Sunday, October 10, 2010

The politics of fear

Given the predominant subjects of Strange Horizons, there might be those of you out there who get puzzled as to why I veer off into politics from time to time.  I have two reasons for this.
First of all, this is a blog and blogs are usually writings infused with someone's opinions.  There are things I care greatly about in this world and I just can't keep from mentioning them.  Secondly, there are tangential science fiction writings that are intensely political, works of literature that make strong commentary on where we might be headed as a human society.  
So here we are in another election year and I've really been quite aghast at the use of scare tactics in both campaign ads and rhetoric.  I shouldn't be.  My academic focus has been the study of rhetoric and composition theory so I'm well acquainted with the maneuvers involved.  Couple that with my low expectations for humanity and none of this should be a shocker to me.  Yet when faced with it, I can't suppress a weary sigh.
Here in Illinois, I've come to the conclusion that fear is the best method to employ when your candidate has nothing of substance to offer.  We're in the midst of a senate race.  Republican candidate Mark Kirk has been embroiled in a bit of a scandal, outright lying about his military service by saying he's served in combat zones.  Now that's honorable.  His Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, has his own problems, namely being directly linked to banking scandals.  So it's a WASP trying to make himself sound tougher than he is versus a skeezy Greek kid who lost peoples' savings?  Lucky us.  And what do you do when you really don't have much of plan for action and leadership but want the office anyway?  
Use fear.  The other guy is going to take your life savings.  No, the other guy will cost you your job.  But the other guy burns Bibles and has sex with the goats.  Better yet, have supporters attack the other party's agenda as a whole.  The President is really a Muslim (and every last one of them is evil, y'know.)  He wasn't even born here.  He's going to form death squads.  He's going to Communize your Nazism.  Substance schmubstance.  No need to offer anything.  Just scare the bejeezus out of the voters.
A few years back, Theodore Sorenson, a former aide to President Kennedy, spoke about this very kind of fear mongering, saying it strikes at the "very heart and soul of this country as it moves toward a mean-spirited mediocrity in place of a noble beacon." Couldn't agree more.
So it might not be Orwell's vision of information tightly controlled by Big Brother.  It might be an addition to Huxley's notion of "amusing ourselves to death."  The political fabric of the future could be made up of the ones who can scare us the most.

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