Edmund Burke (172997), Irish philosopher, statesman. The Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, part 2, chapter 2 (1756).
I do not know if there is a Devil, but if there is, I do not believe that his primary tool for achieving his goal is the use of temptation. I submit to you that fear is a far more useful tool for causing human beings to commit acts of evil.
There are many who will try and tell you that September 11th changed everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that September 11th did was take away our complacency, our self imposed delusion that we were safe because we were Americans. We then permitted George W. Bush and his crypto-fascist coterie of thugs to prey upon our initial reaction to that tragic day to make us think of ourselves as victims. In reality, the danger posed by terrorists, both foreign and domestic, is no greater now than it was on September 10th, 2001.
In the early twenty-first century, conservative pundits regularly make use of emotionally charged issues to convince people of the pundit's point of view. Greed, anger, and fear, both alone and in combination, are the basis for these pundits arguments.
The use of fear in politics has been the hallmark of unscrupulous politicians from at least the time of the Old Testament. Demosthenes used fear in his polemics against Phillip of Macedonia, and Cicero used the same tactics against Catalina. Hitler took the use of fear to its most extreme limits, using it to create straw men 'responsible' for Germany's troubles. Further, Hitler convinced the German people that the deaths of these 'straw men--the Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Socialists, Slavs, intellectuals, et al.--would solve Germany's myriad problems permanently. As Richard Nixon pointed out, "People react to fear, not love--they don't teach that in Sunday School, but it's true."
For the last roughly forty years, the White House has been dominated by the Republican Party and a conservative ideology, just as the previous forty had been dominated by the Democrats and a liberal ideology. What has this thirty-five year Republican hegemony resulted in? Let us take a look:
More people in prisons with a marked decrease in personal safety, especially if you are poor.
Increasing poverty, together with a widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the population. Poverty in the United States and the gap between the rich and other Americans had shrunk during the almost forty years of Democratic dominance.
Less competition between an increasingly small number of ever larger American corporations; and an increase in competition from foreign manufacturers who make use of children and other forms of cheap labor that are illegal in the United States.
An increasing tax burden for middle and working class Americans, contrasted by a growing reduction of government services available to them.
Finally, the United States has gone from being a nation with an overall trade surplus to one with a frightening trade deficit.
In all of these cases, fear--and its handmaiden greed--has been used to justify the injustices foisted upon the American public. Greed is based upon the fear that there is not enough for people to share, or that someone is getting something that they have not earned, at your expense. To quote British author John Berger, "The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied, but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing."
The rich and their modern surrogates--the corporations--have always feared the poor, working and middle classes. The rich spend a great deal of time and effort playing one group against the other in order to maintain their own positions of power and influence. Additionally, the rich traditionally use their wealth to corrupt their nation's political system. G.K. Chesterton's observed that "The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all."
The rich believe that their wealth confers upon them not only the right, but what they believe is the virtue, of controlling the lives of those who are less well off. This desire by the rich to control others, through the medium of highly simplistic, black and white rules of behavior--which the wealthy ignore if they find them inconvenient--is the hallmark of conservative thought. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive."
The conservative rich rely upon the threat of punishment to keep the masses in line. That threat of punishment can be either immediate, or in the afterlife. It is only by the conservatives discouraging the questioning of the status quo that the rich, through their conservative mouthpieces, maintain their control. As Bertrand Russell once observed, "Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate."
Propaganda is used by those who want to communicate in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote a certain message. The conservative noise punditry are highly effective in their use of the six traditional tools of propaganda: calling their adversaries names; dealing in glittering generalities, i.e., making very general statements about events, ignoring any of the negative aspects of the events as described; transferring their own faults and errors to their enemies; the testimonials of well known or respected individuals (because of the position of wealth or power that they have achieved in their lives) to support their positions; attempting to pass themselves off as "plain folks," usually while passing off their adversaries as some sort of elite; finally, by attempting to instill fear in the hearts and minds of their audience, who are too busy trying to survive to double check the information that they are receiving from the punditry.
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