fanning fear is a factor in failure: try hope instead

face of fear

"A population in fear will always tend toward authoritarianism and violence", which is fine if those are your goals, says Dave Roberts (via gristmill).

"If your goals are progressive", says Roberts, fear works against you.

Roberts riffs off a recent article on political psychology by John Judis (in New Republic), who noted that when people are reminded of their mortality, it can trigger emotions such as "disdain for other races, religions, and nations.”

So, we really don't wanna "terrify folks with stories of oncoming doom", says Roberts, if we're hoping they will shift toward sustainability.

As Emily Gertz points out, "fear of the terrorist (or more lately, the illegal immigrant) has been used for the past several years to induce Americans to accept an increasingly authoritarian government and the dilution of our civil liberties" (via worldchanging).

Says Gertz, we don't need to "ape the baser tactics of some conservative sectors by trying to scare Americans into being more environmentally conscientious."

Says Roberts:

"If you tell people that all they know is false and corrupt, and that they must leap with you into an entirely new world, you are going to create extremely high barriers. Almost by definition, very few people are going to join you. The rest will find some way to preserve their reality -- by disputing the message, by disdaining those who carry the message, or simply by tuning the whole mess out."

Instead, says Roberts, "Progressives must convince people that changes in the direction of justice and sustainability are the logical extension of who they are. They are a fulfillment of our true nature, not a fundamental break with our past."

Let's "forge an independent path based on values that equate with creating sustainable and just societies: reason, compassion, forebearance, and selflessness", urges Gertz.

This remarkable series of essays is a must read for any greenie trying to chart the road ahead.

In the first piece, Roberts explains why contemporary environmentalism is so tuff and prolly ill-fated, and shows how the Bushies playing on our maladaptation to human's 'fight-or'flight' response.

Read on about how "authoritarians and terrorists are perfect compliments", and why we're now "on the cusp in this cycle of fear and violence", why "describing the dangers ahead (of poverty, or global warming, or infectious disease) in gruesome, apocalyptic tones, with a sprinkling of evil, mustache-twirling villains" is the "wrong way to go", and, finally, why sustainability is all about "living humbly in service of something larger than yourself."

If we are to succeed, we gotta "always embody the sublime joys of reason and compassion", says Roberts.

Are you down for that?

Published by Ken on September 2nd, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking

3 Responses to “fanning fear is a factor in failure: try hope instead”

  1. Ben Sullivan Says:

    Thanks Ken, the point made in the Grist article is an interesting one. It is clear that creating fear is not an effective means of messaging, but suppressing fear to avoid 'panic' is equally damaging, is it not? These emotions have a natural place in our societal structure.

    Let us not lower our voices at the risk of being considered 'fearful.' The critical distinction is between fearfulness and forcefulness, is it not? The distinction between the two is perhaps in the facts.

    In my opinion, we have given up much more than we can afford of late to avoid being termed 'fearful'. There is a distinction between jumping up and shouting 'FIRE' in a crowded room and just walking out without letting anyone know. Our current energy supply is an emergency that is, to date, not being addressed. "We don't want to scare people"

    Ben Sullivan

  2. Ken Says:

    Righto, Ben. Still, hope, to be effective, must be attached to a positive vision, no?

    As Bucky Fuller (another one of my heroes) put it: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

  3. » Blog Archive » 9/11, the salience of mortality, and the future of American democracy Says:

    [...] of death leads to authoritarianism, not sustainability”; many comments followed. (Via Ken Stokes of “SusHI”). Via her blog, Rachel Maddow discussed it on her Air America radio show on [...]