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Sunday, October 26

Rousing the Rabble

"Fear is the path that leads to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate . . . leads to suffering."

There’s a lot of fear in America these days.
Oh, it’s not the fear of another terrorist attack. We’ve been collectively whipsawed back and forth on that issue so many times that the prospect of another 9/11 makes us shrug, by and large. With more Americans dying each year of the flu and food poisoning than died on 9/11, one needs a sense of perspective about terrorism.
The fear I speak of is largely twofold.
Both are related and can be grouped under the heading of Fear of the Unknown.
One is the fear of poverty, of having your savings disappear and of being unable to retire in comfort or having your children go to college. That fear makes people fret about the future; if we knew the future, we could at least sleep nights.
The second is the upcoming presidential election. I may be wrong on this, but we’ve never had an election held during two wars and on the cusp of a major recession. Just one of those circumstances would be bad enough – coupling it with the other is sure to make us a bit jittery.
I said earlier that The Fear was “largely” twofold, because there is another component that, quite frankly, makes a small segment of the population so pants-wettingly afraid that they become filed with unfocused anger.
Focusing that anger leads to hatred of the target, and that hatred, based as it is on nothing more than generalized anger, tends to be itself very nonspecific. It’s “fill in the blank” hate, ready to accept any label.
Which leads us to the subject of this post, and the person Sarah Palin is discussing in her speech. Senator Barack Obama.
To a small segment of Americans who have been taught by their elders, relatives, friends, community and church to fear and hate The Scary Other, Obama represents a threat. Obama, to them, is The Other personified.
Like I said, enough fear triggers and anger response that becomes hatred if you can put a name or a face on that fear. Which is precisely what politicians like Palin and to a lesser extent McCain have been trying to do.
Being at least somewhat more sophisticated than their audiences, McCain and Palin have tried to use the coded speech of right-wing ideologues, but the rabble (for want of a better term, and it is applicable) fall back on simpler labels:
The level of hatred being stoked in these crowds is palpable, even in a YouTube clip. I shudder to think what it must actually feel like, in person.
Now, where does this hatred lead? You can’t just keep shoveling fuel into the fire; it has to have an outlet.
Which leads to the rest of the quote from Yoda – which, by the way, I accept as completely axiomatic.
Back in the day, this level of rhetoric was usually followed by a fun-filled pogrom through the nearest Jewish ghetto, or – more recently – a foray into the black area of the town.
There have been a few acts of violence so far, as people at these rallies couldn’t wait for the speaker to point them at anyone. To my knowledge no one has died, yet. In this context, the Ashley Todd false report incident may have been a deliberate attempt on someone’s part to ignite the hatred that’s been whipped up into actual, widespread violence.
It might be hoped that our collective common sense will assert itself, but after watching Gov. Palin do her demagogue act I worry that common sense will be too little, too late. I can only ask that Americans do what I wished they would have done after 9/11 – act without fear. Do not be ruled by fear or anger – both cloud your judgment, and do not allow yourselves to be driven to hatred and violence by politicians.
I opened this post with a pop culture reference; I will close with two more:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

- Frank Herbert, Dune

People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?
- Rodney King, 1992.

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