The Politics of Fear
I read Parker J. Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy a couple of years ago. It was a breath of fresh air in the very toxic atmosphere that has fueled our political discourse of late. And full of quotable words of wisdom. Here is one that is particularly timely for me in light of the uproar over the audacity of our President to approach the Iranian problem from a diplomatic perspective rather than a militaristic one. (The audacity of hope?) And in light of the fact that we are entering into another campaign season and the hyperbole is heating up. Here is what Parker had to say about the promotion of fear in our politics and by the media:
“Some of the cynicism, anger, and hatred we hear is scripted and strategic. For example, manipulating our ancient fear of “otherness” is a time-tested method to gain power and get wealthy, if you have a public megaphone. Well-known media personalities–and too many political candidates and office holders–exploit a market that will yield returns as long as fear haunts the human heart, a profitable enterprise in relation to their own financial or political fortunes but one that can bankrupt the commonwealth.” Parker J. Palmer. “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit”. 2011. Jossey-Bass.
The fear of otherness he refers to is something we all struggle with and the more we acquiesce to that fear, the more insular and separate we become from each other and from the rest of the world. There are people in this country who make a good living by stirring up these fearful tendencies in our population. They want us to believe that the “other” guy, which is anyone who doesn’t think like them, is a dangerous, evil, maligning creature who is out to destroy this country and all of our accompanying freedoms. Why would they want to do that? What would this “other” possibly have to gain from letting our country be destroyed, by the likes of an Iran, or anything else? It’s fear mongering. It’s demonizing the opposition, which is usually what a person does when they don’t have reasonable objections based on rational thinking and factual information.
I don’t believe in living in fear. I won’t do it. I won’t have fear informing my politics or influencing my vote. Because fear is not a rational approach to a problem. Think about all the things we fear that never ever happen. How much time have you wasted worrying about things that never came to be? What could you have done with that time? That is what I think Parker means when he warns that as long as fear haunts our hearts, and as long as there are people who exploit that fear for their own gain, our country’s psyche is bankrupt. Because fear is a thief. It robs us of time, it destroys our productivity, (look at how the government doesn’t work anymore), and most of all, it takes away our peace. Fear has marched us into war before and in the end, the motivator, the things we feared that made us sure war was the only option, did not even exist. Fear killed Gandhi and Sadat and Martin Luther King and Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and women and children in Vietnam, Iraq and how many others in how many neighborhoods, cities, countries? I believe that fear is toxic. It’s poison. And I’m sorry, I know that there are real dangers in this world and it’s a crazy place and there are evil people in terrorist groups, governments and maybe the house down the block, and that is scary. But it’s even worse when you drink the poison. Don’t do it.