By Karthiga Ratnam
“I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible… except by getting off his back.”
― Leo Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?
Fear. A useful emotion. It can trigger our fight or flight response and can act as a warning sign when we are in danger. Courage and fear are two sides of the same coin. As Mark Twain put it, “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
Individual fear can be a good thing. It triggers us to act and react. It’s a powerful stimulus.
About 12,000 years ago, humans started settling down. We started agriculture and farming. According to newscientist this was also the beginning of sexism and male patriarchy. Once we settled down, we needed the means to defend that territory. Naturally, it fell on the stronger of the sexes – men to defend. And with this started the subjugation of women. I believe with this patriarchy another type of problem also started emerging. One that has spread to the far corners of the globe. Fear. By controlling women, we started weaponizing fear.
History has taught us that the oppressors have always wielded fear as their more powerful weapon. Because on the other side of fear is hate. I remember sitting in an international relations class as a graduate student and the professor said something jokingly powerful – “there is no capitalism without war and religion without hell.”
If you believe in God, the creator or the Almighty then do you truly believe that someone that created such abundance in the universe wants you to live in fear? Fear of going to a mythical realm called hell after you die. Just doesn’t sound plausible. And yet it’s so ingrained into the human psyche.
Religion and socio-economic power structures have always had alarming similarities. And through history humanity has gained power by exerting force and ipso facto fear on the weak and oppressed. Feudalism, slavery, capitalism – whatever the governance structure is/was, they all had one thing in common. It was and is a system built on weaponizing fear.
Individuals live in fear of:
- Losing their jobs
- Losing their homes to mortgages and banks
- Losing their savings to illness and hospital bills
Countries live in fear of:
- Air Strikes
- Economic Sanctions
And the list goes on.
According to the World Bank, 689 million people are living in extreme poverty. They live in fear of not being able to find their next meal. How are we ok with this? How is it ok for the world’s richest man to be worth $177 billion and have 9.9% of the planet affected by starvation?
How is it ok for families through no fault of their own having to sell their children to buy food? And yet the global war machine rolls on spreading fear wherever it goes.
Humans in power or needing to obtain power quickly learned fear is an effective weapon. But no more so than the last 100 years. It’s worse in the last 100 years because fear was hidden in plain sight. It disguised itself as progress and social advancement. It hides deep in the capitalistic economy and promise of free markets.
Fear was weaponized in broad daylight disguised as IMF loans, as incentives of Western nations, as political lobbies of large companies, and as donor money for election campaigns.
Recently at the Wicked 7, we addressed Work and Tech. One of the maps I drew was on the exploitation of workers. What I found was eye-opening indeed. There was an article recently on JacobinMag on how “Corporations Would Literally Kill You to Turn a Profit” and the author Nicole Aschoff, says this in parting:
“Love, honesty, kindness, dignity, and pride are the values that motivate most people. Instead of allowing capital to shape society according to its values, we should create institutions that force companies to operate according to our values.“
Truer words have not been spoken. Looking at this cause-and-effect map of worker exploitation it’s crystal clear – we have allowed money to shape our values instead of allowing our values to shape money. And these workers are being exploited because they need their livelihood and live-in fear of losing their income. The corporations know this.
As I was researching for this map, of the many shocking pieces of information I uncovered, the Sumangali scheme in India stood out for me. It’s a scheme for textile/garment industry workers in Tamil Nadu. The gist of it is young girls (teenagers and children really) are “hired” for about 3-5 years usually with no employment contract and forced to work under trying circumstances for 12 hrs a day. At the end of the “employment” period, they are paid a lump sum that can be given as a dowry.
Doesn’t it seem barbaric to you? That we live in a world where this is happening and is an accepted part of society. This is just one scheme. Worker exploitation is rampant all over the globe. Yet somehow, we are ok with that. Why? One word, one emotion – fear. We are all scared of losing what we already have. We are all scared and looking to our own houses, mortgages, bills, etc.,
As Yoda said:
“Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering”
And that’s how they win. As long as humans live in fear and suffering the juggernaut of the rich and powerful rolls on. The fear economy rakes in billions.
In parting I will leave you with these words from Shakespeare in Julius Caesar:
“And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind is closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and do it gladly.”
When we live in fear, we the masses are so willing to give up our rights. And that’s the result of weaponizing fear. Remember that. Citizens willingly give up their rights. Sound familiar to you?