Motivated by fear

During a recent viewing of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, I was struck by the thesis of the film, best presented by Marilyn Manson. The idea was that fear inculcated by the news media is an important contributing factor to the gun violence epidemic in the United States, and the mainstream media has juxtaposed the scary “real world” with advertisements featuring safety and comfort.

What struck me was not so much the thesis itself, but the idea of fear being exploited.

In many right-wing political parties, among neo-conservatives and in the Bush Administration–and there is definitely some overlap in these categories–fear is the message of choice. Fear, encouraged by unforgivable ignorance, led a Canadian Alliance MP and former Baptist minister, to advocate the criminalization of homosexuality.

He quoted a satirical essay that ran in a gay Boston newspaper. Though it was satirical, it struck at the heart of the fear the neoconservative movement and the religious right feels in respect to gay people. The article was a mock “Gay Manifesto” on the intentions of gay people to seduce young people into homosexuality.

In fact, neo-cons and fundamentalists are afraid of sexuality in general. So afraid that neo-cons, avowed laissez-faire economists, feel state power needs to be exercised to regulate the morals of a society. Sexual morals, however, are not the key to a good society.

Europe has lax sexual morality, yet you would be hard pressed to convince me that the average European’s quality of life is worse than the average American.

Recently, after an attack on American troops in Iraq, Bush referred to the attackers as terrorists. This illustrates his total commitment to the symbol of terrorism over the actual definition of terrorism.

Terrorists are those who attack civilians in order to strike fear into the populace to achieve a political end. Terrorism, as a symbol, is an amazingly useful rhetorical device. It evokes fear, explosions, strangers, viciousness, immorality, murder, and evil, all of which the administration wishes to communicate to its citizenry. Moreover, it dehumanizes the enemy and discards his motives, because the terrorist is evil and his ends could never be just.

The problem is that those who attack American soldiers are not necessarily terrorists. If those same people attack civilians then terrorist is an appropriate label, but while attacking military targets, these people are combatants in a war. However, the symbol of “terrorist” is so powerful that the definition is of little consequence–the message is all that matters.

The idea that seems to have penetrated the American psyche is that safety is found in property.

Thus, Americans make their homes into fortresses, sealed at all times, guns locked and loaded.

While mixing a gin and tonic in their home, protected by an alarm system, in their community, protected by gates and their very own security guard, they sit in a self-made prison thinking, “isn’t freedom great!”

The American marketing machine has discovered this twisted conceptualization of freedom and is now exploiting it. Ford changed the name of the minivan from the Windstar to the Freestar. The marketing geniuses at Ford must be incredibly proud of themselves for capitalizing on this bizarre American notion of freedom.

In a deliciously ironic twist, Boeing has entered into the fray of marketing freedom. Between images of peace and serenity in a recent ad we see the text “freedom rises on the wings of technology.”

It is a beautiful idea and, in this day in age, it is incredibly attractive. But it comes from the manufacturer of the most efficient and stealthy bomber in existence, the B-2 stealth bomber and the B-52, a bomber that flew over 100,000 missions during the Vietnam War.

Fear, and anything that alleviates it, is a motivator. It is one of the motivating factors in the creation of government.

In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes cites the fear of violent death as the reason for the social contract. The difference between the Hobbesian reaction to fear and the new reaction, however, is that Hobbes’ aim was to prevent or lessen the fear we feel.

The new reaction perpetuates the fear, turns it into anger and gives us three options for acting on that anger: lock up the gays, kill off the terrorists and buy safety and freedom from the outside world.

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