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Letters from Downunder

The Fear Factor

Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

The future is not for parties 'playing politics', but for measures conceived in the largest spirit, pushed by parties whose leaders are statesmen, not demagogues, who love not their offices, but their duty and their opportunity for service. (Woodrow Wilson,, in a speech at Trenton, N J, September 5, 1910)

(2/12) Writing from Australia gives me the opportunity to present a broader picture of things in America - as I see them, of course - rather than trying to write on local issues, for which one cannot go past this esteemed News-Journal. So you may forgive my hobby-horse of showing how your great country is viewed from afar, politically at least. I have visited America three times, each time with great joy and wonder at the generally welcoming reception received, the somewhat conservative values, the willingness to ignore the homeless and dispossessed , (in the big cities at least), and above all the genuine love of life and freedom enjoyed by so many. I would dearly love to return, and keep saying 'one day', and it could happen. But the way your government is constituted and run has often left me shaking my head disbelief.

The trend toward laissez faire economics - the doctrine of unrestricted freedom in commerce - has been pushed by the rich and powerful until it has become entrenched. The hopes and platitudes that accompany it, things like 'trickle down' and 'greatest good' have created a society where the poorest outnumber the rich by something like a million to one, and receive even less proportion of the wealth that's around - figures not found even in India, the home of unequal wealth distribution. The fact that corporations and the rich do not do what they say they will, that is, self-regulate toward the common good, is proof of their perfidy, and also proof that disregard for the poor must be remedied by government if civil revolt is not to eventually emerge, a la Syria and the other north African countries. Oops, sorry, they're not democracies, are they?

Things like the gun lobby, privately run goals and defence, no state owned or controlled utilities show how conservative capitalist values dominate. No other country is as far to the right as yours, and truthfully, it seems you have simply allowed that to happen. In the old days pillagers came in and looted a country, then left or stayed to colonise. In your case they got into government first, and lots of them are still there, looking to see what else can be sold off for their benefit. Naturally, they hate taxes, and seem to not care about the long term consequences of their ways. If 'user pays' is the principal of consumerism, then the rich, who use more of the infrastructure, cause more pollution, and want most protection from the unruly, must pay more. No one can say they live in an enlightened society if the poor support the rich. Enlightened, in my book, means the rich looking after the poor. So does Christian, democratic, responsible, and caring. The only way to do that is to provide government run services, answerable to government, non-partisan, firm but fair. The 'User Pays' principle is good if the user can pay; it is often not their fault if they cannot, and a well-oiled social security system is therefore vital . Of course, I'm talking to people from the Big Society. Big cars, big food portions, big ideas, big entertainments. Big dreams. And a big proportion of the poor. Coincidence?

Now I want to make a prediction: In this year of another election by purchase of votes (you don't believe that? Get real!) the conservative forces will trot out their mantra of fear. Fear of invasion, of terrorist attacks, of credit rating going through the floor, of loss of jobs, income and status, in fact anything that will support their ideas of safety though punishment and retribution, their way of life, and their freedom to do what they want.

Being afraid is a universal condition. At least once in our lives, especially when we are children, as the abyss of the unknown looms into our consciousness, we experience fright in various degrees. Some of us grow up and get a kick out of being scared when we know it's not real, a pretend horror house or some such that floods us with relief when over, but most of us soon learn to distinguish reality from make-believe, learn to handle the unknown apprehensions as we mature, whilst remaining alert to the possibility of being properly afraid, ready for flight or fight.

Fear is not confined to individuals, either. Whole neighbourhoods can fall prey to terror, real or imagined. Whole nations and governments can be filled with dread by the possibility of being subsumed by outside forces, whilst the deliberate use of fear by aggressors is universal. Nor does it have to be an enemy who plays the fear card - governments use it all the time on their citizens, always in support of their or their allies' ends.

When something totally unexpected and terrifying happens to a society, however, panic and terror result. Incomprehension and bewilderment paralyses the ability to think clearly, strikes at the heart of a civilised and outwardly peaceful society H. G. Wells and his 'War of the Worlds' is a good example, as are the later crop of doomsday flicks - but in all these some wonderful science, hero, or the inexplicable always step in to restore order and righteousness. Fiction is wonderful, isn't it?

Reality for many people is not. I know that a few commentators, learned folk from universities and the media, asked the first real question after 9/11: ' Why did this happen?' Unfortunately, this question, and those like it, were swept away in the tsunami of screams for revenge and retribution. Not only did scapegoats have to be found, action had to be taken and taken quickly. Introspection was out, retaliation was in, the devil take the hindmost and it would never happen again in this fair land.

For it was fearful, this random terror, and to combat it all manner of rules and regulations had to be put in place. The fear factor was to be built in to the rule book, into the constitution if that were possible, and an alarmed citizenry swallowed the bait. The sky is falling, Chicken Little is crowing.

Actually, a nation that prides itself on strength and world leadership should, like Britain during the war, be able to minimize the fear and rally the populace toward victory, not with anti-terrorist agencies and seemingly arbitrary punishments, not with terrorist tactics, but with statesmanship and vision.

Woodrow Wilson was right. Statesmen who love their duty and opportunity for service are needed, not politicians who cannot see past the blinkers. When politicians are afraid, when their platform is one of fear and conformity, to whom can the people turn?

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker