Another politics of fear

As long ago as my student days, I occasionally met people, probably not vocal Left-wing activists, who came out with odd off-the-cuff remarks revealing fear of the political Right in particular, and of the rich and powerful in general. The individuals I am thinking of gave me an impression of cynicism rather than idealism, and ‘the politics of envy’ which Right-wing commentators often talk about seemed somehow just irrelevant.

More recently, I have been meeting this sort of fear again, but related to more specific threats and on a wider scale. The environment may feature; fear of GM crops, global warming, and the like. But there is also a definite anxiety that democracy itself is under threat (or already subverted). Always the fear relates to power, and especially corporations – more than wealthy individuals. The security state is also likely to feature here. Maybe it would help if someone did an actual survey on this, but even without that there is the simple point that health anxieties (and statistics about the shorter life expectancy of the poor) are now involved as well as political or economic ones. Most people my mother and I meet fear for the future, and that of their children and grandchildren. Such apparently different issues as family breakup or stress are likely to link with how we live and work now, if not also to inequality as such.

Unfortunately, no politician is willing to discuss fear in our society. Some will talk about particulars such as inequality itself, or family breakdown or environmental degradation. Rarely, if ever, is attention paid to how these and other problems might actually relate to one another. This is worrying because a gut feeling of being threatened is more primal and visceral than any sort of idealism, or even an envy of others’ good fortune. Often with good reason, people generally are inclined to be sceptical of official reassurances these days. No doubt that makes the task of addressing the fears people may harbour more difficult, but it also makes it more necessary. In times past dark forces would be identified as Satan or ghosts and demons in forests and cellars. Nowadays, we might look for spooks clearing the forests instead of hiding in them. Artists beware.

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