The Politics of Fear 2

All humans live in fear.

It is part and parcel of the human condition, a legacy in part of evolving as prey for some pretty formidable predators there on the savanna. (If you are not too afraid of admitting that we are not some hobby project that God decided to whip up in his garage 6000 years ago, that is.)

The first part of the human brain that evolved, what many folks call the reptile brain, evolved for one purpose only. To keep us from being eaten. To this day, that part of the brain reacts first, before we can control it. It reacts to the stimulus of fear…any fear…and there is basically nothing we can do about it.

Then the ‘animal’ part of the brain evolved, bringing what we would identify today as ‘social fear,’ the fear of being shunned out of the protective pack or herd and being cast out into the night as individual prey, unloved and on our own. This reactive fear still shapes a huge amount of societal behavior. Are YOU a Real American? Or should the rest of us Real Americans shun you out into the night. Are you one of the pack? Or are you the dreaded “other,” something to be feared?

Only when we get past this level of fear do we get to the fears brought on by abstract thought, the so called rational fears, the fears of the developed cortex. Though in my experience, these fears are mostly just embellishments of our abstract imagination on the same old fears. But our “new” and shiny brains are capable of soaring flights and complexities of fear that can v=be truly amazing. In the course of a few minutes of “thought” we can invent whole worlds and timestreams, entire alternate universes in which all of our truly impressive fears are realized. We do it without even having to think. In fact, not thinking is precisely the condition necessary to create these worlds.

And these are the worlds that Conservatives live in. These worlds are the reason that Conservatives fight against any form of change. Because they fear the future and the catastrophes that their reptile brains are constantly on the lookout for, their animal brains make very personal, and their higher cortex embellish to amazing levels.

These are the worlds the Conservatives insist we join them in. This IS the reason for Conservative politics. When the Conservatives whine about Liberals, it almost always some form of “Can’t you Liberals see this enormous threat???”

And of course this is what Conservative electoral politics is all about, every Conservative politician is, in essence soliciting you to join them in their fear. And they fear….everything.

But we seem to be in an extraordinary and rare time in American politics. A time when Americans are rejecting the politics of fear and, at least for the moment, embracing, dare I say it, the politics of hope. Whether this is merely because they fear the present mess the Republicans have created or because they are truly ready for a new kind of politics and a new kind of world that is not based solely on fear is impossible to say. Whether Obama is truly a figure of hope over fear is still unclear because of this. Is his popularity a true manifestation of change? Or just a reaction to the current all pervasive assault of the Republican propaganda of fear under Bushco? The fear that they have imposed on all of us to keep themselves in power has spread and magnified and created a world in which there is even more to fear.

Their fear has created the financial crisis, has created MORE terrorists, more war, a Police State in which we must fear the surveillance of our own government etc. And right now, they are engaged in creating and exploiting fears of every solution (Socialism!!!) to the problems that their politics of fear have manufactured.

Yes there are unquestionably things out there that are fearful, some very very scary changes are hitting us now, and more are on the way. In some ways, especially due to Climate Crisis and over population, the human race faces a very uncertain…and thus scary…future. We only truly have one choice though, do we react in fear and retreat from these problems? Or do we press forward through the fear?

Do we shrink from these challenges and hide under our Conservative beds at the approach of the boogeyman of an uncertain future, or do we reject the ancient primal fear of the unknown? Or do we set aside of the worst of our fears, do we reject the power of those fears to stop the Progress of the human race?

We are at a potential pivot point in the history of the human race. If we allow ourselves to embrace fear we produce one future. If we allow ourselves to be courageous, we produce another. The real hope of changing the world for the better lies in enough humans putting aside their fear of each other and their fear of the future to create a new and different world from the one which we have always lived in.

FDR famously said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Now we are at a point where we cannot even afford to fear fear! We simply MUST press on and make the hard and sometimes painful choices we will face. We must each in our hearts reject fear and especially the politics of fear and as someone once said…boldly go where mankind has never gone before!

Electing Obama is the first step in rejecting fear, where we go from there, the world we create after that pivot point is up to the courage, sacrifice and hard unflinching work each one of us. The bulk of that challenge lies in taking the first step of rejecting the fear within us and walking into the future with our heads held high, ready to face the challenges of a new world. Just as the Republicans have had a huge influence in creating the world of fear we now live in, we can have a huge influence in creating a new world. A world based not on competition inspired by fear of each other, but based on the courage that it takes to cooperate with each other, to trust each other…to love each other. To act not as warring tribes or nation states, but to come, finally, to the realization that we are one big tribe, the human tribe. If we can do that one thing, there is nothing we can’t do. no challenge we cannot face and defeat.

I hope.



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  1. Photobucket

  2. Some people fear computers, some fear cultural influences on their children, some fear mathematics.  This I knew, but I never thought of fear as a first responder before.

    • robodd on October 24, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    there is a difference between fear and the manipulation of fear.

    It is the manipulators of fear, particularly unreal fear, that I’m after.

  3. fear put forth by conservatives.  Last night Senator Tom Harkin was debating his token Republican challenger, Chris Reed.  Reed accused Harkin of being the “Tokyo Rose” of al Qaeda, and of “providing aid and comfort to the enemy” for his opposition to the Iraq war.  Harkin has a response posted on dKos.  

  4. …and badly misinterpreting actual Conservative doctrine.

    Which is your right, of course, but I think it is a mistake.  Without confronting the actual bedrock tenets of conservatism, you won’t understand why it continues to have an appeal and a constituency.  And when it rises again, you’ll be confused and misunderstand why.

    Tradition is not mindless.  Traditions from the prohibition of eating pork in Judaism and Islam have practical purposes; the prohibition on homosexuality does as well.  As such, cultural traditions are distributed knowledge; a pattern by which people can attest some things work.  The appeal of conservatism is in the notion that many bright, new ideas are in fact not so bright: communism and fascism are not only inferior to democracy but inferior to serfdom.  

    Avoid optimistic falsehoods.  We are not one big tribe; we are inevitably in some forms of competition.  The way to reach cooperation is through mutual self-interest, not attempting to reconfigure tribal sensibilities.  The world you are describing sounds lovely, buhdy.  It simply isn’t inhabited by what can be called human beings.

    • jim p on October 25, 2008 at 12:16 am

    And to transcend the reptilian and mammalian brains requires an act of personal choice. And each one’s personal choice, to varying degrees, depends on the circumstances.

    In this connection (about kinds of brains and choice), I find Robert Ornestein’s work very clear and useful.

    As he writes in the Evolution of Consciousness

    “There will be no further evolution without conscious evolution.”

    As to the circumstances, the psychological soil as it were, and at the risk of being Johnny one-note:

    I think we’ve all seen studies over the years showing how dangerous one sees the world is in direct relation to how much television one watches. That kids see 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence before they leave high school.

    Any real headway, imo, requires that mass media be removed from the control of Corporations and given to the People, so that we have a chance to change the psychic atmosphere. I’d put that action and ending non-human (Corporate) money in politics at the very top of the list of things that need doing.

    I’d given up watching cable news since Mar 2003, but went back recently (Darn you Rachel Maddow!) It was amazing to see how almost every news show pushed the “bailout-or-die” (fear) scenario with nary a skeptical word, a contrarian viewpoint expressed. And it was even more amazing to see the number of believers in the bailout rise. BUT never reaching a majority.

    Which tells me that people do, in fact, have much more common sense than some believe. They just don’t have real facts and strategies at their disposal, and fear-driven pictures planted in their minds instead.

    • OPOL on October 25, 2008 at 1:35 am

    called The Dragons of Eden which discussed the brain and brain function in terms of its evolution.  It’s very interesting how the brain stem, mid-brain and neo-cortex interact.  Sounds a lot like some of your discussion here.

    Great stuff.

    P.S.  Oddly enough, I wrote a similar diary today but didn’t post it.  We were definitely thinking on the same track though.  Great minds I guess.

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