The cost of living in the kingdom of fear



Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said that 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Current trends both international and at home bear this out.

Chris Johnston cartoonIt's easy to pick foreign examples. The fear of terrorism is being used to sell the failed Afghan war to a new generation of troops — bleeding and dying and killing people whose motivation, culture and history are unknown to both them and those who sent them. As the former CIA analyst Paul Pillar points out, 'kill them there to stop them killing us here' is a furphy: most acts of terror are homegrown these days and truck bombs or speeding cars are not imported from abroad.

Such homegrown (or foreign) acts of terror are fed and watered by the slaughter of innocents and the march of invading armies into foreign countries. As is now known, ISIS was the bitter fruit of the US invasion of Iraq. The fear of terrorism is, however, very useful in selling such lies, consequences be damned.

Another classic is 'Russiagate'. The fear that US democracy has been somehow subverted by the old Cold War enemy — so far without any hard evidence being shown to back it up — has led to a burgeoning arms race and a scare such as would do old Joe McCarthy himself proud. Sanctions have been ratcheted up, troop levels in Eastern Europe multiplied and both sides have been dusting off their fall-out shelters.

Again, this is a classic example where an imaginary or hyped fear threatens to stampede us into something much worse: the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has pushed its famous Doomsday Clock (gauging the risk of nuclear Armageddon) forward to two and a half minutes to midnight.

I have previously argued that, while North Korea's actions are a rational attempt to deter the US, deterrence is a high-stakes game which can easily fail. Here is another case where the initial fear (of the consequences of the North's having nuclear weapons) may lead to something much worse (the destruction of much of the Korean peninsula and possibly cities in the US) if the North's desire for deterrence, or the US' desire to seem strong in the face of perceived aggression, is misread by the other side. Just this week, we have seen contradictory signals put out from within the US administration itself.

The problem, however, is not just one for the foreign policy wonks. The appalling exchange between Alan Jones and Peter Dutton in which lawyers doing their jobs were branded 'unAustralian' borrowed not only the language of McCarthyism, but also its shrill tone of fear.


"Anxiety in individuals robs them of autonomy and makes them more malleable. While that may be a handy tool of control for those who govern, fear as a tool of policy, foreign or domestic, is the one thing likely to bring about the very thing feared."


Our money — did you hear that? our money — is being wasted on countering attempts to stop foreigners from being deported. Leave aside, for the moment, that our money is also being spent detaining them in the hellholes to which they are being deported, maintaining them in humiliation under armed guard and attempting to force them back to their countries of origin to die. It costs over $6000 per night to house a refugee on Nauru, about $60 for a charity to put them up for the same time.

Paring aside the hypocrisy and the ugliness of the implied alternatives, let us focus on this fear — the idea that somehow, by helping other people, Australia's understanding of itself and of its values will be threatened. Let us assume that Dutton were to have his way and, as is increasingly happening in Australian immigration law in any event, lawyers were excluded from the process of determining how the most vulnerable are treated. We know how that playbook goes. We have seen that where scrutiny is withdrawn, government agencies — like others — cannot be trusted to police themselves. The unconstrained brutality in Manus and Nauru already bear that out as does the call for greater transparency in areas of public life ranging from schools to Parliament.

Bear in mind, too, that Dutton's new Home Affairs ministry will now be responsible for the Australian Federal Police as well as for domestic intelligence. Those driven by fear to take rights away from the most vulnerable might well reap what they sow as and when they happen to fall foul of whoever the government of the day may be. If 'freedom and dignity of the individual ... commitment to the rule of law [and] Parliamentary democracy' are indeed Australian values — as Border Force requires refugees to acknowledge — then there can be few better ways of undermining these values, for all those living in Australia, than this. As the classic internet meme has it: 'I never thought they would eat MY face!' sobs person who voted for the Leopards Eating Faces Party.

Anxiety in individuals robs them of autonomy and makes them more malleable. While that may be a handy tool of control for those who govern, fear as a tool of policy, foreign or domestic, is the one thing likely to bring about the very thing feared.



Justin GlynFr Justin Glyn SJ is studying canon law in Canada. Previously he practised law in South Africa and New Zealand and has a PhD in administrative and international law.

Topic tags: Justin Glyn, ISIS, Russia, North Korea, Peter Dutton, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

Are fear and anxiety the same thing? Anxiety is a psychiatric disorder marked by excessive uneasiness. Fear, on the other hand, is an emotion caused by a threat. Terrorism is very real for those families affected by it. It's how to deal with it in an effective, and thoughtful manner, that stymies governments. The most vulnerable people are often caught up when bad policy reigns. We, the voters, elect governments.
Pam | 11 September 2017

Thank you Justin. I can only endorse what you say, and quote Leunig: There are only two feelings. Love and fear. There are only two languages. Love and fear. There are only two activities. Love and fear. There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results. Love and fear. Love and fear.
Pirrial Clift | 11 September 2017

Co-incidentally, I too was thinking about fear this morning. The fear campaign being waged by the 'No' proponents in the same-sex marriage survey fiasco. Everything from innocent children being raised by homosexuals(paedophiles), gender confusion on the school curriculum, polygamy, cake-makers enslaved by partying lesbians ... and Lord knows what else. I guess we'll see how effective fear is, in this instance.
Russell | 11 September 2017

I agree with much of what you say , Justin, especially around the unfairness to "our" offshore immigrants and the terrible price being paid for an ill-judged intervention in Iraq. However, i feel the your analyses always seem blighted by a certain superficiality based on other crude anti-Americanism. That makes it all too easy. In Syria/Iraq ISIS has to be and will be destroyed, and then carved up for long-term quasi-stability. In Afghanistan the US need o continue to put real pressure/pain on the Taliban and Pakistan military until a reasonable political solution can be reached protecting at least some of the political and social gains that have been achieved. At home we need to address: our debt problem; our poor productivity; our absurd energy settings; and stand up to the post-modern neo-marxists who are driving much of our "progressive" social agendas. Overall we need governance for our realities, driven by wisdom and virtue rather than populism.
Eugene | 11 September 2017

Agreed, Justin. Group dynamics theory 101 Fight Flight dynamic. Proposed enemy outside the group and no tolerance for vulnerability and a paranoid leader needed. Then again what is the current focus on fear rermove from consideration? In Australia it is mainly the development of a vision for the country, its integration with neighbours and 'allies' and the values by which we want to live and be inspired. Then again the confected fear of outsiders it distracts from managing the enemies within where certain banks and developers will do more damage than ISIS today and tomorrow to Australians .
Michael. D. Breen | 11 September 2017

The antidote to fear is love. As 1 John 4;18 puts it; "Love casts out fear" There is a lot of good will out there in the Australian Community, ready to show love and compassion to refugees. But there are two forces working against this love developing. Islamic extremists are unwilling or unable to see beyond their faulty and limited interpretation of God's call, and violently reject other interpretations, thus alienating all others. The Australian Governments play on the fear of terrorism, and try to prevent love and compassion of refugees developing by trying to keep them out of sight and out of mind. Many Australians go along with this, because it leaves them in the faulty but comfortable belief that it is THEY who are exclusively special in God's plan and this saves them from the task of adjusting to the truth that EVERYONE is special in God's Constant and Universal Plan.
Robert Liddy | 11 September 2017

Russell, I hope you read Mark Coleridge's article in the Oz today. Courteous but plain speaking sound arguement which is what this "discussion" has lacked. Numerically the SSM issue is a trivial one which is why I cannot really get too worked up about it, but much more important is the right to publicly and openly support non-PC causes , respectfully and in good faith.
Eugene | 11 September 2017

"Numerically the SSM issue is a trivial one ... " Oh, like Aboriginal issues, you mean? I try to avoid fake news, so try to avoid The Australian.
Russell | 12 September 2017

I suppose Marriage Equality or SSM if you like is a trivial issue for many people. It certainly won't affect that many people so such a viewpoint is understandable. But it is a very important matter for some people and that is problem with the postal survey. People who have no interest can still vote if they want to. But for others, the fear of a "no" vote is anything but a furphy. And it is not a PC cause either, it is a matter of equality. Is that really so wrong?
Brett | 12 September 2017

Brett: “But for others, the fear of a "no" vote is anything but a furphy. And it is not a PC cause either, it is a matter of equality. Is that really so wrong?” A furphy is a tall tale. That there are fears by some that a ‘No’ vote will be returned, countered by others who fear the return of a ‘Yes’ vote, is not a tale as the fears are real. What is a furphy, however, is that the issue is properly only about equal rights for gays. Rights are ordered by priority. The right of a child to be emotionally sustained by a father and a mother surpasses the wants (not needs) of gay couples deliberately to create children who will be denied the norm of being brought up by domestic role models of both sexes.
f | 13 September 2017

In response to “f”, how does Marriage Equality affect anything you have written? What is there to fear in a “yes” vote? The only question in the expensive postal survey is about equal treatment for GLBTQI people. If the naysayers are successful and the question is voted down, some GLBTQI people will still be raising children. That won’t change. All you are doing is denying those children the opportunity (right?) to have married parents. There is no evidence GLBTQI people are any less capable than heterosexual couples of being good parents and providing stable, safe and loving homes for their children. For GLBTQI people who have no interest in raising children, this line of argument is completely irrelevant. It is a furphy.
Brett | 14 September 2017

Somewhere, not so far to the back of my mind, is the thought that, if you were a genuine Christian, you'd need to bite the bullet and take the Quaker stand on pacifism. Certainly, in a time of brutal warfare and the occupation of his own country, Jesus was not a warmonger. I think he was also a wee bit dubious about people's abilities to bring peace to both themselves and the world. He did specifically state that his and the world's peace were different. So where does that leave us, threatened with a possible nuclear war which we might be an ancillary player in? Also, given the fact that the refugee tide is seeming to engulf a Europe ill prepared for its sheer numbers, what should be our attitude to those seeking to enter Australia from outside the normal channels? Certainly external detention in what appear like prison camps is not a good look, nor does it do much for those thus incarcerated or their jailers. It is an extremely complex world with several interrelated problems of major significance. We need to be informed as well as not afraid.
Edward Fido | 14 September 2017

"I suppose Marriage Equality or SSM if you like is a trivial issue for many people. It certainly won't affect that many people so such a viewpoint is understandable." Brett, I do see that you use the word 'understandable' and not something like 'reasonable', but I've seen this argument before on this website - though not in relation to say, the asylum seekers we have locked up in concentration camps, but surely on a Christian website this argument about numbers needs to be called out! Even leaving the 'Christian' out, howabout we just remember to treat others as we would wish to be treated, not counted.
Russell | 14 September 2017

In response to Pam's comment. Anxiety is not in itself a psychiatric disorder. To be anxious on occasion is quite normal; it becomes aproblem if it becomes sufficiently severe that it pervades one's life - it then becomes a " disorder ". Medicalising normality is unhelpful.
Neil | 14 September 2017

Well, Neil, everyone can be anxious in the normally understood everyday sense. However it is dangerous to confute this with Anxiety disorder, which is actually a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, which can destroy people's lives unless properly treated. Your post has done the cause of Mental Health no service. Hopefully it will not deter any ES reader who thinks he or she may suffer from Anxiety from seeking appropriate help. They would do well to pass you by and go to the Beyond Blue website.
Edward Fido | 15 September 2017

"Those driven by fear to take rights away from the most vulnerable...." The most vulnerable person is the fellow who breaks into your house and finds several people and a Rottweiler looking at him wondering what he is up to. Vulnerability is a natural consequence of some types of choice.
Roy Chen Yee | 17 September 2017

So sadly true! The ugly other face of love is fear.
Judith O'Farrell | 22 September 2017


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