The Fear-Narrative and the Road to War

George Floyd made a fear-object in a fear-narrative.

The violence against George Floyd, caught on video, showed a system, res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself. While in many ways it was no different than hundreds, thousands, and even millions of similar actions of a white supremacist system, found in the marriage of an “elitist economic system” and a “system of elitist leadership,” the murder of George Floyd was caught on video, and because of its causal, protracted nature, res ipsa loquitur, removed the veil from a system at work, doing what it does: violence.

Police violence in only one manifestation of the violence-system used in the strategy of divide et impera, or divide and rule a control mechanism that supports the elite. Police, and military generally, engaged in physical violence, but not for the sake of “solving a problem” but for the sake of creating psychic, or “distal violence” to be directed at the population at large, and used in a fear-narrative that proactively produces fear and the reaction of reciprocal violence, either proximal or distal, against the designated “fear-object.” It should be noted, in this regard, police and military are mercenaries who are paid to do violence, and their product is the propagation of fear.

The strategy of “control through fear” was of course well known. Machiavelli advised the Medici popes that it was better to be feared than loved (The Prince, 1532), but even he was only articulating what was already well known.

VIOLENCE, FEAR, AND THE FEAR-NARRATIVE

Important to fear based control is not only the physical violence created by the mercenary, but the second tier, the propagation through the orator and scribe to the population that this violence is not only necessary, but noble and good. The orator creates the fear-narrative that “gives meaning” to the violence and creates support for it. The fear-narrative constructs a protagonist-culture that most be protected from an “antagonist-counter-culture.” The narrative casts the aim of the antagonist as the annihilation of the protagonist. The Iliad is an example, as it cast the necessity of the destruction of Troy for the sake of the cultural value of the inviolable possession of women (Helen), and the Odyssey as it cast the necessity of slaughtering the suitors of Penelope. The Rape of the Sabine women is another example — the fear, the destruction of the founders of Rome, necessitate the extermination of men in neighboring cities and the abduction of women for the purpose of rape. The story, simply told, elicits fear through the sympathetic protagonist besieged by the annihilating antagonist. In the case of the authoritarian state, that “violence necessary for survival of the protagonist force is given over to the hands of the state, who conduct the violence then with trained mercenaries, a so-called “warrior class.”

Emotional, authoritarian power, based on fear, was challenged only by a logical idea, that we are all equal. This logic led to the development of a “republic,” designed to facilitate (a semblance of) equal power sharing, domestically. The fear-narrative was still used as a device in foreign war, for the purpose of territorial aggrandizement.

Cicero (B.C.E. 106–48) understood that it was possible to create a fear-narrative that would manipulate the citizenry not only in regard to foreign war, but domestically. Citizens would vote against their personal interests and continue the transfer of wealth and power to an elite if they were made to feel afraid.

Rhetoric traditionally contained a mix of ethos, pathos, and logos, or “authority” “emotion,” and “logic.” Cicero dispensed with the logic of equality and leaned heavily on authority and emotion to create a fear-narrative, that would move citizens to vote against the logic of their best interest and hand power over to an elite, the very authority that paid him. Scribes and orators, constructing fear-narratives for the purpose of manipulating the population, are also mercenaries.

Stanley Milgram, in his famous “”Milgram Experiment” provided statistical evidence that advanced the effectiveness of the “fear-narrative” over both simply “authority” and direct order. Subjects faced with authority that also creates a “fear-narrative” were many times more likely to comply to orders that they “harm” a “victim” with electric shock. The Milgram experiment (1965) seemed to prove the effectiveness of “expert-authority” who create fear-narratives in order to gain compliance. It should be noted that the Milgram Experiment itself is a fear-narrative, casting as the fear-object, subjects (everyday people, as opposed to experts) who can be so easily manipulated, and necessitating the need to instead, manipulate and control them.

“BROKEN WINDOWS POLICING” IN THE FEAR-NARRATIVE

In regard to modern police violence, which I have been involved in researching since 2011 when I took on a project involving Kathryn Johnston’s murder in Atlanta in 2006, it has become apparent to me that the system of murder and violence waged against the entire black community in America has been a purposeful strategy.

To understand the bald acceleration of this strategy in the Unitied States in the past 50 years, we’d have to look at “Broken Windows Policing” which developed out of a Kennedy School think tank, a tool of white supremacy, which found its first manifestations in Boston and then in New York City in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Since then, this policing system, developed and lead by “industry experts” spread to Atlanta (with Kathryn Johnston, 92 years old and in her home, a victim) and each and every other city in the nation. Recently, as the term “Broken Windows Policing” has become more widely known, industry professionals, lobbyist and PR firms, have morphed this system of policing into “Community Policing” evoking a nostalgia of the policing professional that jibes not at all with current manifestation of violent suppression of the population as produced by the policing industry.

The elitist or white supremacist system’s focus, of which policing is only a part, has been violence against human beings to facilitate the transfer of wealth. In the case of “Broken Windows Policing” we could see this transfer of wealth in inflating land values in urban areas, called, as they are in my city, “urban renewal districts” This is also a process called “gentrification” which seems to focus attention of the white middle class who in theory benefit, and not the white elite, like Donald Trump, who truly benefit.

We should absolutely acknowledge that the “ownership” of the land, itself, was also founded in violence toward indigenous people and perpetuated by violence, and that this violence both establishes the value and protects it — and that this use of violence has been consistent.

This system of land ownership, violence, and the transfer of wealth has lead to the massive enrichment of a few, most behind the scenes, and one so very much front and center, Donald Trump. Its premise now and historically, has been, one person’s ownership of land is of greater value than another person’s life. The violence that expresses and perpetuates the ownership has expressed itself against black lives, indigenous lives, and workers lives.

PROXIMAL VIOLENCE AND DISTAL VIOLENCE

The white elite express proximal violence (both physical and economic) toward black lives, indigenous lives, and the lives of people of color. Doing this, also creates “distal violence” toward a white population, who can see them selves as distinct and separated from the attacked group. The proximal attack is physical and the distal attack is abstract. This is the foundation of the “divide et impera” strategy, more accurately translated as “divide and rule.” This then creates two classes, those who have proximal violence expressed against them, black, indigenous, and people of color, and those who have a distal violence (the threat of violence) expressed against them, a white “middle class.”

The white majority, have sat in historic complicity with the white elitist system which advantages them within the system, relative the BIPOC community. They exchange distal violence for the advantaged offered by race division. The system as a whole if further supported by the notion of individualism and “character.” This propagandistic context, as captured in the “rags to riches” story, cast the illusion of “personal responsibility” within a system that exploits division to the benefit of an elite.

This acceptance of “distal violence” for “race advantage” is a complicity of the white middle class, in the elitist project. It is willful and subconscious. And because human beings all have a tendency toward confirmation bias, the white middle class interprets its own success to individual effort and not systemic racism.

A white elite of developers, real estate professionals, financial institutions, those with capital to invest, and landowners benefit under the system of “Broken Windows Policing.” The white middle class was itself divided into a landless depreciation-economy or a small landowner, appreciation-economy, and therefore either benefitted from increased land values or suffered rising rents through gentrification. All the while, the black underclass suffered extremes in violence and exclusion. Still, the propaganda of a “white American dream” persisted, forcing all Americans to compete to possess a diminishing piece of the illusory pie.

Meanwhile, concurrent with the elitist tool of “Broken Windows Policing,” lobbyists with the complicity of our leadership, allowed for a massive move toward privatization, creating a wealth of opportunities for private interests to gobble up public holdings and greatly expand their wealth and capital for further investment. The most recent public relations spin on this private expansion is called the “Public-Private Partnership” and further vehicle for the transfer of community value into private ownership.

“Broken Windows Policing” is an expansion of violence for the purpose of landowners generating out of “The War on Drugs,” itself an instrument of political oppression. That, as I see it, was a direct response to the threat to the white supremacist state of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was in 1967 that Richard Nixon began fine tuning his “Southern Strategy” as it was called. It in fact inspired the racist fear the white middle class through the entire nations. Public Relations professionals, as Nixon was himself, spun it as a “law and order” campaign, that found expression in violence toward both black lives and white allies in the form of protesters.

I have long leaned on the adage, from Cus D’Amato, who said, “Wherever you end up, you wanted to go all along.” If we have arrived at the murder of George Floyd as an end result of an economic system, a governmental system, a justice system, and a policing system, then that murder was an intended outmode and designed to served a purpose. This is an insight, of course, not lost on the Black Lives Matter movement. So, what is that purpose?

WHAT DOES MERCENARY VIOLENCE DO?

Famed cyberneticist Stafford Beer tells us, “The purpose of as system is what it does.” The system does violence, in its two types, proximal physical violence and the distal, abstract, threat of violence. So, what do these two violences do?

Donovan LaBella made a fear-object in a fear-narrative.

The simplest answer to that is it creates “fear.”

Of fear, there are also two types, associated with the proximal and distal violences, and those are proximal fear and distal fear.

PROXIMAL FEAR

Proximal fear is that fear we feel when we are directly confronted by what scares us in a moment in time. Many of us, if fact, are driven to confront this fear, because in the confrontation of that fear we gain some mastery over it. I rock climbed with my partner for many years, for example, and felt afraid many times. Proximal fear is also what the black community, unwillingly, confronts in the system of targeted policing. The outcomes for this fear are one of two things: a positive reaction: fight or flight, or an apathetic non-reaction: learned helplessness.

DISTAL FEAR

Distal fear is the fear of distant things, things not nearby, not in the present, it can come from the past, as in trauma, or even a fear of the future. As it can be a fear inspired by the future, which is, by definition unknown, it can be created by a narrative, which is a sequence of events with a predictive function.

Distal fear is the fear that a system of targeted policing illicit in the white middle class. It’s also the fear Kierkegaard points to in the story of Abraham as motive to sacrifice his own son, Issac, a fear, in that case of, God’s wrath.”

Distal fear is the fear Stanley Migram inspired in his subjects through a fear- narrative, in his famous experiment that prompted human beings to electrocute (they thought) fellow human beings.

DISTAL FEAR AND AVOIDANCE

Distal fear is the fear of having to confront fear, which inspires avoidance. It is in “avoidance” that we give power over to the “strongman” or “state” so that they confront the fear-object instead of us.

This is how Hitler rose to power — it was given to him via this mechanism. Germans were made to feel afraid, through a fear-narrative of the annihilating, counter-cultural other. Fear forced to so-called “good Germans” to form an alliance with the “strongman” who would do their dirty work, alleviate their fear. This alliance, also creates a cognitive dissonance, that necessitates (to preserve feelings of positive self-esteem) an adoption of the “logic” of the violence, ie, an ideology.

Distal fear is an exceptionally good marketing strategy too, selling a phenomenal range of products, including most obviously, millions of guns in the US, the fear of an “urban” (black) uprising. It is certainly possible to say that distal fear is the engine of the consumer economy.

Kierkegaard called the choice of present atrocity in the avoidance of a distal fear, the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” What he seems to highlight, however, in his obsession with the choice of Abraham, is that we can be made to fear the unknown more than than the destruction of our pro-social spirit. In other words, though a fear-narrative, we will overstep our common humanity because we’re afraid of the future.

I think that acting physically against an antagonist, whether it is a rock wall or another human being, as in a proximal fear, immediately begins to diminish the biological reaction of fear in the body. Action calms the body. And while it can seem no to be the case, proximal fear is actually the less scary of the two, and the calming reaction can even be habituated, as it is in rock climbers or soldiers who are “seasoned.”

Distal fear is the more powerful because we do not engage in a physical release. This is why a narrative can be more effective in manipulating a person than physical confrontation. A narrative can thoroughly terrify in the dehumanize and super powerful enemy where as a fight, as we might see in boxing ends in an embrace.

Seen in this way, we might be able to recognize that violent policing then serves two aims, to create proximal fear in the black community and distal fear in the white community.

In the black community, experiencing proximal fear there are two possible outcomes.

1. A reaction for the sake of self-preservation: fight or flight.

2. Learned helplessness

As far as the industry of policing is concerned, there is a balanced equilibrium that is most desirable between learned helplessness and reaction. Finding that balance perpetuates the system and advances its ultimate aim, the sustained transfer of wealth from the community and into the industry of violence, and finally to elites.

The other, and perhaps larger purpose, of proximal fear in the black community is the creation of distal fear in the white community. As already noted, distal fear is necessary in overstepping ethical humanism. The white community has already accepted distal fear in exchange for relative economic advantage. As we might learn from “Terror Management Theory” fear makes us double down on our world view, and key to that world view is that we make good, and ethical decisions. Making us more afraid, will then make us double down on held bias, which is willfully or subconsciously racist.

Also, of the two types of fear, proximal and distal, there is a similar need created out fear, and that is “action.” I heard this story once, that a squirrel confronted by a dog will freeze. When the dog moves on, the squirrel will run around the tree. The squirrel needs to express that adrenaline overload. The same is true of all animals, of which human beings are included. There is a need to express the fight or flight hormonal dump. For the white middle class, not in the action but watching it on TV, just like 1968, this expression of their distal fear will be the vote.

The constant expression of violence has created in the United States a large and apathetic class of non-voters, those who have given up. That, a “learned helplessness” is also a desirable outcome of both proximal and distal violence. Apathy is a possible reaction of proximal violence in the black community. Apathy and learned helplessness is “flight” when you can’t get away. Apathy is also a possible reaction in the wider electorate, and it is this group that decides elections. This is the “center.”

Then, as in the black community specifically, in the community more largely, there is a “reactive” response, or “fight” response to violence, as we are seeing in the Black Lives Matter protests and in the associated pro-Constitution protesters in Portland. Reactivity, however, is beneficial to the industry of violence, as it then creates media content in need of a narrative. It really doesn’t matter what the violence is, reproduced in media it creates fear that is given direction by the fear-narrative.

Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman tells us that human beings fear losing something twice as much as they desire gaining something. The fear-narrative pits losing “culture” and “identity” is a mass annihilation by the fear-object, representatives of a completely foreign counter-culture.

Donald Trumps PR team have already been busy with the fear-narrative that the non-fear object, protagonist, ie, “good folks” will lose everything. Authoritarian state violence already establishes this narrative, in its targeting, already establishes this narrative. Control over the mercenary class to initiate violence is a tremendous advantage. Then, it is only up to the mercenary-scribe and orator to propagate that message of good vs. evil.

PROPAGANDA OF VIOLENCE

Seen as constructed public relations events, creating violence that then produces proximal and distal fear, the murder of George Floyd and the violence against protesters in Portland can be seen more clearly as the propaganda tools they are. This “unrest” as it is called is not a sign of disfunction of the racist system, but an auto-correct of the racist system that will produce father totalitarianism. As an example, we might look at the path of “Let the eat cake,” through the French Revolution, and the result, the emperor, Napoleon.

We might see a racist system — which is a divide and rule system — that is far from breaking down, but in fact is working as Donald Trump might say, “perfectly.” Certainly it has worked in this manner for thousands of years, with the result of more oligarchical power than ever before.

What I have noticed, in looking at social media and the news, is that the coverage of the protests in Portland, for example, are dominated by right-wing comments, and that the messaging is absolutely consistent. These “comments” supposedly by individuals, share common singular themes. Joseph Geobbels told us that the key to propaganda it to say something simple and say it often.

Also, according to Geobbels, create “fear” to then direct the narrative to an object for punishment. The consistent theme from the Donald Trump team is punish the other. This is what “law and order” mean.

Right now Donald Trump and his team, along with Fox News and Netflix and social media are in complete control of the narrative and inspiring a lot of fear. The racist ideologies have the advantage that we already live in a racist system, and we’ll find that the white middle class will emotionally opt for the devil they know (and benefits them) than the devil they don’t. They will accept, as they have, proximal fear over the distal fear of the unknown.

And the Democratic Party, unfortunately will do nothing to stop it. They use violence as well to manipulate the people with both proximal and distal fear. Because they are complicit, they have no moral ground to make transparent this system of manipulation and advantage without damaging themselves. And the narrative they wish to create, one in which we should fear Donald Trump is completely within Donald Trump’s control, and the power of his team, to manipulate, even at the last moment. Wait for it. Keep your eyes on China, for example. That was Nixon’s ploy, remember, “international statesmanship.”

Because Donald Trump has control of the violent arms of government, and he has no compunction about using violence to his ends, he has an extraordinary advantage in manipulating the “fear” of the population. Add to that his control of the narrative, and we will have another four years of Donald Trump. This was also the lesson of Hitler’s rise to power, where he threw out “discourse” and logic for the emotional manipulation of violence and “direct aggression” through a constructed narrative.

In November we’re going to see that Donald Trump has done a better job of using violence to inspire white middle class distal fear — and we know they are already predisposed to side with him, as part of his affinity group. And his team will use, as now, social media to control the narrative and direct the white middle class to its traditional and habituated objects of aggression.

Trump and his team are producing now the distal fear and controlling the narrative. This will move the white middle class to act to punish black people, people of color, and “marginalized white protesters” as symbolized by Portlanders rather than face their own bias. It’s easier to look outward for the problem than inward.

THE ROAD TO WAR

Right now Trump’s playing bad cop. That works among his base of punishers, those whose aggression is already directed outward. He’ll take that as far as he can. Then he’ll play “good cop” to create confusion for the fence sitters. This will be extended toward the white middle class. He might even play good cop to the black community, as he is doing now by sending Feds to stop “gun violence” in black communities, in order to create doubt. It worked for Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan (if you remember his famous wave), and it will work for Donald Trump.

And, because of this violent road to his 2nd term, we can absolutely expect more violence. Why? Because it works. It worked for the Medicis. It worked for Napoleon. It worked for Hitler and Stalin. It has worked continually, not in every totalitarian regime, but in every regime. Violence is the foundation of power. It’s an unfailing mechanism and so simple. And it will work for Donald Trump.

The most troubling aspect of the fear-narrative is that it is a system that demands constant escalation in order to legitimize itself. Ergo, you have Hitler’s “final solution.” Because of the Truman Doctrine, you have the United States entering into a failed attempt to perpetuate colonialism in Vietnam. You have all the levels of genocide throughout the world and which we have here, in the United States right now, waged against black people, poor people, and resistors.

Once Donald Trump has gained legitimate power though the manipulation of our fear, in the next 4 years he’ll move to solidify that power with more Machiavellian strategy, more fear. Fear is the only mechanism that works to insure the people act against their personal interests and continue to allow for the transfer of wealth to the elite. Needing to produce fear, means needing to engage more acts of mercenary violence, but physically and through fear-narratives that support that violence.

As the fear-objects” expand in scope, this will force the population into a state of guerrilla war, as the “fear objects” of the society fight for survival. This is my prediction, and we have a 100 days left to stop it.

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Stegner Fellow, Stanford University; Spivey and Chancellor Fellow, University of Tennessee. PhD, MFA www.storytheory.org

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Otis Haschemeyer

Otis Haschemeyer

Stegner Fellow, Stanford University; Spivey and Chancellor Fellow, University of Tennessee. PhD, MFA www.storytheory.org

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