Democracy or Fear: Pick One…

Because we can’t have both.

The elections are over – mercifully, and millions of dollars later – and one side won most of everything. We have shown ourselves able to speak, after all, as a nation of diversity, and of some responsibility, some generosity, some compassion, and some good sense. And we voted by the millions, as the democracy we are, and were always intended to be.

And, although that is over, the fear mongering is likely not. It will continue – because it works. Democracy and fear are incompatible; they cannot coexist. The mongerers know this fact very well. Democracy functions only when citizens are reasonably fed, housed, educated, informed, productive, confident, and relatively unbowed by fear and want. Frightened people do not make wise decisions, even about their own welfare; often they can make no decisions whatsoever, and will do just what they are told to do, because they are terrified. When we are afraid, we feel powerless – whether we actually are, or not. This is just how most of us are: Human.

If you want to control people, do everything you can to keep them ignorant, poor, and deathly afraid, as much of the time as possible. THIS is the real reason the oligarchs want to gut government assistance for education, nutrition, welfare, job training, medical care, and other social programs. It has nothing to do with “fiscal responsibility”, or “reducing the deficit”, or “reducing the burden on our children and grandchildren”… And has everything to do with keeping as much of the populace as possible in a state of hungering malleability and civil impotence.

The chronically poor have real and legitimate fears: Legitimately afraid they won’t have enough to eat, because they so often don’t. Afraid they will have nowhere to live. Afraid of what will happen to them if they get sick or hurt. Afraid someone else will take what little they do have. Afraid their children will have no chance to live in conditions other than those in which they struggled to grow up. Afraid they are powerless. Afraid their lives mean nothing. (If this election did one thing, I think it did much to convince hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people that they have more power than they knew…)

But how to instill this kind of fear into the “average”, middle class, or even well off, members of our society…? The people who’ve pretty much been feeling they’re basically okay? That’s the ongoing challenge of the One Percent. They’ve got a few ideas, and they almost worked this time. At least almost half of us are apparently willing to give those ideas another try.

A natural disaster, or an incomprehensible act of terrorism, can be a bonanza here… 9-11. Katrina, Aurora, the BP Gulf oil spill, Sandy… In these situations, everyone is reduced to a state of near-equivalent deprivation and fear, at least temporarily. (Read Naomi Klein’s excellent 2008 book, The Shock Doctrine/The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, for an impressive summary of this kind of “opportunity.” She was on to something, even then.) Barring the availability of either of these kinds of events, the most common, and historically effective, tactic is to Invent An Enemy – an Other – and make it very clear that the Other is a real, imminent, and pernicious threat, about to destroy the very fabric of our society, starting by aggressively assaulting everything in which you believe. Nothing has to be rational or proven about the Other; it just has to be presented as an ominous danger, to you, personally. If that gay couple next door is allowed to marry, what’s to stop YOUR children from wanting to do the same, no matter how you feel about it? If that woman who was raped can get an abortion, what’s to stop the Other from making you have one, too? If that lay-about moocher on the other side of town, who probably wasn’t even born here, is given food stamps and a break on community college tuition, who knows what she’ll be asking for next – and how much of that will come out of your pocket? And – good lord – what if the Other insists that you’ll have to register that third AK-47 you’re planning to buy at the upcoming gun show? Keep the veiled innuendos great, and difficult to disprove. Provide plenty of “documentation,” even if you have to resort to recirculating six-year-old pieces of satire you found on the web, as new and factual. Just repost them, again and again, to as many people as possible, with the subject title, “IF YOU CARE ABOUT AMERICA, YOU MUST READ THIS!!!!!!!!!” Truth is for wimps. It’s the goal that matters. And that goal is to engender fear.

Make sure these dangers are kept continuously in the forefront of public consciousness. (It helps to have a good bundle of newspapers and other media outlets under your control for this – but all that takes is cash.) Intone ceaselessly that things are even worse than anyone can imagine, and that the threat has never been greater. Never allow the legitimacy of the danger to be questioned. Make sure that as many people as possible feel PERSONALLY threatened by the behavior of people they don’t even know, at all times, even if – and perhaps especially if – their personal lives are, in fact, not really threatened at all.

The threat of the Other flourishes in either a genuine, or simply perceived, culture of deprivation, oppression, and terror. Democracy, on the other hand, can thrive only in a society of confidence, adequacy, personal empowerment, and the assurance that there is truly “enough” for everyone – a society in which we are confident that we will be given help when we need it, and can give help to others when they do.

The truth is, there really IS – or could be – enough for all, but not as long as some of us insist that it is our “right” to live obscenely at the top, and others of us can be abandoned to live abjectly at the bottom, where we are deemed to deserve to be. It is highly unlikely that the One Percent will abdicate quietly, election or no election, and there is no reason to expect them to do so. Even they are well aware that their tool box is emptying rapidly… But the Fear Hammer is still in there, and I think we’ll still be seeing a lot of it. It’s about all they have left.

So… We have a choice: Democracy or Fear… But we can’t have both. Pick one. And pick wisely.


Leave a comment


  1. dcg

     /  November 18, 2012

    Clearly the fear mongering is not over. What is your post if not pure fear mongering? Well written, as usual; off the wall, also as usual.

    dcg, Hanover Center

    • Exactly, Denny…!

      I think “off the wall” might be a tad harsh, though… 🙂 But always glad you’re lookin’…

      How are the temps up in the tundra these days? Getting pretty chilly down here…



  2. Skyler

     /  November 18, 2012

    Never really looked at it quite like this. I thought the whiners and criers (since the election) were just trying to bully the rest of us. I was told by a good friend who watches the news about 5 minutes a YEAR and gets more entitlements than anyone I know that I was uninformed (for voting for Obama) and when I explained the differences in the two candidates, she asked where I was getting such skewed information. She said Romney was much too decent to even consider cutting entitlements and that he would never try to keep the rich from paying their fair share. She said Obama was an evil man who was involved in 3 coverups that she knew of. I asked her what contacts she had in the pentagon! Perhaps she is drowning in fear as well. I probably will never find out because our friendship ended shortly thereafter. Sometimes you just get sick of talking to walls. I enjoy your blog. I’m Skyler from Margaret and Helen.

  3. betseyc

     /  November 19, 2012

    Beautifully said. Reminds me of a recent conversation about how vulnerability and poverty can go hand in hand.We glorify the risk takers and entrepreneurs, but people who are constantly at risk of losing whatever precarious hold they have on their lives are very unlikely to take on more risk.

  4. Well said. And democracy works best when it is partnered with social responsibility. Fear goes hand in hand with an attitude of separation. Social responsibility is a consciousness of caring, of seeing the other as not separate but a part of the whole. Just as everything in nature is interconnected, we are all interconnected not just physically, but economically and energetically. If we could remove the fear factor, we could see this and from this perspective have all the answers we seek.

  5. What Denny seems to miss is the actual, demonstrable facts that show that you are right (if somewhat strident, which is cool too) as opposed to manipulative.

  6. Hey, Yogi – I’m stickin’ with my premise that fear is a great tool for manipulation. (It’s the basis of torture, actually, isn’t it…? The threat of harm is always as effective, or more so, than the actual harm itself. Just show somebody that dentist drill, and tell him or her what you plan to do with it, and that’s often enough…)

    Strident? Guilty. I try to be nice, though, usually…

    Thanks for posting!


  7. Well, the problem with torture is that people will confess to anything to get the torture to stop! I agree with your premise, and see it daily. You, on the other hand are not fear-mongering, anymore than the tide tables are. Facts are facts, and pointing them out is not fear-mongering, any more than pointing out ass-hattery is itself jerky behavior.

    Strident is a tone thing, not a nice/not nice thing. But as I said, I’m cool with it.

    Keep it up, lady!

  8. jsri

     /  November 24, 2012


    The local news services play this fear game to the hilt. Their strategy “If it bleeds, it leads” almost always features the same ethnics that right-wingers love to pillory. And they always select the most evil looking and illiterate sounding representatives to interview while making their case. It has become so blatant, that I get my news from PBS only. But by trying to offer balanced presentations they sometimes drive me up the walls by offering opposing viewpoints where they aren’t needed leaving me nowhere else to turn except to some of my favorite sites on the Internet.

    I’ve been a big fan of Helen and Margaret from their beginning but have lost interest lately because of the persistent troll invasion. Your dominance of them has been obvious and many others have used the same arguments but the trolls refuse to go away. It’s like trying to slay a hydra.


  9. Hey, jsri – Thanks for joining in. May I say there is no slaying of a hydra; there may be only walking away, and leaving the hydra to thrash about on its own. (They just HATE being ignored!) No one loves the opportunity for a good snarky reply more than myself, and I’ve done a few. But the only thing that really works is to ignore… And then, HTG, they do disappear. Don’t give up on M&H. It’s a great blog, and would continue to benefit from your participation. If people like you give up, the trolls win… And that’s exactly what they’re hoping will happen. I suspect some of them get paid for doing this – and I’ll bet it ain’t one cent more than minimum wage.

    Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. For myself, if I never see another turkey part for at least a month, I’ll be a happy camper!


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