Political fear is an instrument of power and leaders use real or potential threats to ensure social control.
by Aram Aharonian
As soon as we are born, we are instilled with fear: the mantra of religions is precisely to frighten us in this world, marking our behaviour and limiting our enjoyment, in order to make merit and be able to enjoy all that (or other things, I don’t know, eternally), in the other, after death. No more threats, no more fears?
In other words, life on Earth would be just an admission test and if we don’t behave well according to the rules and norms of the religion we choose or they impose on us, there will be no second time. That is primary, first generation terrorism, says communicologist Alvaro Verzi. Secondary terrorism would be the threat of climate change, famine, greenhouse gases and nuclear war.
The list of sacred books is enormous, all possessing the one truth: Bible, Koran, Torah, Talmud, Upanishad, Vedas, Canons of Buddhism, Book of Mormon, Tipitaka, Rig Veda, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Kojiki, Zend Avesta, Guru Granth Sahib… But we cannot forget that with or without books, tablets or engraved rocks, our Indians also had their religions, even when they worshipped other gods.
There are dozens and dozens of books on fear, but I am afraid to read them and so I go to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, which tells us that fear is “anguish for a real or imaginary risk or harm. Fear is an unpleasant emotion that is provoked by the perception of danger, real or supposed, present, future or even past”.
It is a primary emotion that derives from the natural aversion to risk or threat, and is manifested in all animals, including humans. The ultimate expression of fear is terror. In addition, experts say, fear is related to anxiety.
There are currently two different concepts of fear, which correspond to the two major psychological theories we have: behaviourism and depth psychology. According to behaviourist thinking, fear is something learned. In the depth psychology model, existing fear corresponds to a basic unconscious and unresolved conflict (the fear of dying, the survival instinct), to which it refers.
André Delumeau believes that we need to listen to our fears: they are a wonderful alarm system to face dangers. But we must not submit to them: sometimes this mechanism breaks down. Like a kind of allergy, fear is triggered and becomes a phobia, he adds.
Threat, fear, retaliation in the name of the greater good, has been the way of domination on Earth. And it continues to be so, because when the verse of freedom and democracy is no longer useful while people are being massacred, the octogenarian “democrat” president of the United States threatens us that if we don’t behave ourselves, atomic war may come. And bye-bye Earth. Including Joe Biden, of course.
But we all know that political fear is an instrument of power and leaders use real or potential threats to ensure social control. Fear is never exhausted as a device of power because human beings need the security of not feeling at risk.
I was afraid to discover that there are other people who say that there is nothing more effective than subjecting society to a state of permanent fear in order to lead it easily to the “sanctuaries” that the system itself offers them as a refuge, which is to retreat into their homes to silently ruminate on their fears, without going out to protest or demonstrate to avoid calamities.
And then the ‘homo-medroso’ seeks escapist amusements in television or videos, cinema or mass-consumption literature, while swallowing without digesting what the media say announcing new fears that threaten the local, regional, national and why not global population, and selling the shelter of certain temples of salvation.
On fear in politics Machiavelli advised the prince, that it is better to be feared than loved; Hobbes pointed to fear and the rule of law as part of social welfare; Montesquieu linked fear with despotism; Tocqueville pointed to anxiety as a psychic manifestation of the masses; and Hanna Arendt spoke of the terror that seeks to destroy the human condition.
Religion and fear combine to create different forms, some social, others individual, marking endings or anticipating their prelude, exploiting that human mechanism which is anguish, anxiety, fear which, while making us suffer, alerts us to the outside world.
Fear is epidemic, it bites and spreads. Fear of the new, fear of the different, fear of climate change… Many get together through social network chats and share their fears, so as not to feel cornered only by their own fears but also by those of the rest of the circle, with an exponentially frightening effect.
Everyone has the possibility to have their own fear, which they even flaunt with pride, because they know that this fear is what allows them to live and is part of the Order of Fear Veneration, wider but just as fearsome as Opus Dei. The fear of fear itself and spreading it in a democratic eagerness for this fear to become generalised: there will be fear for all.
This is what philosopher Martha Nussbaum calls the monarchy of fear, journalist Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism and its shock doctrine, sociologist and philosopher Heinz Bude the society of fear, essayist Bernat Castany Prado the philosophy of fear, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman liquid fear, and psychiatrist Enrique González Duro writes a biography of fear, says Philip Potdevin.
The media and fear
The media have been denaturalised, they have abandoned their informative function and become part of the machinery of the exercise of power, where their role as the axis of disordering collective subjectivities sows’ anguish, fear and terror, and criminalises the popular actions of emerging citizens.
The programmes and language (written, visual and oral) of the media are designed to produce fear – and at the same time evict any hope – and construct in the social imaginary the idea of a hidden enemy that violates personal security and puts family patrimony at risk, hence anguish, fear and dread are three scenarios that articulate the new strategy of the power groups – including the state – to be present in the collective subconscious of citizens.
Among the first American television series we remember the heroic Black Hawks, brave American pilots who fought the ugly Koreans, and the pseudo-humorous Mash, which made us believe that war was a pleasant place to be. It is that since before the Vietnam War, the media have replaced oral or written discourse with images whose impact is greater because they register in the mind.
They provoke uncertainty with fear and dread which are specific responses to an internal or external threat perceived by the subject in a perennial way and become a chronic effect as it is perceived as a permanent state in everyday life, not only by those directly affected but also by those who live together and are part of the social segment where the subject is inscribed.
During the Cold War, we were heated with fear and dread of the oil-producing countries, the Shiites and above all the communists, who ate children, while the United States continued to intervene all over the world: it has carried out some 400 military interventions to date and about a hundred since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Research by the Military Intervention Project at Tufts University shows that 34 per cent of these interventions have been against Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Before that, they terrorised us with the Nazi goose-stepping, and then they advanced with the pandemics of disinformation about pandemics and about everything that happens in the world, which they even made money from through films, television series, novels, where the “little boys”, the good guys, are CIA agents, murderers, bloodthirsty… as Wikileaks demonstrated with the case of the immoral tortures in Abu Ghibran. But in the name of freedom and democracy, of course.
But today, the media subtly replaces the coercive agent to a large extent and prioritises ideological repression in this new version of Low Intensity Warfare, where we all feel threatened without being part of the problems that are being publicised.
More than 31 years ago, in 1991, the history of information changed definitively, since journalist Peter Arnett broadcast live and direct -and for 2.2 billion people around the world- what we thought was the Gulf War or the bombing of Baghdad by the “allies”. From then on, it became clear to all the scope of the new media and their intended use: disseminators of the unique message and images.
News, censored by the Pentagon, became spectacle; spectacle crafted in such a way as to appeal to two billion people, leaving a sense of “fait accompli” and a warning to all those who dared to dispute or contradict the manipulations of imperial power. And when the marines arrived in Somalia, CNN was waiting for the soldiers…
The Bush administration’s decision to engage in an indefinite war on “terrorism”, following the September 11, 2001 attack on the so-called Twin Towers in New York, served as leverage to get the US public to accept the equation of more security in exchange for cuts in enshrined civil liberties and civil rights.
The US National Security Doctrine adopted nine days ago defines the current strategy by which it claims the right of pre-emptive war anywhere in the world. And the Patriot Act emerged, an arsenal of liberticidal provisions that was adopted en bloc under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, exceptional measures that are still in force. This concept establishes that only one sovereign nation will prevail and that the others – together with international law – will have to subordinate themselves to that design: any action or opinion, adverse to the US, is liable to be considered terrorist.
The US lie as a weapon of war, with its stories of terror to impose fear, hatred of the other, war violence, is still being spread three decades later by the corporatised and cartelised Western media, which increase the crises to increase their ratings and, therefore, their advertising resources, while their armies destroy communities, lives and dreams, in order to keep their resources for themselves.
We can go on and on about fear, its history, its methods, its ends… but I am afraid that the editor will find these disquisitions too long to publish. When I have a fit of optimism or courage, I will come back for more fear.