Number 229, June 29, 2003

Mr. Ed is Back!

by Chris Claypoole

Special to TLE

There is a fable about how Man domesticated the Horse. Both Man and Horse were being preyed upon by a large Lion. Neither could prevent the Lion from taking and killing what he wanted. So the Man proposed that the Horse allow himself to be saddled and bridled for the Man to ride, allowing them to work as a team and hunt down the Lion. The Horse agreed, and the partnership was successful. As they stood over the rapidly cooling body of the Lion, the Horse said, "Wondeful! We're free of the Lion! Now, please dismount and take these uncomfortable leather things off of me." To which the Man replied, "Giddyap, Dobbin!"

One of the things that all governments seem to have in common over the centuries is that one of their basic organizing principles is the use of fear to keep those being ruled in line. The most commonly used fear throughout history is fear of rapacious outsiders (barbarians), who would rampage over the homeland if not for the brave military, from Roman legionnaires to the knights of the Middle Ages. Oh, and while we're praising our brave defenders, here's your tax bill. Add to this the policy of making the populace fear the rulers as well. The pattern is to have the ruled be too afraid to resist the rulers, who were usually local, and at the same time fear the possibility of invasion, or at least banditry, even more.

Before the modern era, it is unlikely that most peasants had any semblance of identification in the patriotic sense. Most never went far from their homes, never met others (peaceful ones, anyway) from far away, and didn't care much who ruled them as long as the rulers were generally absent and left!

And even in the modern era, mass communications can be used to whip the majority of any nation's citizens into a war frenzy. The twentieth century had two world wars and several medium-sized ones to prove that. Not to mention our recent experience. Fear the influence of the foreign rivals! Fear the secret power of the successful minority (Jews in Weimar Germany) or potentially successful majority group (blacks in apartheid South Africa). Fear the ethnically different, the religiously different, the economically different, etc. Fear!

Fear is the preferred tool of control by government. From the "midnight knock on the door" to the threat of IRS audit governments use fear to impose their will on those they rule. Governments try to instill fear of the consequences of noncompliance in the population. They use fear to manipulate the citizenry into activities deemed desirable by the rulers, and to divide the populace into small groups. Those groups are encouraged to fear the other groups from a variety of angles: safety and security, economic competition, loss of cultural identity, and even loss of freedoms. (Don't vote for them "you'll lose the right to ... " Or don't elect them, they'll turn back the clock to the bad old days of ...) People are encouraged, by both government and media, to fear things that have a small statistical chance of ever affecting them. I won't go off on a tangent about how government schools have ensured that most Americans cannot perform the calculations to figure this out, but that is part of the same deal. Well-informed people are less fearful than those who are ignorant, whether by design or choice.

What makes this work so well is the (unfortunately) common human trait of not trusting people one doesn't know. As in, "I know that I won't engage in horrible crimes whether the government is there to prevent it or not. Nor would anyone in my family (except maybe for Uncle Jake), nor most of my friends. But you can't trust those (fill in geographic, ethnic, or other identifier) people! We need the police to protect us from them! "Of course, "they" are thinking the same thing about "us." The more people one meets, the more confident one I that people are similar most everywhere. Some are good, some are bad, most just want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit. This attitude used to be called "cosmopolitan." The tactics government use to keep us divided into small, fearful, ignorant groups is the equivalent of "barefoot and pregnant

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. "He was right, but not in the way he intended. He was, in essence, letting the cat out of the bag. Fear makes people do stupid things, like support the PATRIOT Act, like support the gutting of the Bill of Rights, like acquiesce to the shredding of the Constitution and the rule of law. Happy Orange Alert for the Fourth of July. How long before people will be induced to fear fireworks? How long before people will fear Independence? Not long, I'm afraid.

P.S. Thanks to several members of <> for recent posts that gave me the ideas for this little rant. Especially Jay, who put me over the top.


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