• Michael Cann

Politics, fear and complacency

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

There's a hidden war on fear that is poisoning our politics and our planet.

For how many decades have people been expressing fear about climate change, and asking for decisive leadership?

The response from the polluter lobby - to dismiss concern as fear-mongering - has exploited a perverse public distaste for fear itself.

It was not for nothing that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a piece of coal into parliament. It was intended to position himself as unafraid, and to stigmatise his opposition by implying their fears were stupid.

These days, you only need to suggest that your opposition is afraid, and the culture understands that this means pointlessly afraid, stupidly afraid, ignorantly afraid. There's a hidden perjorative word whenever anyone talks about other people's fears.

Why would anyone be afraid of something so benign you can hold it in your hand?

It was the man-child version of calling someone in the playground a scaredy-cat.

There's an unwritten rule that real leaders aren't afraid. Real leaders can help you be less afraid too.

I often hear people complain about the exploitation of fear by politicians. There seems to be bipartisan agreement that such exploitation is rife.

And there's always a sneering tone. It's always the others who have the unjustified fears and we who have the legitimate ones.

If you're progressive, you sneer at people's fears about migrants, cultural diversity, and freedom of speech and religion.

If you're conservative, you sneer at people's fear of climate change, species loss and and the erosion of democracy.

Sneering at other people's fear is a cheap way to imply safety to your friends and good leadership to your followers.

It is a terrible way to build community and agreement.

It is only sometimes overt. More often than not our superiority over our opponents is merely implied. But it is heard loud and clear by the 'other'.

What unites both 'sides' of the shit-show that is modern politics is a tacit agreement that fear is a problem to be managed or avoided; that it is humiliating and weak to feel fear; and that it is expedient to call your opposition afraid as if it were an insult.

I struggle to think of a single time I have ever seen political opponents have a truly constructive discussion about each other's fears.

No one wants to admit they have them, and to the extent that we do, everyone wants to pretend they know the best categorical solution already.

There is no room for emergent Winning Happening solutions when people are busily shoving their fears under the carpet with the same old brooms.

As a culture we have mostly agreed to fear fear itself.

It is not fear that is exploited by shitty politicians, it is the avoidance and shaming of fear.

Fear is only open to exploitation if we agree that it is bad to feel fear, and if we collectively shame others for their fears.

The shaming of fear is a silent cancer consuming our democracy. It poisons our communities, and the effects are now truly catastrophic.

That's why my activism this year will put constructive human conversations about fear front and centre.

I am proud of my fear. I deeply value what fear can bring to politics. A leader without fear is a useless complacent fool.

Right now, as I see so much of Australia burning, I'm afraid. I couldn't love my children and not fear for their futures.

Let's work together to take the stigma out of fear.

We all feel it.

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©2020 by Michael Cann.