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Fear Factor III: Fear as the Instrument for Debasing a People's Consciousness

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The first two installments of this series are to be found at
and at

Here's the third of what will be five installments.


We're not supposed to like the feeling of fear.

Fear is, fundamentally, about a threat to our survival. If we're wired to experience fear, it's because over the eons those of our kind who experienced fear when appropriate, and acted on it appropriately, were more likely to pass along their wiring to the future, i.e. to us. And acting appropriately means acting to create a new situation in which the source of the threat is no longer present. Out of fear we either get away from the source of the threat or we eliminate it. Flight or fight.

It is perhaps because fear is so elemental --because it is about life and death-- that fear reduces us to primitive forms of consciousness. In a state of fear, people's capacity for rationality diminishes. Panic represents an extreme form of a tendency likely present throughout the spectrum of fear: to lose nuance in perception, to act on impulse instead of reflection, to abandon all considerations and values other than one's own intense need to feel safe.

That's why evil rulers throughout history manipulate their people through fear. A fearful populace does not think well, so the leader can tell them how to think. They cannot see clearly, so the leader can induce them to see the world as he presents it to them. They are ready to act impulsively, so the leader can channel their actions to his purposes.

One can thus readily tell an evil leader on the basis of his relationship to the fears of his followers. Does he say, You have nothing to fear but fear itself, or does he say, Be very afraid. And if he says be afraid, does he do so only in so far as is necessary to get them to deal with real dangers (like Churchill, with his warning to Britain to rearm to counter the Nazi threat) or does he foster fear for its own sake (like the Bushites with their phony color-coded terror alerts, about which the populace could do nothing but be more afraid)?

Fear is not the way of the Good. When fear is justified, it is still regrettable-- it focuses attention on those aspects of the world that are not benign. When fear is not justified, it reduces people to lesser beings --more foolish, more selfish-- than they would otherwise be. And it makes them more ready if unwitting instruments of the will of the evil.

The Bushite regime has used the fear of the people against the interests and needs of the people.

As argued in Part II of this series, the people most vulnerable to being politically manipulated by fear are the members of subcultures in which the channels of fear have already been laid down most deeply, in which fear already plays a major role in the mechanisms of social control. The Bushites have found their strongest following, therefore, in people already the most traumatized by fear, most wounded by fear, most desperate to escape the pain of fear.

But while many of these people are going to be more subject to fear than others with more benign worldviews, and less harsh and traumatic experiences of the world in the process of their growing up, the level of their fears is not a constant. The rise of evil forces on the right, over the past generation and especially in this post-9/11 Bushite regime, has amplified the role of fear in their lives.

The result has been a degradation of the consciousness of perhaps a third of our countrymen. The deliberate and manipulative ratcheting up of their experience of fear has made them more vicious, less accessible to reason, comforted to identify with aggression against perceived threat, less concerned about those abstract principles by which civilized peoples have sought to restrain the brutal rule of power (ideas of fairness, the rule of law, etc.).

This presents us with one of the keys to the defeat of evil in America, and to the healing of the damage already done. As this evil has fed on fear, so can the evil be weakened to the extent that the fear is diminished. And as the Bushite evil is weakened and defeated, so also can the voices that have cultivated fear be silenced, and the fear allowed to recede.

I'll take these ideas up in the fourth and final installment in this series.
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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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