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Fear is the enemy of democracy

  • 04 March 2013

It's possible that future generations will judge the Bush administration's post 9/11 'War on Terror' as one of the most shameful and dangerous moments in American history. Crucial to this campaign were the 'enhanced interrogation' techniques that induced fear in order to bend the wills of those held captive. It was believed the end justified the means, and that the person's dignity, self esteem and grasp of their own reality were expendable.

We can look upon such forms of psychological torture as merely extreme manifestations of the damaging incidences of negative persuasion that are disarmingly commonplace in our society. There are still teachers and parents who prefer the pedagogy of the stick to that of the carrot. Also, political strategists are making increasing use of fear in order to persuade electors to vote for their party's candidates.

The most dramatic example of such manipulation in recent political history was the anti-Work Choices campaign that is credited with winning the 2007 Federal Election for Labor. It is widely believed that voters were paralysed by fear of losing their rights at work and their livelihood, and consequently voted the Coalition out of government because of the Work Choices legislation it had passed. 

This in turn spooked the Coalition, which is now afraid to countenance workplace reform, even though it is one of its core philosophical beliefs. Last week it shelved changes to the Fair Work legislation until the second term it hopes to win in 2016. This suggests that once fear becomes the currency, individuals and groups will abandon their values and hitherto perceptions of reality in a desperate attempt to avoid the imagined catastrophe.

For its part, Labor was thoroughly disarmed by the susceptibility of the population to the myths surrounding the Coalition's ongoing 'Stop the boats' rhetoric. It subsequently wound back the reforms to asylum seeker policy that it introduced during its first term of office.

Labor adopted the Coalition's terminology, embracing the delusion that 'breaking the people smugglers' business model' was the only way it could deal with our share of the worldwide challenge of refugee flows. 

Opposition Immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison showed last week that a population paralysed by fear of dangerous and illegal boat people ending up in its community could easily accept a premise that was blatantly untrue, and act and vote accordingly. After Morrison called for a suspension of asylum seekers being released into the community on the basis of a