Nevertheless, I don't think he's a fear-monger as much as a progressive who wants to reduce our fears...

*** Women can fall back on a simpler recipe for success (children), and they can also seek shelter with men. I don't say this as a chauvinist as much as a believer in the importance of evolutionary biology and psychology.

Addendum: I thought of this post before I read Peter Gleick's post on fear; we're talking about similar things.


Jay Wetmore said...

Fear is one of the important behaviors for survival. A light and insightful treatment can be found in Richard Brodie's, Virus of the Mind.

I can't think of a national leader that does not use fear to gain influence and power. This includes elected and unelected leaders. It includes opinion leaders like Michael Moore. These leaders may act out of self interest and a lust for power, infulence, and sometimes money. President Obama is a master at invoking fear when most people think they are being inspired. His phrasing about keeping insurance companies "honest" is a bold and baltant example.

However, we can immunize ourselves.

Bottom line: When we learn about how fear can be used by others to serve their interests instead of our own we can act rationally, instead of emotionally.

Mister Kurtz said...

Remember that many psychotics are without fear. I used to mock the statement "Fear God" because I imagined a bunch of imbeciles worshiping a cosmic bogey-man who would punish them if they strayed. I now understand that fear has a preservative and humbling power that is not entirely bad.

Anonymous said...

I see an irony in the allegation that President Bush started two wars: tomorrow is, of course, the anniversary of the attacks on the United States that actually started the war in Afghanistan. (And, although not ironic, the war with Iraq started when Iraq invaded Kuwait, years before the President Bush referenced in the post took office.)

JWT said...

"The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that Democrats allow the poor to be corrupt, too." -- Oscar Levant

Forensic economist said...

Fear is overreported. Concern and thoughtfull dissent don't get reported. Shouting and fear make for good TV.

Here is a link to an article saying that the average town hall meeting might have been contentious but was not populated by screamers: http://tiny.cc/8Hztt

"I think the media coverage has done a disservice by falling for a trick that you'd think experienced media hands wouldn't fall for: of allowing loud voices to distort the debate," said Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, whose district includes Columbus, Ohio.

At her town halls, she said, "I got serious questions, I got hostile questions, I got questions about how this would work, I got questions about how much it will cost. I also got a lot of comments from people who said it's important for their families and businesses to get health care reform."

DT said...

I absolutely agree with you, and you are right that our recipe is successful. My simple recommendation is : try to keep childhood in yourselves and try to spend more time with your family, especially with your children.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Deserves to be widely read.

Discouraging to see knee-jerk right-wing reactions in 50% of the comments, though.

(One quibble, btw: I wouldn't call what we're seeing "conservative," but "reactionary." Conservatives - if there are any left - ought to be disgusted at the way their name has been co-opted by people who are anything but.)

David Zetland said...

@albionwood -- yes, reactionary is better :)

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