Politics of Fear

Last night I saw the documentary by Adam Curtis at the NW Film Center, “The Power of Nightmares” on the ‘politics of fear.’ He draws some very interesting parallels between the beginnings of the fundamentalist Islamicists and the American neoconservatives inspired by Leo Strauss. Both have a hatred of ‘individualist liberal society’ and seek to impose a very divisive good/evil paradigm, where fighting evil leads to unification of the ‘good.’ He follows the two strands from 1949 to the present day, and makes a fairly convincing case that the neocons have been on a pre-emptive course for years, changing the ‘evil’ target from the Soviet Union to Bill Clinton to Osama & al Qaeda over the years, but using similar tactics of going far beyond any evidence to make their case.

In the end Curtis claims that politicians like Blair and Bush have realized that painting the worst-case scenario is a very effective means of control. And if the worst case is no longer constrained by actual evidence, there’s no limit to what the imagination can conjure up.

So while the doc acknowledges that there are extremists out there in the world who are dangerous, it claims that the picture of a super-sophisticated al Qaeda operation, with sleeper cells all around the world just waiting to be activated, is sheer paranoid fantasy (or in Leo Strauss terms, useful myth). So, as usual, the only thing to fear is fear itself.

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