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Fear and Politics

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Fear and Politics

What is fear?
Fear is an emotion that is caused by specific behavioural patterns related to threats. It generates a particular pattern of adaptive behaviour to cope with the threat. The realms of mental life are mainly governed by emotions, motives and desires. The mental structures governed by emotions and feelings have a great impact on reasoning, logic and decision-making. According to noted psychologist Joseph Ledoux, connections from emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than those from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.
Fear and human psychology
Fear is the most powerful experience a human can have. The root of fear is the fear of death. Fear is the deadliest enemy of reason, though both of them are significant to human survival. Reason, sometimes, mitigates the fear but the latter often takes lead and shuts down reason. According to Hobbes, fear is a sensible motivating dynamic. It is fear that compels and forces human beings to create social contracts, in order to mitigate uncertainty and crisis. Edmund Burke argued that the only emotion that snatches the mind of all its powers of reason is fear.
Fear is irresistible and universal in human society. Its presence is absence of wisdom. Once a man surrenders his reason, he becomes the slave of misconceptions and absurdities. Our fear of death is disciplined, exacerbated, yet warded off by fear of certain threatening possibilities.
Sources of fear
Language and imagery are the sources to create fear in human mind. The biggest source of language and imagery, in modern times, is media. Neurologists have described as to how the use of electronic media affects brain to accentuate fear. Researchers argue that images of terror, war and violence go straight to a part of the brain that is not meditated by language or reasoned analysis. This mechanism awakens the warning system. Whatever the cause of the fear, the phenomenon, if triggered once, becomes difficult to turn off even with reasoning. Furthermore, fear, once inculcated in mind, weakens the heuristics – commonsense rules intended to increase the probability of solving some problem – that help us to make rational decisions. The way fear can shut the reason, it can exercise, in the same way, same power over the domain of memory. The most important technique of “fear-mongering” is the repetition, making the irregular seen regular. The usage of this tool can ratchet up public anxieties and fear to distort public discourse. Visual imagery is used excessively that includes pictures, graphs and cartoons for repetition.
Kinds of fear
According to Thomas Hobbes, fear has following kinds:
1. Iconic sense of fear
In this kind of fear, a person learns through experience as to why and how it was created. It dissolves the difference between the experience and what is sensed. This can be related to the fear of unknown – an individual’s propensity to experience fear caused by the perceived absence of information.
2. Indexical sense of fear
It refers to that what has already exited so it can be automatically sensed. Moreover, in intellective sense, this kind of fear is deliberately induced in a mind.
Politics of fear
In political realm, the state exploits the fear that people feel from each other. Our systematic exposures to fear is utilized and exploited by the public relations specialists and advertisers, as well as by politicians and states in the realm of politics. In such a situation, state demands the submission of the people. Fear can trigger the surrender of freedom to the state in return of security and strength. Furthermore, through narrative building, the state repeatedly constructs a specific kind of fear to assert itself.
In this pursuit, language is used as a powerful, effective tool to achieve this goal. Research has shown that media – both print and electronic – can produce significant fears. State often constructs fear as a driving force of change, i.e. change in law, change in societal structures, etc. Arundhati Roy argues that fear is a response to powerlessness that threatens the societal stability. Powerlessness restricts individuals and groups to make decisions that affect their goals and lifestyles. On the other hand, fear leads to great transformations that lead towards healing; for example, the fear of scarcity resulted in Industrial Revolution. On the contrary, the fear has morphed Industrial Revolution into insecurity, mistrust and competition that have become the trait of the modern world.
Fear, indeed, leads to institutionalization and enculturation in a modern a society. Terrorism relies heavily on the simulation of fear for political ends. Same as political scientist Charles Tilly argues that war-making is state-making, so terrorism is used to achieve the same political ends. Same mechanism of narrative-building and repetitive imagery is used to justify wars; war imagery shifts the public discourse. Inculcation of fear is used to imaginary discourses such as the US has generated in world that it has invaded Iraq on the pretext of the weapons of mass destruction, though reality is altogether different. What holds us together is the persecution of war argued by Winston Churchill during World War II.
Pandemic and politics of fear
During the pandemic crisis, governments and states all over the world have reasserted their powers – powers that they exercise through social contract between them and their citizens. The policy pursuits of affected states and politicization of the pandemic have created fear among public.
Scholars have conceptualized that the politics of fear focuses on ‘mobility’ and ‘difference’.
In terms of mobility, fear, that is itself mobile, has moved between bodies as it constrains the mobility of some bodies. This concept is mainly used to analyze xenophobia, racism and ethnicity. Researchers have applied it to the situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic whereby almost all bodies have experienced a kind of fear but some constrained by it. The United States has labelled the virus that caused this pandemic as “Chinese”. This has accentuated anti-Asian racism in the United States that has politicized pandemics to create a factor of fear and prejudice against China. Thus, the fear was mobile and experienced between all bodies, but it permeated mostly Asian bodies.
Hobbes argued that citizens have always feared that the state would seize their freedom. Scholars have called this ‘systemic fear’. This kind of fear is anti-political as it weakens the political actions taken by citizens. Governments use this kind of fear to control and regulate the behaviour of their citizens. The strategies employed to create this fear are the prohibition of public gatherings and strict surveillance. During Covid-19, the strategies of lockdown, social distancing protocols and tracing mechanisms were exercised not only by authoritative regimes but also by democratic states. For example, the Chinese government has used tools such as phone-tracking system to control the outbreak. The fear of coronavirus has increased governmental interference in the private life of citizens.
Moreover, the politicization of the pandemics has also created a sense of uncertainty and panic among people. Politicization, in general terms, means the demand for, or the act of, transporting an issue or an institution into the sphere of politics – making previously apolitical matters political. The politicization of Covid-19 has occurred in many forms and shades all over the world. Pakistan, too, is no exception to it. The case of the federal government and the Sindh government is a striking example. The political divide has become such serious that PM Khan has suggested reversing the 18th Amendment, albeit with some changes. A political cleavage emerged between the federal government and Sindh government. It was a situation of serious concern that how the central government of PTI and the representatives of PPP’s Sindh government played their differences and politicized the threat of a pandemic. This has created feelings of fear and uncertainty among the people. Thus, politics of fear has the power to exploit.


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Ayla Majid

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