1906Resisting The Politics Of Fear
- Oct 1, 2004Dear Friends,John Mack's last editorial before he was killed.Love and Light.DavidResisting the Politics of Fear by John Mack, PhD
Senator John Edwards and many other Americans believe that Vice President Cheney "crossed the line" when he said that if we chose John Kerry instead of George Bush "we'll be hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States." But I believe that line was crossed many months ago when President Bush and his administration chose to manipulate the minds of our people by relentlessly threatening us with the danger of terrorist attacks. Because the terrorist danger is real, it is especially important that our capacity to assess the risk we face not be distorted for political gain.
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There is nothing new about this strategy for gaining and holding power. Writers from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides to Baron de Montesquieu to Herman Goering in the twentieth century have told us that all national leaders need to do to retain power is to focus on an external threat and accuse those who won't go along with their plans of a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. What may, perhaps, be unique is the systematic, virtually scientific, way that the current administration has used fear to control dissent and titrate the amount of fear we are supposed to feel.
At a conference on "Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses" sponsored last February by the New School University in New York the organizers noted that "This may be the only time in our history when we are not only warned that we should be afraid, but told exactly how afraid we should be (red, orange or yellow alerts), and yet, regardless of how afraid we should be, we are given no advice about what to do, except perhaps to be wary of strangers, and stock up on duct tape and bottled water."
Terrorism is, of course, an authentic threat. But the ceaseless use of the rhetoric of terror, violence and danger that has accompanied a growing number of false alarms numbs our minds and robs us of the power to tell truth from lies and discriminate genuine dangers from those that are held before us for domestic political purposes. Hollow bombast and threat become confused with strength, and silly macho talk of girlie men or derision of "sensitivity" may cover ignorance and weakness. Fear of this kind can, as it has in the past, lead to unwarranted acts of aggression being committed in our name.
There are other harmful consequences of the politics of fear. It can and has been used to take away our liberties while we preach about freedom and democracy for others. It brings about a kind of national psychological regression, reducing our minds to primitive oversimplified ways of thinking, what conservative columnist Charley Reese called the "comic book world of American heroes and foreign evil doers"
The leaders themselves become, in the end, convinced of their own threatening projections and succumb inevitably to the atmosphere of fear they have helped to create. Their judgment then becomes impaired, and they fail to address genuine dangers while inflating, as in the case of Iraq, threats to our national security that do not actually exist. As this regression affects those in the political chain of command, it may be shocking but should not be surprising that atrocities like those at the Abu Ghraib prison would be committed, even in some instances, by women.
Worst of all perhaps is what the politics of fear has done to our values as a people. Poet Michael Blumenthal, returning to the United States last month after three years living in Europe, found here "a frightened and frightening nation, a nation filled not with generosity and humanity and decency and charity," a nation "that seems unable to find any deeper reason for its patriotism than a profound, and cynically manipulated atmosphere of anxiety and fear." And former assistant to President John F. Kennedy, Theodore Sorenson, in a commencement speech in Nebraska last May warned of the damage being done to the "very heart and soul of this country" as it moves "toward a mean-spirited mediocrity in place of a noble beacon."
Some of us are awakening to the danger of the politics of fear. Voices are being raised in opposition. Catharine Gamboa of Baltimore writes to the editor, "I refuse to allow myself to be terrorized and blatantly manipulated by these ominous drumbeats," and Steve Mavros of Philadelphia declares he is "sick and tired of living in fear" and of "alerts telling me whether or not I can walk outside (New York Times September 9, p. A32). Kasey Hrehocik, a senior at Poteet High School in Texas wrote a paper opposing the "fear mongering" to which she had been exposed. "When we allow fear to override societal defenses that hold our ideals and values together," she warned, "we allow our home, America, to become a garbage-littered swamp filled with manipulations and lies."
But scattered voices like those of these brave people must be joined by a swelling tide of resistance. The misuse of fear to control our minds should become a central focus of our national consciousness, and students at every level of our educational system need to be taught to recognize the signs of this corrosive strategem. Only in this way, I believe, will we be able to preserve our national values and integrity, and make the intelligent choices upon which genuine security and fulfillment depend.
This editorial, written for the Boston Globe, was not yet published at the time of Dr. Mack's death, on September 27, 2004, in an auto accident.
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