Category Archives: Fear

The Monarchy of Fear

 

When I saw the title of a book, The Monarchy of Fear, I was immediately attracted to it. Then when I saw who wrote it, I had no choice; I had to buy it. The author is Martha Nussbaum, considered by some, to be the finest philosopher in the United States. I had read an article about her in the New Yorker, but had not read any of her books. In that article I learned that she liked to write about emotions. To me, a graduate in Philosophy some 5 decades ago, this seemed unlikely. I was wrong. Emotions are important in so many ways and it is good that philosophers opine on them.

For quite some time I have thought fear is an emotion that can have extraordinary consequences, particularly in the modern political context. Fear is a natural product of the age of anxiety or the age of anger. What could be more important than that?

Nussbaum had important things to say in the very first paragraph of the book. Here is what she said,

 

“There’s a lot of fear around in the U.S. today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy. Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.”

This struck exactly the right note from my perspective. The real problem with fear is that it interferes with rational decision-making. And we see it everywhere. In Canada just like the United States, but I think it is particularly prevalent in the United States. That country is the richest in the world, has the best armed forces that money can buy, spends more on prisons and police than any other nation by a long-shot.  Yet it seems to me to be a country infused, no saturated, with fear. Americans like to call themselves the ‘land of the brave,’ but over and over again, from gated communities, to elaborate armies, the country is hobbled by fear to such an extent and with such intensity that it constantly surprises. And as Nussbaum suggests, such fear often “blocks rational deliberation.” Nowhere is the effect of this powerful more evident than in the election of Donald Trump. What rational deliberation could have ushered in his presidency?

Nussbaum boldly asserted the following:

“What is today’s fear about?  Many Americans, themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of loved ones. They fear that the American Dream–that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done–has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all to attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the “othering” of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women.  “They” have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country.”

How many of the important social problems of the day are encapsulated in that paragraph? There is a lot to chew over in that paragraph.

And of course with such fears rational deliberation is unlikely! It is hardly surprising as a result that the United States, in its moment of fear, has turned to a man who is probably more unlikely to solve its problems than anyone else we could consider. As a result of fear they made the worst possible decision imaginable. That is the monarchy of fear!

Ancestral Pueblo People (Anasazi)

The American Southwest which I have visited for the last few years, is area that receives a mere 10 inches (25 cm) of rain each year, but has supported inhabitants for at least 12,000 years. Paleo-Indians arrived at about 12,000 years ago and they learned how to live there.

Thousands of years later, the Ancestral Puebloans, Indigenous People of the American southwest and are also known as Anasazi, arrived, but that name was given to them by Navajo for it basically means “Ancient enemy ancestor.”  That is not the most complementary name. The Ancestral Puebloans are thought to have settled near Mesa Verde in about AD 550 where they lived in pithouses and later astonishing cliff dwellings. By about 800 AD they had developed significant masonry skills and began to build housing complexes using sandstone, which is fairly common in the region. From about 1100 to 1300 AD they used their impressive skills in weaving, pottery, jewelry and tool-making.

Kivas are round pit-like room dug into the ground and roofed with beams.   The kiva was the religious and ceremonial center of Ancestral Puebloan life and is still used by modern Puebloans. It usually had no windows and the only means of access was through a small hole in the roof. Small kivas were likely used by one family. Larger ones could be designed for the entire community, like a church in Europe.

Ancestral Puebloan ruins can be found in Chaco Culture National Park and Mesa Verde National Park as well as Canyon de Chelly. This is the White House in Canyon de Chelly.

By AD 1,300 the Ancestral Puebloans had abandoned many of their long established settlement sites perhaps on account of climate change. Things got much drier around about the time they left. There was a 50-year drought that placed great strain on their civilization. A large population could not be sustained in the desert with its minimal resources and led to a lengthy period of social upheaval.

The Ancestral Puebloans did not disappear but live on today in Puebloan descendants. The Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi, lived there from about 500 until some time in the 12th century.  They are the ones that created the numerous evocative ruins found in the area including those at Mesa Verde in Colorado, and the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Canyon de Chelly and Camp Verde in Arizona.

 

 

Many people forget that the Ancestral Puebloans were farmers who began to cultivate maize (corn) and pumpkins. Eventually they added beans, squash, and other vegetables to their arsenal. They even domesticated turkeys from a native subspecies.  It is interesting that eventually “Through trade and plunder, the same turkeys would eventually make their way south to the Aztec empire in Mexico. Conquistador Hernan Cortes later appropriated some and shipped them home to Europe. From there, farmyard turkeys traveled back to the New World with colonists of the East Coast. All domestic turkeys descended from the wild turkeys originally tamed nearly two millennia ago in the North America’s drylands.”

 

The descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans include the Hopi whose pueblos are reputed to be the oldest continuously occupied towns in North America. They began to occupy territory a little farther west of Canyon de Chelly.  We drove through First Mesa, where they live to this day, even though our friends Dave and MaryLou advised against it.

 

Then we drove near to Second Mesa, another settlement still occupied by Hopi people.

 

A very interesting question is “Why did Anasazi leave their cliff dwellings?”  I thought about a brilliant book—Desert Solitaire written by Edward Abbey. It is a fantastic book. One of the best books I have ever read on the American Southwest. Abbey compared the ancient Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) to modern Americans. Abbey said, “Apparently, like some twentieth century Americans, the Anasazi lived under a cloud of fear.” Why else did they go to such trouble to build their homes where they did?  As Abbey commented,

Fear: is that the key to their lives?  What persistent and devilish enemies they must have had, or thought they had, when even here in the intricate heart of a desert labyrinth a hundred foot-miles from the nearest grassland, forest, and mountains they felt constrained to make their homes, as swallows do, in niches high on the face of a cliff.

Their lives must have been severely cramped by their overpowering fears. As Abbey said,

“Their manner of life was constricted, conservative, cautious: perhaps only the pervading fear could keep such a community together. Where all think alike there is little danger of innovation.”

That seems like a perfect description of the gated communities in modern North America subdivisions. From my experience, the people are fearful, nervous, and entirely lacking in courage. They fear everyone and everything. For example, many people in Arizona fear that Mexicans are coming across the border in hordes to take their best jobs, cleaning toilets in airports. Does that make sense? So they want to build a wall to keep them out of the country. Then the people fear that the Mexicans who someone got into the country, will send their youth to attack their homes.  So they build a wall around their tiny communities. The existence of these walls makes it perfectly clear—the people live in fear. Is that a sign of a guilty conscience or cowardice?

What will happen to the modern Americans in their insular communities? Will they survive or perish as the Anasazi did? Will the same forces like climate change that drove the Anasazi to abandon their cliff top homes cause the modern suburbanites to abandon theirs?  Abbey writing in the 1960s, long before the time the gated communities became so popular, described the situation this way,

Long ago the cliff dwellings were abandoned. Were the inhabitants actually destroyed by the enemies they had always dreaded? Or were they reduced and driven out by disease, by something as undramatic as bad sanitation, pollution of their water and air?  Or could it have been finally, simply their own fears which poisoned their lives beyond hope of recovery and drove them into exile and extinction?

What a great question?  In my view, it is likely that the modern American gated “community” will suffer the same fate as the ancient cliff dwellings of the Anasazi.  No wall no matter how high, can keep the barbarians out. The Romans learned that the hard way, so did the Anasazi, and so will the modern suburbanites. It probably won’t be actual external enemies that lead to their doom. It is much more likely that it will be the combined effects of pollution and minds being cooked in the juices of their own lurid fears.

Perhaps this is what the modern gated communities will look like in a hundred years?

Fear Porn

Fear Porn

 

In recent years many people in the west have characterized refugee issues as security decisions rather than humanitarian issues. This has had important negative consequences for refugees. As Jennifer Welsh said in her Massey lectures, “One implication of this ‘securitization’ of asylum seekers is the tendency to reframe the responsibility to tackle refugee situations as a matter of peace and security and to focus on immediate causes of displacement.”

This approach causes many people, such as my own current Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, to concentrate on the destabilizing effects of the presence of refugees on neighbouring country’s security, communal cohesion, and national identity. People like Falk believe that refugees are dangerous. They fear refugees and therefore make poor decisions about them.

Such irrational fears have spread around the world but particularly to the United States. Of course, as I have indicated elsewhere, the United States is a peculiarly fearful nation. They especially fear the influx of migrants and immigrants and refugees from the Muslim world and from Mexico. It is not an accident that many of these people that they fear have skin colours other than white. In my opinion this is the legacy of the American history of racism going back for centuries to its horrible treatment of indigenous people and importation of African-American slaves and their offspring.

President Trump himself was filled with venom and anxiety at the thought of the approaching brown hordes. Then he turned to filling his supporters with fear. That is something he has a unique talent for. Of course it is easy to mock absurd fears, but fears are important. They are used to generate hate against people seeking asylum. Stoking fear and hate in a democratic state is a very dangerous thing.

Donald Trump capitalized on these fears to get elected President in 2016. It did not matter that the United States had an extremely onerous vetting process of all such possible entrants to the country. It’s not a perfect system, but it is probably the best in the world.

Trump also tried again, with less success, to capitalize on such fears just before the Mid-term elections in 2018. He warned of the so-called “Caravan” of refugees and asylum seekers heading from Central American including Hondurans and others to the United States. Donald Trump and his close ally Fox News ratcheted up the fear to such an extent that millions of Americans feared this group of rag-tag people consisting by most accounts of a lot of women with young children.

The Republicans claimed the Democrats were organizing this crusade and that they believed in completely open borders. Trump was a master of manipulating this to his own advantage. He said he would send 5,200 troops. Later he increased this to 15,000 troops. Not just border guards, but troops. According to the Washington Post, “This appears to be the largest such peacetime deployment of active duty U.S. troops a the border in a century.” This was more troops than the Americans sent to fight super scary ISIS. The American troops were also ordered to secure the border walls (remember many already exist) with razor wire.

Of course all of these security people were being added to a border already hyper-militarized with 16,000 border guards, 5,000 ICE personnel, 2100 National Guards and many deportation agents. All this to oppose men, women and children who might throw rocks.

Many Americans interviewed on television said this was an invasioneven when they were more than a thousand miles away. It became a huge election issue and fired up his base of supporters. This was not surprising since Trump and his Fox allies relentlessly fueled the fears. Sean Hannity, watched by millions of Americans, repeatedly referred to this as “an invasion” as did other Fox contributors. He also referred to it as a “a mob of humanity.” Donald Trump himself repeatedly referred to it as an imminent “invasion of our country.”

All of this was done while the invading “army” without weapons was a couple of months away. What kind of invading forces give the target country a 3 months heads up?

Would young mothers take their children on such a perilous journey if they were not fleeing something they really feared? Like gangs that were to a large extent fueled by American deportees returning to their presumed homeland. These gangs were often fueled by drug money from American consumers. Should we not show some empathy for them? Or should we listen instead to demagogues? These people are suffering; they should not be demonized.

Even other stations, besides Fox, are getting on the bandwagon against these demonsapproaching the border? Trump tweeted, “the caravans are made up of some very tough fighters.” Later in the same day, October 31, 2018, 5 days before Mid-term elections he tweeted again, “Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border. Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our border is sacred Must come in legally. TURN AROUDND!”  Clearly he wanted to scare the crap out of people. Some have called it Trump’s scaravan.

Talking about the Caravan while helping a Republican candidate in Florida Trump said this about the Democrat rival,

 

“Andrew Gilliam wants to throw open your borders to drug dealers, human traffickers, gang members, and criminal aliens. That’s great. That’s what we want. Let those people pour in folks. Let them join come join you on your front lawn.”

 

Trump is a master of stoking fears.

There were actually 4 caravans that appeared to be heading toward the U.S. The Washington Postdescribed the situation this way,

 

Military planners anticipate that only a small percentage of Central American migrants travelling in the caravans U.S. President Donald Trump characterizes as “an invasion” will reach the U.S. border, even as a force of more than 7,000 active-duty troops mobilizes to prevent them from entering the country.

According to military planning documents, about 20 percent of the roughly 7,000 migrants are likely to complete the journey. The unclassified report was obtained by Newsweek on Thursday.

If the military’s assessment is accurate, it would mean the U.S. is positioning five soldiers on the border for every one caravan member expected to arrive here.

“Based on historic trends, it is assessed that only a small percentage of the migrants will likely reach the border,” the report says.”

 

It turned out the military planners were not as worried about the potential migrants as the American President. The military report was more concerned about Americanmilitia groups eager to lend their well-armed support. As the Washington Postsaid, “The assessment also indicates military planners are concerned about the presence of “unregulated armed militia” groups showing up at the border in areas where U.S. troops will operate.”

Trump was also quick to characterize the members of the caravan as scary individuals, even though most other reports, other than Fox News of course, said they were mainly women and children fleeing violence in their own countries often caused by gang members that had been deported there by American authorities. Trump described them this way at different times: “many young strong men,” “very tough fighters,” “terrorists from the Middle East,” “hardened criminals,” “lepers,” “people with small pox and TB,”  and “a lot of bad people.” Another Republican added, “pedophiles,” and “wife beaters”. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else. Added to that, according to the Washington Post, “He also insists the number of migrants heading north is much larger than estimates put forward by U.S. and Mexican officials.” Of course Trump has never allowed the facts to stand in the way of the hateful or fearful messages he wants to send.

Trump said similar things in April that everyone forgot about. Trump painted a picture of a large group of migrants near the border as rapists and pillagers. It turned out to be 400 people requesting asylum which they are legally entitled to do.

Then Trump added that if any of these people throw rocks the troops should fire their guns. Reminds me of the Gaza strip. Is that what American has come to?

It was no accident that Trump made a huge issue of these caravans a few weeks before the American midterm elections of 2018. He did not want to wait until the potential migrants arrived as that might blunt the political message he wanted to use in those elections. Now he is doing it again to gain support for his big beautiful wall.

Trump, together with many of his supporters loves what Bill Maher called Fear Porn. Why is that? I think that Trump like populists and demagogues around the world uses fear to drum up support for his policies. He does that because his ideas have little rational basis. How else can he get people to support them? Porn sells.