‘The politics of fear’

Frank Furedi in Spiked Online:

Being a right-wing hawk banging on the war drums myself I kind of resent the first sentence in this paragraph, but I’ll let it slide for now.

Either way, Furedi ends the article on a hopeful note, despite all the anxiety he has created so far:

In contemporary times, fear migrates freely from one problem to the next without there being a necessity for causal or logical connection….

The precondition for effectively countering the politics of fear is to challenge the association of personhood with the state of vulnerability. Anxieties about uncertainty become magnified and overwhelm us when we regard ourselves as essentially vulnerable. Yet the human imagination possesses a formidable capacity to engage and learn from the risks it faces. Throughout history humanity has learned from its setbacks and losses and has developed ways of systematically identifying, evaluating, selecting and implementing options for reducing risks.

There is always an alternative. Whether or not we are aware of the choices confronting us depends upon whether we regard ourselves as defined by our vulnerability or by our capacity to be resilient.

8 thoughts on “‘The politics of fear’”

  1. My classic example is the close cabal of Fenton Communications and the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council.)

    The first organization specializes in promoting scares, (Alar, etc.)

    The second organization collects money from the gullible to “protect us” from these perils.

    I’ve stopped giving money to any organization that will “give” you a tote bag, stuffed animal toy, (whale, wolf pup, panda) when you contribute. This has severely limited my giving. About the only one left is the Salvation Army.

  2. “Throughout history humanity has learned from…”
    Yeah, we’ve learned that overanalysis leads to tail-chasing excuses for convenient inaction, and that sometimes a cigar IS just a cigar.

  3. People often don’t give to get something done, they give to relieve guilt about, whatever. The totes and trinkets are merely signalling devices to show that Yes, they care more than you.
    However, such totems are just as effective at accomplishing anything as buying some dumb–s sticker and putting it on your car is at ‘raising awareness’ or providing material support. It’s all about the semblence of action.

    I friend in the environmental industry once cynically told me that sometimes it seems as if they wait for a report to come out from some NGO, so that they may write their own report in response, and then raise money.

  4. Yeah, current events are SOOoooo 2005.

    Ralf, I think you’re onto something. Most of the scare-mongering was tied to fundraising in the past. If the threat is not frightening on its face, it must be exaggerated to create a sense of urgency. Otherwise, donors are likely to just sit on their wallets.

    Now with the huge media buys most candidates make, they are full-time fundraisers. This also contributes to the bitter polarization of politicians, while the majority of the people remain moderate and centrist. What’s the use of presenting your opponent as a pretty reasonable fellow, but one with whom you disagree on a few things and agree on most others? That being the case, why would I pay out of my own pocket to see one elected over the other?

  5. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    -H. L. Mencken

  6. Here’s a choice selection from FDR’s “four freedoms” speech:

    “…we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

    The first is freedom of speech and expression –everywhere in the world.

    The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way– everywhere in the world.

    The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants –everywhere in the world.

    The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor –anywhere in the world.”

    Sadly, many people seem to have internalized this bit of political cynicism to the point that they imagine it’s meant to be taken seriously. So those of us who are more pragmatically minded are subjected to an endless tirade of whining and con jobs related to these phony “freedoms” no one can possibly deliver.

    On a related note. The danger of trying to put the “scare” into free people is that a fair portion of them will translate the tactic in different ways. Some will merely hear “threat”, and not be scared at all. Some will notice the Straw Man fallacy that’s typically employed, and resent being treated like ignorant children. Some might even question the motives of those using said tactics. Given the right mixture, Appeals to Fear explode unpredictably, and as often as not blow up in the hands of those that use them.

Comments are closed.