Fear is a great motivator. The reptilian brain is essential to human survival resulting in fight or flight. Since the beginning of time humanity has survived because of this impulse.
Fear mongers have instigated conflict based on our reptilian instincts. Propaganda have arisen to motivate people to act. We’ve used propaganda to promote an ‘us and them’ mentality drawing ‘the other’ in stark terms. In the extreme propaganda has been used to dehumanize making it easier to bomb, kill, maim or torture.
Fear casts out nuance and reason. Fear constricts the heart making us less compassionate. Fear constricts the imagination so that war and punishment become all we can imagine.
In our nation fear mongering is often an effective political strategy. Make people frightened and they will set aside their sense of humanity and innate fairness.
Fear of the Japanese during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt led to the internment of tens of thousands of second and third generation Japanese Americans. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s ginned up our fears suspecting communist spies in every aspect of society. Thousands lost their jobs and reputations. Richard Nixon began a 40 year process of being ‘tough on crime’. It was an effective political strategy resulting in a 500% increase in rate of incarceration by 2016. Mr. Nixon and subsequent politicians knew that creating fear helped them get elected and re-elected.
Our latest example is Donald Trump. The Republican Convention was dark and somber in tone. Speakers spoke out against immigration depicting most immigrants as criminals. The answer? Mass deportation of 11 million men, women, children…and, the building of a huge wall. The antidote to gun violence? More guns. The response to ISIL terrorists abroad is to curtail rights at home. Antidote to extremists in Islam? Paint all Muslims as terrorists until proven otherwise. The only way to save ourselves? Enhanced interrogation i.e. torture.
It is possible that this strategy will succeed? Perhaps.
The reality of course is that fear only takes us so far. What is needed is not a small heart and constricted imagination but just the opposite. The truth is that issues are rarely black and white. What is needed are people of imagination and compassion who can envision creative and constructive ways of engaging the complex issues of our day.
Journalists are slowly waking up to the threat that Mr. Trump and his fear mongering poses. They’ve begun to move beyond his cult of personality. Journalists are critically evaluating his policies or lack there of.
More and more citizens are gradually moving beyond fear. Beginning to think and dream of what can be.
Dealing with terrorism, climate change, racism, poverty, income inequality, lack of economic options will only be solved when diverse people and perspectives are encouraged to come together. As Benjamin Franklin said when signing the Declaration of Independence, ‘we must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately’.
Jesus said, ‘perfect love casts out fear’. He understood that love expands our hearts and imaginations as to what is possible. By word and deed he taught that to walk in harmony with God was to walk in harmony with one’s neighbor. He defined neighbor in the broadest possible terms. How about you?
Will fear or love win? The choice is ours.