I’m often met with the rolling of eyes and accusations that I’m not only a nay-sayer but a ‘fearmonger’ when I dare to speak of the consequences of humanity’s daily actions. The term ‘fear-mongering’ is a popular one in our culture and, when applied to the right circumstances, is an appropriate label. However, as is often the case, it is too often applied to people who have the courage to point out that the 'emperor has no clothes'.
There are many variations on the definition of fearmonger, some of which are as follows:
• a person who creates or spreads alarming news
• one inclined to raise or excite alarms especially needlessly
• one who spreads the idealogy of fear through propaganda to fulfill a concealed agenda
The first definition is generic enough that it could apply to someone who runs through a burning building yelling FIRE! in an attempt to save the inhabitants. The second definition comes closer to the truth with the word ‘needlessly’. But it is the third definition that, in my opinion, hits the proverbial nail on the head with its use of ‘propaganda’ and ‘concealed agenda’.
Most citizens will agree that much of what is fed to us through the portals of the media (be it on television, radio, in print or on the internet) falls under all of the definitions above. However, those few citizens who are aware of the ‘little man behind the curtain’ understand that the ‘NEWS’ we are bombarded with on a daily basis is best described by the third definition above. And so, over the years, I've arrived at my own personal definition of NEWS: "Nothing Even Worth Saying".
The repeated reporting about individuals of whom we are told to be frightened, of groups we are told to see as ‘other’ and of nations we are told to describe as ‘terrorists’ is purposeful and has many dire consequences. In some cases, the primary characters in a fearmongering story are grouped together to present a homongenous picture of that which we should fear. And since the edges around such a picture are blurred, the recipients of this information seldom have a clear image or understanding of what should be feared. This is dangerous because it causes the fearful image to bleed or expand into larger territories in our minds. And in doing so, causes the average citizen to fear other average citizens…making everyone and everything appear to be something to be feared and, therefore, needing to be controlled by the 'authorities'.
This type of fearmongering is essentially the age-old tactic of ‘divide and conquer’ and is especially effective in a psychological parent-child relationship…the very type of relationship that describes how humans tend to relate to perceived authority in our world. These perceived authorities may be in the form of government, armed forces, the medical industry, religious leaders, and corporations, to name a few. And there are countless and daily examples of how each of these perceived authorities use fearmongering to influence people into taking certain actions or thinking in certain ways.
Government leaders often incite division between citizens of the world by calling individuals from other countries (or an entire nation) ‘terrorists’. Armed forces consciously and unconsciously support fearmongering by acting on their government’s viral and vicious dictates and engaging in warfare (be it in your local community or around the globe). I say both ‘consciously’ and ‘unconsciously’ because at the highest levels of ‘authority’ in our armed forces, individuals know that they are participating in fearmongering; however, the majority of individuals who are actually engaged in the ‘doing’ (usually at ‘ground level’) have been duped into actually believing that the work they are doing is honourable and in the best interest of the citizens of the nation. The sad truth is that such actions only benefit the self-interests of a very small percentage of the global population.
I have lost count of the number of directives from the medical industry that teach us to fear everything natural, from the effects of the sun to the healing properties of food, plants and herbs. We are told that chronic illness is not only our heritage but our unavoidable future BUT that we can be ‘saved’ by ingesting toxic pharmaceuticals (that inevitably do more harm that good in many cases). Again, in the case of illness fearmongering, a small percentage of global citizens benefit from the majority’s buying into the propaganda.
Some leaders of world religions continue to control the masses through not only age-old (yet hardly unique) creation myths but also via dire warnings of the hell-fire and brimstone reaction of an invisible, dictatorial and petulant god in the sky. These same religious leaders convince citizens that we are not allowed to decide how to live our own lives because we can’t be trusted to make good decisions (which is, ironically, a projection of the harmful dictates and actions perpetuated by these same religious organizations).
Corporations spend billions of dollars on advertising to create a desire for something new or to influence people to continue to engage in their addiction of consumption. These same corporations spend even more billions to lobby governments to pass legislation that exempts these same corporations from having to abide by environmental regulations or fiscal responsibilities that are reasonably applied to all other organizations or citizens in general.
I know that some may call my very own words and attempt at fearmongering. However, unlike the spreading of fearful propaganda whose primary purpose is to benefit a small percentage of the global population, my sharing is a passionate request to the general populace to wake up to what is really happening, right under our very noses, so that all living beings and the Earth herself can benefit from such an awakening…a far cry from self-interest. This is an urgent call to tend to our individual and collective gardens so that we may continue to reap a harvest that nourishes all of us.
Most people would agree that if you are not attentive to the needs of your vehicle, if you do not regularly maintain it or provide it with the unique nourishment it needs, eventually it will stop working. (I recognize the irony in my example of a car that uses fossil fuels but it tends to be an effective way of helping people to understand the need for discernment and action.) The same is true of our own bodies and yet, even more ironically, the general populace doesn’t behave in ways that demonstrate this obvious parallel. The mass of humanity appears to be willfully ignorant of the impact of our choices on our own health and wellbeing. And yet, when we look at the state of our world (environmentally, socially, economically and politically), there can be no doubt that our collective actions over hundreds, if not thousands, of years are harvesting harmful consequences for us as individuals, as a species and for all living things.
And this leads me to perhaps the most insidious motivation behind the fearmongering perpetuated by individuals in positions of local and global power. The daily content of newscasts supporting the repeated claims by these authorities of what constitutes ‘terror’ distracts us from what we should aware of, what we should be practicing discernment about and the actions we should be taking. Like the Wizard of Oz, these ‘authorities’ create terrifying myths that prevent us from clearly seeing what is actually behind the curtain. In a telling online article by Molly Bloom (“Anthropogenic Climate Disruption and its Moral Challenges”), she describes this scenario aptly: “…our corporate controlled media keeps us in the dark…because the real news might decrease sales and profits. This censoring creates another self-reinforcing feedback loop: if we don’t’ know the extent of our peril, we won’t change our behavior to avert it. Nor will we prepare ourselves psychologically and spiritually to meet the enormous challenges ahead.”
In yet another example of synchronicity, I recently finished reading an engaging book called “The Best Laid Plans” by Terry Fallis, formal Liberal party strategist and now author. Let me begin by clarifying that although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I am not a supporter of the Liberal party or of the Canadian political system overall. However, I was validated by much of how Terry describes the fetid landscape of Canadian politics and inspired by the integrity and forthrightness of the character of Angus McLintock. I found myself fantasizing about the possibility of many individuals like Angus actually managing to find their way into the political machine, and more importantly, not getting lost in that journey…but I digress.
There were many descriptions of political characters and the broken processes of politics that stuck with me but his spotlighting of the harmful malaise of Canadian society regarding our collective responsibility for social welfare spoke most loudly. Through the loveable character of Angus, Fallis describes the “not in my backyard syndrome [that is] a common enough malady in Canadian society, bred through the arrogance and apathy of affluence.”. The division of ‘have’ and ‘have not’ in our culture (and around the world) has culminated in the belief that as tax-paying citizens we are entitled to shield ourselves from the negative consequences of our attitudes and actions of affluence. We have been so duped by the effects of ‘divide and conquer’ we are now blind to the harm they cause, individually and collectively.
Another telling description of the character of our nation comes later in the novel when an angry Angus despairs over the ‘flip-flop’ actions of the Conservative party that are completely contrary to their election promises. He asks “Whas it not the height of arrogance? Was it not opportunism at its zenith? They’re preying on Canadians who can no longer distinguish the blurred lines between self-interest and the national interest”. To paraphrase: we appear to have lost the ability to discern between selfish interests and what’s in the best interest of all living creatures. And this is not unique to Canadians…this is a global failing.
Our need to reconnect with each other, to stop seeing each other as ‘other’ is critical to our continued survival on this planet…or at the very least to living our final days in compassionate connection, rather than aggressive or apathetic disconnection. I won’t pretend to know when the end is scheduled to happen but I also refuse to stick my head in the proverbial sand and insist on believing that we can continue to live in the ways that we do without negative and long-term consequences. The natural world responds to our actions and all actions have consequences. Depicting these consequences as a form of punishment is misleading…but very tempting when I think of the level of arrogance and self-interest that is the primary cause of these consequences.
In her online article, Molly Brown calls us to recognize that “we have collectively gotten ourselves into this mess, so we need to work together to transform it…to choose the story to which we want to dedicate ourselves”. And so we’re being called to choose what version of reality and what type of future we want to co-create…is it the time-worn and faulty ‘divide and conquer’ mentality of a domination system or one of partnership which “involves the emergence of new and creative human responses that enable the transition from the Industrial Growth Society [a society that urges us to blindly accept there is little need to change the way we live] to a Life Sustaining Society”?
The painful emotions that all of us feel (and many of us are taught to suppress) are critical to our acceptance of what is happening in and on the world around us. Molly Bloom and many other wise women and men are inviting us to “reframe our grief, anger, fear and even numbness as healthy responses to a world in torment” and the value of understanding that these emotions are a necessary form of feedback. “Allowing ourselves to plumb the depths of our pain for the world in a supportive community puts us right in touch with the depth of our love, and the essential fact of our interconnectedness within the web of life. The pain we experience is direct and irrefutable evidence that we are of Earth”. We are not ‘other’...and we have the innate wisdom to discern and take appropriate action together to prepare for the future we have co-created.
The Great Turning, as Molly defines it, will be possible only if we allow ourselves to feel what we are truly feeling and to have the courage to look in those dark places, behind the curtain, in spite of our fears. We are empowered only when we wake up from our cultural coma, challenge the status quo and co-create life-affirming alternatives. This is not only our responsibility but, in fact, a moral imperative most powerfully expressed by Naomi Klein:
“…we will not win the battle for a stable climate by…arguing, for instance, that it is more cost-effective to invest in emission reduction now than disaster response later. We will win by asserting that such calculations are morally monstrous, since they imply that there is an acceptable price for allowing entire countries to disappear, for leaving untold millions to die on parched land, for depriving today’s children of their right to live in a world teeming with the wonders and beauty of creation.”
[For more information about Molly Brown and further resources, I highly encourage you to read her article “Anthropogenic Climate Disruption and its Moral Challenges”. ]