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What are the "politics of fear"? Analyze and discuss.

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The oppressive circle of fear

"[T]he intentional creation of false fears for political purposes" [p.10] and a kind of politics that "says your are encircled by monstrous dangers" [ibid] is called by Al Gore "politics of fear" [ibid]. This opposes the "politics of trust" [ibid], which means to say "the world is a baffling and hazardous place, but it can be shaped to the will of men." [ibid] The politics of fear are used by demagogous leaders to "fan public anxieties in order to present themselves as the protectors of the fearful." [p.2]

To describe the mechanisms of politics of fear Gore starts with: "Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason." [p.1] It follows that "fear can trigger the temptation to surrender freedom to a demagogue promising strength and security in return." [ibid] This is drawn from recent research in neuroscience [pp.2-5]. A good instrument to trigger fear is imagery, escpecially in combination with TV technology [pp.6-7]. With a sociological perspective on "fearmongering" as engaging in "repetition, making the irregular seem regular, and misdirection" [p.7] it is said that "Our systematic exposure to fear [...] can be exploited by the clever public relations specialist, advertiser, or politician." [ibid] For the remainder of his essay Gore highlights the use of politics of fear by the Bush administration [pp.8-10] and notes that "Terrorism relies on the stimulation of fear for political ends." [p.8] Some other recent historical examples follow, concluding with what we looked at first in this analysis.

The argumentation of Al Gore regarding fear as a primary source of our actions is in its whole convincing and important. It is backed by scientific research and it stresses the necessity of public discourse on this topic. Whereas he writes against "simplistic and frequently vitriolic beliefs [that] can provide comfort to a fearful society" [p.10] he uses a simplistic explanation himself in focusing on national contexts, e.g. in: "fear itself can quickly become a self-perpetuating and freewheeling force that drains national will and weakens national character" [p.1], especially in difference to "America’s first century" [p.7]. The nowadays very different political economy, he says, makes politics of fear so dangerous. And on the other hand vicarious traumatisation - as a central component of politics of fear - may be used for positive purposes [cf. p.7].

As the article says we have to understand fear, and we have to understand how it may be instrumentalised. That alone is not enough. We have to analyse the systemic preconditions for the fruitfulnes of this instrumentalisation. As Gore said, fear is also used for "positive" purposes. Is it positive to strengthen "national will" and "character"? Why focusing on U.S.A. (or America as the hegemonial synonym goes) when we can have the same here and in many other places in the world? As to say with T. Pratchett: "People are people everywhere". Politics of fear is also not just about unjustified war - every war is unjustified - it is much more about our right to decide for ourselves and it is about questioning mechanisms of oppression that are concealed by fanning fear in the general public.

( johnny / Andreas Klaura )


Topic revision: r5 - 12 Jun 2008, AndreasKlaura


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