Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Politics of Fear, and its Antidote





Let’s be frank: Fear motivates us! No wonder politicians love using it!
Currently fear is being used in two different ways by political parties and “neutral third parties.”
The Conservatives are masters at scaring people. They are constantly sending fear-invoking propaganda to their supporters. During this (and past) elections their main focus is to invoke fear in the electorate. They got some bang for their buck (for a while) by whipping up hatred against Muslims (the niqab issue), and are now using fear to shore up support from Conservatives moving their vote to other parties.
When Canada was becoming a nation very similar tactics were used in 1849 in an attempt to keep Canada racially “pure,” that is, free of francophones. The current technique is the same, only the lingo has changed. In the words of a Huffington Post article,“...the fear of francophones has been replaced by a fear of Muslims. Instead of rebellion, Stephen Harper talks about terrorism. Instead of Catholicism, it's Islamic extremists. Instead of the Anglo-Saxon race, it's the Anglosphere.” Here also is an excellent Tyee article about how the Conservatives utilise fear.
But this is not the only type of fear. A far more subtle form pushes voters away from deserving candidates in order to strategically prevent a party from winning. It has been used successfully against the NDP for many years (and may be occurring again as the Liberals attempt to gain a majority of seats). Conservatives try to use it in order to stop the NDP from winning. In the end most strategic voting schemes cancel out each other, but at the expense of smaller parties, thus entrenching the status quo. Here on Vancouver Island it is being used by the NDP and “third parties” such as the Dogwood Initiative, Strategic Voting and Lead Now.
Strategic voting’s lure is the promise that one can stop party X by voting for candidate or party Y. It is based on old data, such as the last election results (which reveal that the Greens were not in the race anywhere but the Saanich Gulf Islands) or by using recent polling data. As Elizabeth May’s win and the provincial Liberal’s win in 2013 reveal, polls can be very erroneous. My earlier blog goes into more details about how terrible these are.
That voters would place so much faith in pollsters is foolishness. That voters would decide for whom to “strategically” vote based on either old results, or on the questionable methods used by pollsters, is ludicrous and extremely harmful for democracy –not only because it scares people into voting against their values, but also because it also ends up suppressing the vote.
These strong-arm tactics are very harmful. Many voters have felt shamed for voting according to the candidate or party that best expresses their values.
Of course fear is very good at steering the public away from real issues, such as the disappearance of decently-paid jobs, a dying planet, rising social problems, concerns about “free trade” deals, political scandals and many other pressing issues. As a candidate I often felt helpless to get traction on important issues because of the amount of fear being pushed on the electorate. These “hot button” issues grabbed the headlines and forced all candidates to address short-term issues that were ultimately often of lesser importance to most people’s lives.
So: what can we do about such fear tactics? Ancient wisdom states that the opposite of fear is love. I’m not referring to the wimpy “feel-good” type of love here. I am speaking of the active verb called “love.” Of moving toward something positive, excellent, hopeful, beautiful, compassionate, brave, powerful. Of a freedom for; not a fear against.
Brain research is revealing. Fear invokes the lower (reptilian) brain. It leads to greed, competition of a terrible kind, hatred, anger and the worst that humanity has to offer. 
Functioning out of fear has many negative consequences. We make terrible decisions, often alienating loved-ones. Fear creates the very thing that is feared. We age more quickly, get ill more often, and become lonelier. Fear also robs us of the power to live our own lives, for fearfully living ends up giving our power to those we fear. This is why ISIS likes it when we fear them: by dropping bombs on their people they gain more recruits and power.
Love, on the other hand, does the opposite. It fires up the higher brain -leading to courageous movements and acts, of overcoming seemingly impossible challenges.  Love turns fear into courage, with conviction. We feel empowered. We feel more connected and safe. We make much better decisions. We live longer. We also work more collaboratively with others to bring about positive changes to our world.
An excellent local writer and photographer powerfully speaks from this type of love. Goody Niosi’s election-related blog posts make most worthy reading. She eloquently reveals the difference between love and fear, such as in this post.
I conclude by quoting her more recent blog post, where she concludes with these fine words: “And I do wish people would actually live by the words of the late Jack Layton, who said it so well. (Although, sadly, his own party doesn’t seem to be following his words.): ‘My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.’”
If we love this country, we would be wise to follow Goody’s council.

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