Fear and Ignorance

David Hume, the brilliant Scottish Philosopher, postulated in his The Natural History of Religion that religions did not spring from reason or philosophical argument, but were the result of human fear and ignorance.  Fear of death and natural forces that man could not understand gave rise first to polytheism, where you have a division of responsibility among the divine, then to monotheism, which put real power in the hands of the priests and shamans.

It wasn’t long before heads of government realized that if they could harness the power of religion (fear and ignorance) they could gain a real strangle hold on their populations, and basically get support for almost anything they wanted to do.  There are many such examples throughout history, one recent one being the holocaust in Nazi Germany.

Hitler adapted the already-existing anti-Semitism prevalent in Catholicism, mixed it with a strong dose of eugenics, and managed to turn an entire population against a small segment of itself, resulting in state sponsored genocide that had the tacit approval, if not the whole-hearted collaboration of the German people.

Fear and ignorance are indeed powerful tools, especially when used to frame an argument, and we have seen a great deal of that in the last thirty years here in this country, never more so, however, then the last year.  David Michael Green just posted a brilliant piece on Common Dreams that eloquently points out how the regressive right has twisted the political debate to the extent that it’s hard to discern WHAT the truth is any more.  Down is the new up, left (and the old right) is the new center, and extreme right is the new right.

That’s what happens when you paint a center-right President as a far-left Liberal Socialist.

“Regressives understand in ways that progressives tend to be clueless about, the simple idea that, who narrates governs. The explanation for the right’s visceral appreciation of this wisdom is likely rooted in the survival instinct at the core of the human creature’s very DNA. When you’re peddling an absolutely absurd and destructive pile of bullshit, even dressing it up in pretty pink ribbons isn’t going to be enough. If you hope to have any prayer of making the sale, you gotta teach people from their earliest days that turds are really, really valuable. Get yours now!

This was one of Orwell’s most powerful perceptions in 1984, a book loaded with crucial insights about society, politics, government and human nature. The state could expend endless resources battling for the supremacy of a certain type of politics. That’s one option. Or, far more cleverly, it could just remove the possibility of imagining alternatives from the public’s consciousness. Much easier. Much cheaper. This is why Orwell concentrated so much on language in his novel. He understood that action requires desire, desire requires imagination, and imagination requires language.”

Yes, that’s exactly right!  Restrict the language and you restrict imagination.  That little ploy worked stunningly well in the recent health care debate.  “Government bad.  Big government worse.  Single-payer is government takeover.  No can have big government.  Big (in fact too big to fail) business is good, government bad.

I’m not just pointing fingers at the Republicans here, both parties are very much to blame.  With a few (pitifully few) exceptions, they are ALL in the thrall of the oligarchy which controls this country.

“The level of vitriol in American politics grows uglier everyday, and the absence of rationality more astonishing. Back in the day, mainstream political actors weren’t in the habit of calling the president a fascist, or accusing him of seeking to murder senior citizens. They weren’t so unsophisticated as to call him a socialist at the same time they labeled him a fascist. They weren’t so intoxicated with their own venom as to believe that a president who so obediently serves the interests of Wall Street – to a degree that might have horrified even Richard Nixon – is some sort of maniacal leftist radical, bent on killing capitalism in America.”

Left or right, our media exacerbates the situation on a daily basis.  The constant effort to achieve “fairness” or “balance” does absolutely no good when one side is using the “big lie” to skew the center far from where it would naturally be.  The net results of the regressive campaign has been to move the “center” so far to the right that progressives literally do not have the means or the will to drag it back to where it should be.

“This condition represents an utter failure of the imagination, and therefore the startling ‘success’ of the regressive framing effort. This limitation of what is conceivable and the concomitant diminishing of expectations is the greatest triumph of right-wing marketing, and it’s Orwellian to its core. What makes it especially startling is that the alternatives in question are so commonsensical and so proximate in real life form, and yet even some progressives in America have been trained to lower their expectations enough to ignore the existence of these ideas and models. What could be more basic than removing gushing profits and massive bureaucratic waste from a country’s healthcare system, especially one that is groaning so clangorously under the burdens of runaway costs? What could be easier to figure out than nationalized healthcare, when every other developed country in the world already does it? And yet such ideas were nowhere remotely near consideration throughout these long months of tortuous negotiations over ‘reform’ of what actually amounts to the care of corporate health in America. And yet even the most pathetic feints in the direction of real solutions – a public option or the extension of Medicare benefits – were immediately dispatched with, so that the profiteers’ victory could be unequivocally complete.”

Where do we go from here?  Where indeed can we?  How do we recover imagination once gone?  We are living in Orwell’s 1984 without the imagination to escape.


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