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The Power of Myth and Fear

September 17, 2011

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions a human can feel. It is essential to our survival as a species. Without it, we’d all have been eaten by prehistoric bears and lions long ago. But fear can be hard to control, and can become irrational and dangerous very quickly. Especially when it is induced by unscrupulous people for the purpose of gaining political power.

In his ground-breaking documentary “The Power Of Nightmares“, Adam Curtis examined the rise of right-wing power in this country built on induced fear. They have literally terrorized two generations of Americans to the point of mental breakdown in order to build and maintain their own power. It’s a fascinating look at the correlation between the right’s use of communism as the phantom threat of the Cold War era until the collapse of the USSR, and the replacement of communism by Islamic terrorists after 9/11.

Vodpod videos no longer available.Excerpts from “The Power Of Nightmares”
(Watch all three 1 hour episodes for free here, or purchase the DVD here.)

“But now, the neoconservatives became all-powerful, because this terror network proved that what they had been predicting through the 1990s was correct: that America was at risk from terrifying new forces in a hostile world. A small group formed that began to shape America’s response to the attacks. At its heart were Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, along with the vice-president, Dick Cheney, and Richard Perle, who was a senior adviser to the Pentagon. The last time these men had been in power together was 20 years before, under President Reagan. Back then, they had taken on and, as they saw it, defeated a source of evil that wanted to take over America: the Soviet Union. And now they saw this new war on terror in the same epic terms.”

They did not cheer when Bin Laden was killed because he was he was their Great Monster. They fought the stimulus and the health care bill to the very end because they have zero interest in allowing people’s lives to improve. A healthy, stable, and happy populous is not easily frightened. That is why we will see no Jobs bill passed without drastic cuts to the safety net. That is why they took the entire economy hostage. And that is why they will continue to do so. Fear.

So now we find ourselves facing a conservative movement that has been terrorized and lied to their entire lives. And in reaction to that fear they have retreated into anger and paranoia. That paranoia doesn’t allow them to trust anyone who doesn’t reinforce their skewed world-view and are thus impervious to reason and facts. They are living a delusional fantasy, purposefully built by the same people who induced their irrational fear, but promising now to protect them from it.

This fantasy world is one of absolutes. There is Good and there is Evil, and if you don’t fit into the one then you must be the other. There is a great enemy that must be fought against in an epic struggle over every issue, no matter how unimportant, because giving an inch is equal to total surrender . There are mighty heroes and abhorrent villains (whose parts are played by different people nearly every day). To understand the modern conservative movement you have to understand mythical story structure.

“Such stories are true models of the workings of the human mind, true maps of the psyche. They are psychologically valid and realistic even when they portray fantastic, impossible, unreal events.

This accounts for the universal power of such stories. Stories built on the model of the hero myth have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they spring from a universal source in the collective unconscious, and because they reflect universal concerns.”
A Practical Guide to Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Christopher Vogler, © 1985

Vodpod videos no longer available.
“The Power of Myth” Episode 1, PBS

The right’s version of America is a mythic tale. Poorly written, no doubt, but very appealing to those who are terrified. It’s a myth populated by epic heroes who constantly struggle against the forces of darkness bent on destroying their promised land. Ronald Reagan was a silver-clad knight and a saint who brought back the lost glory of our nation and must now be worshiped and revered. Illegal Aliens, Liberals ,Atheists, Unions, Progressives and anyone one else who holds different beliefs or ideals is The Shadow, the Enemy that must be destroyed. Any facts or information contrary to The Myth must be ignored and shunned lest its structure begin to erode and reality break through.

Living in their world of constant threat has created a seething anger in the conservative mind toward the objects of their fear. And a byproduct of that anger is their vicious cruelty, which the public has recently become acquainted with in the GOP’s nationally broadcast debates.

Beneath the grand mythic fantasy world of the conservative movement lies a white-hot sphere of anger and hatred layered thick around a core of molten fear. And it’s that super-heated anger and fear that powers the Infernal Machine of the Republican Party.

Without the Myth in place to keep the rubes fooled, they would not be able to harness the fear and anger from their terrorized masses, and the Republican party would simply cease to exist.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 13, 2011 3:10 pm

    Well said. I’ve been thinking along these same lines in recent years. Thanks for the links.

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