Soon fear will invade our airwaves, our morning papers, our civic conversations. Dark warnings of worse to come should we elect a change in government will be issued at daily press briefings and by fair and balanced television networks. Unspeakable dangers will be said to lurk on either side of our present course, eager and ready to devour us should we dare to deviate, and there is no amount of duct tape or plastic sheeting will protect us.
Fear is and has always been a powerful weapon in politics, effective most for the party in power. Sowing fear for votes is a technique as old as democracy, but never so perfected as in recent years. Bringing fear to our doorsteps, and for the small price of a vote promising our safety, has become the modus operandi of American politics at every level, and no major political party is above ringing our doorbells to frighten us.
Fear, of course, is not the sole property of politicians and sadists. We live in a world of fear in part because, thanks to electronic media, we hear every hour on the hour all the things that are going wrong. Crowding for our obedient attention, our crisis-driven mass media is naturally drawn to compete in the business of fear.
Television, especially, invades our senses with up-to-the minute scenes of violence and terrorism one atrocity overtaking another. It distorts reality in a way that seems designed to put us on edge, and diverts our anxieties from big risks toward smaller ones. Causing the public to develop an exaggerated sense of danger, television more than any other form of media leads us to believe we live in a frightening world in which we could be the next victim.
Since September 11th, our government has only added to our anxieties, by alternatively issuing color-coded warnings of unknowable events, then admonishing us to go about our daily lives. Told to keep our gaze fixed on approaching catastrophes, we're left blind to the risks that really matter, such as our diminishing real wages and pensions, and our growing lack of health care. More Americans have died from lack of health care over the past five years than bin Laden could ever have dreamed of killing.
But it is the shameless and deliberate political manipulation of anger and fear that is perhaps the greatest threat to our well-being and that of our children and of our world. Look no further than the exploitation of our national hysteria over the attacks of September 11th to launch a pre-emptive war on a country that posed no real threat to us for what I pray will prove a never again seen example of the triumph of fear over collective rationality.
Fear works, let's face it. Fear allows politicians to dupe their citizenry. Lest you doubt this, explain away the remarkably tenacious yet completely false belief, still held by half of Americans recently polled, that Iraq played a role in those attacks. That today's politicians are so adept at stoking and then taking advantage of our fear is less a poor reflection on them and more on us.
Politicians know that fearful people do not want change. Fearful people are more easily manipulated by deceptively simple messages of right and might, and are more accepting of reductions in their liberties and their freedoms if their insecurities are promised to be relieved. Any first-year psychology major knows that the more frightened people are the more illogical becomes their reasoning.
Fear leads people to build and hide behind fortresses named safety and security. But this is not who we are. Americans are not by nature a fearful people. Nearly five years on from that awful morning we ought finally to consider how it is that we've become so, and how much damage our fear, which we renamed fury, has done to ourselves and in the world.
The great Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt steered America through the horrors of World War II by reminding citizens they had nothing to fear but fear itself. We need today more politicians who urge us to fear less and hope more.
And we need ourselves to turn off our televisions, to read more and learn more about our world. Knowledge is not only power, it is the most powerful inoculation against fear.