“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.” I once heard that quote–taken from FDR’s First Inaugural Address–and I thought it was one of the deepest philosophical statements I had ever heard come out of the mouth of a politician.
Fear is an emotion induced by a perceived threat which evokes the flight or fight response (also called the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response, hyperarousal, or the acute stress response). Starting from the beginning of human existence, fear has been responsible for some of the gravest crimes against humanity. Some individuals were once perceived as the followers and supporters of a supposed threat, aka, The Devil, which resulted in the Inquisition. Some later were perceived as a threat called “witches” and “warlocks,” which resulted in the Witch Trials. The Germans once perceive the Jews as a threat, which resulted in the Holocaust. Communists were perceived as a threat here in the US in the 50’s, which resulted in anyone suspected as being a “Communist Sympathizer” or belonging to the “Communist Party” being persecuted and imprisoned (which is a joke when you realize that in a “free country,” one is supposed to be able to belong to any political party he wishes). So called, “Niggers” were once perceived as a threat here in the US, especially the South, and received horrible treatment as a result. Same phenomena was observed when anyone was suspected of being a so called “queer.” For a while there “Muslim Terrorist” were felt to be a daily threat to the existence of the general population; and heaven help the person who happened to look of Middle Eastern descent. Now-a-days I suspect so called “sexual predators” are the highest on the list of supposed threats and are persecuted accordingly. No doubt a student of history could give many more historical examples of perceived threats that I am wholly ignorant of.
I’ve often heard that fear gave birth to religion. Regardless of how true or false that claim is, most certainly fear has been used by religion to manipulate and control followers. Autocrats, dictators, and presidents alike have often invented threats to control and manipulate the masses in ways not too far removed from those of organized religion. In fact, sometimes the autocrat, dictator, or president works hand in hand with organized religion in the manipulation and control process.
Psychology has long known that fear has such a hold on an individual that even when the fear has been realized as unjustified, the individual will still have the attitude of, “Better safe than sorry.” For instance, when a person comes upon what is perceived as a snake in the road, and the individual discovers instead that it is a stick that looks like a snake, he will still give the stick wide berth because of the impact of the initial fear. Also for example, political scientists and social psychologists suspect that Goldwater lost the Presidential Election to Johnson because of a campaign ad suggesting that electing Goldwater may lead to nuclear war.
Advertising and Public Relations have come to realize the effectiveness and profitability of inventing threats and then offering “solutions” to the supposed threat.
But pardon me if I digress.
Whenever you read Roosevelt’s First Inaugural you realize that the statement, “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” is political rhetoric. It is the very sophisticated but much more eloquent equivalent of the little boy on the playground taunting another with, “Na na na boo boo. Scaredy cat. Scaredy cat.” Roosevelt wasn’t talking about the philosophical and psychological ramifications of fear and the way fear can be used to manipulate and control. Instead he was using supposed threats combined with encouragement in an effort to evoke the fight response out of the masses. But I reckon that should have been expected since he was the epitome of The Politician.