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Fear Factor V: The Better Way of Closing the Fear Gap (Or, How the Left Can Help Heal the Right)

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In the fourth installment of this series (Fear Factor IV: So This is What It Feels Like to Live in Fear (What the Bushite Right Has "Taught" the Left), published here on opednews and at, I offered one meaning of the rise of these evil Bushite forces out of the American right: The right, much of which at its core is governed by fear, has now given the left, much of which has a tendency to deny danger in order to escape fear, a taste of its own fearful experience of the world.

Compelled to live under the rule of a fascist regime, we come to know the terror of life under capricious and cruel and unanswerable power, a terror that represents the dark side of the authoritarian family structure that provided the emotional/spiritual soil in which support for such a regime gets cultivated.

This raises the question: how will the American cultural/political system process this new sharing of this fundamental experience of fear?

One possibility is that the newly fearful liberal part of America will become more like the Bushite-supporting part of America against which it feels called to do battle. In this scenario, the fear of the enemy becomes the core motivating factor, leading to an increased focus on gaining power and on eliminating the threat at whatever cost.

This is an understandable reaction, and indeed it is probably necessary that this be a part of the response: such is the nature of power that those that are threatened by unprincipled power are compelled to imitate the enemy that threatens them –to adopt those power-maximizing aspects of the enemy’s ways—in order to escape being swallowed up or destroyed by that enemy. (This is part of the heart of my theory of the evolution of civilization, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.)

But this convergence on the fear-based form of adaptation is also regrettable, for it extends the dominion of evil, which is about subverting the structures that create wholeness. Division and conflict are, one might say, the “devil’s” domain.

Fortunately, there is an alternative scenario. In this one, the liberal part of America overcomes enough of its fear to enable it to work to heal the underlying wounds in America, including the wounds in its Bushite-supporting “enemy.” Instead of investing only in the dynamic of conflict –as necessary as that also is—it seeks to reduce the fears that evil feeds upon.

In other words, rather than both sides becoming more like the fearful right, both sides might become more like the less fearful left—not in the left’s denial, but rather in its more positive sense of the world and its possibilities.

There are two ways that I can envision liberal America helping the Bushite-supporting part of America to become less fearful, and both have to do with the left overcoming some of its own distortive portions of the polarization of vision that besets the American cultural system.

The most obvious of the fears that the Bushite rulers have exploited is the fear of terrorism, the fear of enemies in a dangerous world. It seems very clear that the Bushites have grossly overstated the dangers. Nonetheless, in an age of weapons of mass destruction, the dangers are real. And as I've stated here earlier in this series, the left has tended --as a kind of polarized reaction to the excessive fearfulness of the right-- to deny such dangers.

To help the Bushite supporters pull away from the powers that have seduced them, it would help if the left could offer a kind of leadership that speaks convincingly of how they will protect America.

I expect that many aspects of a wise American policy to reduce the dangers from the external world would NOT be especially reassuring to a right-wing mentality. For many of those people, "defense" is inextricably connected with the build up and wielding of military power.

But there are some aspects of a wise message that could help reduce the fears of that part of the public that has supported the Bushites out of fear, and who perceive the Democrats as weak on national security matters. For one thing, the Democrats could put more emphasis on presenting a vision of security in a dangerous world. And beyond that, they could talk about the kinds of policies that they would pursue to realize such a vision: developing international networks of intelligence gathering and police enforcement against terrorist networks, for example; strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime, for another example.

Just taking the matter of "protection" more visibly seriously could be of real help.

The other dimension of fear that the Bushite rulers have exploited concerns the fear of what traditionalists perceive as moral anarchy. In this domain, the Bushites have emphasized issues like gay marriage and abortion to inflame the traditionalists' fears of a breakdown in moral order (and even of divine punishment, as mentioned in an earlier installment in this series).

While the liberals and the traditionalist-conservatives are not going to agree on all aspects of how to draw the line between the moral and the immoral, it would help reduce the fears of the latter --and would help heal our polarized culture generally-- if we on the liberal side would speak more strongly about the importance of that line in principle.

The importance of the left's moving back toward an acceptance of the importance of making moral judgments about the choices people make has been a theme of NoneSoBlind from Day One. The opening words of the Overview to the site read:

Many in the liberal half of America worry that the political right has been taken over by amoral forces that pretend to be righteous while indulging a lust for power and wealth. Many conservative Americans fear that America's moral integrity is being eroded by an "anything goes" culture that's fostered by contemporary liberalism.

Both these worries are well-founded. Each side of America's political and cultural divide is challenged to overcome its moral blindspot.

And then it goes on to make the link: historically, the traditionalists' fears of moral chaos, fed in part by the excessive moral slackness of the more liberally-minded, has provided fascism its foothold for climbing to power.

And so the more that the liberal side of our divided America can signal a genuine concern about cleaning up the trashy culture, about re-instituting standards of conduct, about the development of good character, the less fearful will be the traditionalists on the right.

And the less fearful those traditionalists are, the more likely America is to starting getting from them what is best instead of, as has been the case under the influence of this evil Bushite leadership, what is worst in them.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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