Monday, November 3, 2008

The Politics of Fear

Today in Philosophy class Dr. Johnson told us about Hegel and his theory that world history is teleological and is determined by dialectical idealism, meaning that history is moved by conflicts of ideas that eventually reach a synthesis which becomes the new thesis, until one day it reaches a final synthesis. One aspect of this is that people's freedom's are a blockade to one another, and someone is always forced to recognize another's freedom, making that person like a slave. There is no mutual recognition between the two people, which creates one person's dominance over the other. Dr. J compared this to a relationship, such as a romantic one, where one person submits their freewill to the other and recognizes the other not out of mutual appreciation and respect, but out of a desperate need for that person to not go away. This got me thinking about the role of fear in every aspect of life, from individual relationships, to international politics as a whole. 

In my Intro to International Studies class, we have been talking about how misperceptions happen in the international system. Leaders in government often misconstrue or wrongly emphasize data based on stereotypes already in place, or on past events that went badly. For example politicians often have "Munich Syndrome," meaning they are afraid that if they ever give in to the demands of another country, that is an appeasement just like how Hitler was appeased by Neville Chamberlain in 1939 when he stepped aside while Hitler invaded Poland. Politicians today compare completely unrelated situations to this all the time, and are often very paranoid that history could repeat itself somehow. No one wants to be the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century. Fear oftentimes rules over reason and levelheadedness in politics, and realist theory would suggest that states are willing to do anything to protect their security. When President Bush announced that the United States would be invading Iraq, the politics of fear was behind one of his main purposes for going. The American people were made to believe that September 11th or something like it would happen again if we didn't act, and people are more willing to agree if they are afraid.

Outside of large international politics, even politics on the smaller scale seems motivated by fear to me. During the talk last week on "Does Democracy Matter?" Dr. Erfani encouraged us to be involved and active in democracy in more ways that just voting. One reason this is a rarity may be laziness or ignorance as to how to get involved, but I would argue a third reason is fear. People are afraid to face to problems in the world, and the problems in democracy itself, because it is all so overwhelming. It's so much easier to say that your small contribution wouldn't really matter, and just step back, than it is to really face the world with your eyes wide open. Dealing with all of these problems would bring up so many fears, that sometimes it's easier to stay away from them. I am no different than this, I'm afraid of what's happening to world culture, of what's happening in human relations, in religion, in countries far away with conflicts going on that I can' t even fathom. 

Fear holds people back, and causes decisions to be made less rationally oftentimes. At the same time, fear is not usually unfounded, and a certain amount of fear is healthy. I just believe that when fear is used as a weapon, like it is oftentimes in politics over the world, it stunts progression. 


leecbryant said...

I agree with you Virginia. Fear is a huge impetus in politics and, like you said, it's not always a good thing. I think sometimes politicians fear rejection from the public so they go with the most popular belief rather than what they may really believe. My mom ran for a seat on our county commission this past year and her opponent was very much the crowd pleaser. He changed his opinions according to what the public was responding to whether he agreed with it or not, even if he had the complete opposite opinion previously. I understand he wanted to gain votes but he should have been grounded in his views rather than let fear take over. He was also a tool for his campaign supporters. He was afraid of losing his financial support so he did whatever they wanted him to do. And sadly, we was elected to the commission.

Allison Fish said...

Fear is inevitable in our current political system. Going off of the previous comment, John McCain could be cited as a prime example. Who the world previously knew for so long as "Straight Talk Express" Senator McCain changed dramatically into a radical, rash Presidential Candidate McCain towards the latter half of the election process. In fear of losing the election, he had to shake things up a bit, and unfortunately for him, his gamble did not pay off. I am, however, glad that Americans have been able to take a step towards moving past the fear of the unknown in electing a black president, although it can be argued that it only serves as strong symbolism. Maybe a kind of fear was what America needed for this to happen; fear of a recession, fear of 4 more years of similar administration, what ever it may be. I'm not too sure what I'm trying to get at, other than that fear is an undoubtably strong force in our country's political realm.

Courtney Martin said...

Virginia, I think you make a great point that fear seems to loom over us, which influences our decisions. Lee and Allison have shown this in politics, but I believe this is just as apparent in everyday life. I agree that it is easier to be a pacifist on many issues that you may even have strong opinion about. It could be that decisions are not made in fear of it being to "overwhelming" or in fear of creating too much unknown, but I think a lot of the fear comes from being afraid of failure. People often take an "I don't care" approach to reassure themselves that either way, they are not "affected" by the outcome. If they put any passion or emotion, then the feelings of glory or loss are at stake. Loosing something often holds people back in their amount of aggression towards a situation.

Cal said...

Something that we discuss in the existentialism class is that this fear/anxiousness can be boiled to down to this: you are afraid of things because they make you realize your finitude and want to preserve yourself. You fear things because they ultimately may end your life either directly or through a chain of unfortunate events. The sensation of holding back is troublesome too, because you are ducking your feeling and allowing yourself to be "dominated." Rather one should take responsibility for their emotions.

ThomasJ said...

Using fear is not always a terrible tactic for politicians to employ in an election. In the most recent presidential election, both the Democratic and the Republican parties used fear in a way that can be considered legitimate and acceptable. The Democratic Party played on the fear many voters had for the Republican Party. Many people believed that there would be serious consequences if John McCain would have been elected president. There was a relatively high chance that his running mate, Sarah Palin, could have become president at some point during his presidential term. The combination of her minimal religious tolerance and her intense support for the use of fire arms could have put many people around the world in harm’s way. In the same way, the Republican Party used fear against the Democratic Party. Republicans accused the Democratic Party’s candidate, Barack Obama, of being a socialist and of wanting to put a restriction on the people’s “right to bear arms.” Many voters supporting the Republican Party feared (and still do fear since his election) that Obama would take away the freedom guaranteed American citizens in the constitution. If politicians create fear in an attempt to persuade citizens to vote for their party, there is a fairly decent chance that political growth will be stunted. If fear over a specific issue is legitimate and already held by the majority of citizens supporting a party, though, then it is unlikely that then political party can use this fear against them. What’s wrong with political parties being concerned about our safety?