Because he got fired for it, FOX is now publicly campaigning against NPR to defend the right of a journalist to be afraid. Whatever about the debate, the interesting fact is that FEAR is in the news-and one’s right to be afraid. And it seems we as citizens are being invited every day to more fully exercise that right. Fear terrorists, fear immigrants, fear child predators, fear the government, fear Death Panels, fear China, fear Iran, fear Arabs, fear Muslims, fear the Tea Party, fear Sarah Palin, fear Obama, fear gay marriage. We could even say “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” but FDR beat us to it. Is it just me or does anyone else suspect an election is coming on?
Elections used to be about fresh and bold new ideas and inspiring candidates. Now they have a default position which is about manufacturing fear. Watch any attack ad and you are told, “someone is too dangerous” “someone else is too radical” etc etc. It is what we wrote about in The Presidential Plot, which turns out to be a manual that applies to any election, 2008 or 2010 or 2012.
Here is an except:
THE CATASTROPHE FALLACY (Chapter 13, page 185)
We know the old preacher’s trick is to tell us, “The end is nigh!” and so, we must convert now or eternally perish. It used to work, but nowadays, government and politics have supplanted it with their own “Fear of the Future” story package. It’s how insurance makes its business, but not normally the business of government.
That is what made the Millennium Bug so irresistible, because no one could contradict it, and no one was prepared to be wrong, because the stakes were too high. No one wanted planes or Wall Street to crash. We were disarmed by the pseudo consequentialism of the story. Threaten someone with a future catastrophe if you want them to pay attention, and if you can scare them enough, they won’t contradict you because who can contradict fear?
The preacher preaches Hellfire, and the Doomsdayist describes the nuclear winter and Homeland Security warns of another 9-11, and we see it in our imaginations and so we feel it. Fear is physiological and it takes over to make even the fake feel real. No one can prove its right, which is why it’s so powerful, and no one can prove its wrong, which makes it so hard to disarm, and no one can afford to dismiss it in case it is right. Any dissent can be labeled as a reckless disregard for the future.
The same brilliant narrative cunning informs the way we go to war, whether it is Vietnam and the dominos falling, or we fight the terrorists in Iraq rather than they follow us here. (Another Cheney concoction) Or think about the gay marriage question and evangelists warning us that if we legalize it, marriage will be destroyed. No one can prove it, and no one can disprove it, and no one wants marriage destroyed. So it’s narrative checkmate. The military hawks love this ploy because if you dare to oppose the war, you will be accused of not supporting the troops and putting their lives in danger. Prove it? They can’t. Disprove it? You can’t. Will you risk it? No.
When you want to shut someone up, concoct the lethal mixture of fear and the future, and put the burden of proof on your opponent, which is to say, you prove me wrong, when in fact the burden of proof is logically on the person trying to persuade you.
The campaigns will use this tactic to perfection around the issues of the economy and taxes, or health care or Iraq or the current catastrophist narratives about energy and global warming. These predictions might be right, but if they disqualify dissent, they are dogma parading as data. The church gave that business away some time back, but trading in narrative futures by peddling some fact-proof dogmas about that future is still a thriving business.
In a later chapter, we will offer some antidotes to these poisonous story strategies, and elaborate a narrative ethic that in summary says that any story that stories over or stories out other voices is narratively unethical and a threat to the Republic of Stories where every voice has to count, especially the voice of dissent and the voice of the minority.
If you want to read more, grab yourself a copy The Presidential Plot-How elections work