From the Spanish Indignados: Fear as a political weapon

by | 11 Jan 2012

The German writer Nemeitz published, in 1718, a book about Paris with “faithful instructions for travellers of standing”. One of his pieces of advice is as follows: “I do not advise anyone to walk through the city amid the dark night. Because, although the round or the guard on horseback might patrol the whole of Paris to prevent disorder, there are many things that it does not see.. the Seine, which crosses the city, must carry with it a multitude of dead bodies, which it washes up downstream. As such, it is better not to spend too much time in any one place and withdraw to one’s home at a good hour”. Our fears, our nightmares, always bear a historical and contextual load and they have always been a political weapon of the first order.

Fear and its political uses can help us understand many of the things that happen in this world we inhabit, fear has power to change the world, as does hope. Fear is a highly powerful weapon that neoliberalism (which is undoubtedly much more than an economic theory) has been promoting and wielding for a long time, as one of the key frames of interpretation for understanding reality and defining it (Lakoff)

The present fear is, however, a liquid fear, diffuse, in the expression of Zygmunt Bauman, and it transmits to us that it is best to hide away without any plan for a clear response since we are unsure of the threats. Let us take up the reins, they advise us, because it is difficult to combat against fears that are scarcely tangible.

The tactic has always been there. Fear, an basic emotion that paralyses us or calls us into action, is also deliberate sociocultural construction. We learn through others what it is that should cause fear in us and how to respond to the same. And this is why those who are able to identify what our anxieties are can manufacture the “saving antidote” to their fancy.

But presently we are living in an era of recrudescence of this strategy. In recent years, the economic crisis has enabled the professional scaremongers to intimidate us into paralysis, inculcating an abstract fear of others, of foreigners, of public spending, of terrorism and of insecurity. Naomi Klein reminds us in The Shock Doctrine that, for neoliberal thinkers, every crisis (either real or perceived) is an opportunity for applying their policies of adjustment. Paralysed by our nightmares, we consent to that which under other circumstances would be unacceptable to us. Frightened, we become individualistic persons, much more easily manipulated because by dividing it is much easier to convince. We forget about helping others and we remain alone, turning ourselves into far more vulnerable individuals.

Just as the text recommended that citizens should not leave their homes, the present rulers advise our subordination. They want us divided, by applying the strategy of ‘every man for himself’, focused on what separates us and forgetting what unites us, prepared to give up key elements of our freedom in search of longed-for security.

A fear amplified by the communications media, which enlarge the narratives of fear; the greatest of these is that of international terrorism, but also that of fear of the immigrant or the person who is different, economic fear, fear of violence. A fear that situates us in a risk society (Beck), a global and globalised fear, of violent societies, in which, all fearful, we have to combat each other, each for himself, without trusting one another, defending ourselves against intangible but constant threats, the world is in permanent war, threats feed off one another, they are diffuse, they cannot be submitted to the discourse of logic.

They no longer try to rouse our dream of great utopias: they only put themselves forward to save us from our fears. In the words of Eduardo Galeano: “Those who have work are afraid of losing their job. Those not in work fear never finding it. Whoever is not afraid of hunger is afraid of food.. Fear of the door without a lock, of time without clocks, of the child without a television, fear of the night without sleeping pills and fear of the day without pills for waking up, fear of the crowd, fear of solitude, fear of what was and what can be, fear of dying, fear of living.” It is the time of globalised fear.

But they will not manage to fill us with fear because the paralysing effects of this tactic become diluted very quickly: as soon as we citizens shake off the dust of fear, we go out onto the streets to air our dreams. The advice of Nemeitz were no obstacle to the Paris of that era becoming the centre of the Age of Enlightenment, one of the most revolutionary and hopeful eras of humanity.

Fear is battled with information, it is battled by being confronted, it is confronted first of all by deciding to look it in the eyes; the warnings of the traffickers of fear will not prevent the surge of movement such as the 15-M from reminding us that, whilst a few benefit from terror, hope, for the human being is the most adaptive collective strategy. “No job, no future, no home, no fear” they remind us, signalling what is subversive and mobilising about losing fear.

Translated on Cunning Hired Knaves, original in Spanish here


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