Friday, April 18, 2014

The Time To Get Curious

When I was in college, way back in the 1980's, there were media stories that connected playing the fantasy game Dungeon's & Dragons with going insane, based entirely on the fact that one kid who did play D&D went insane. I think. I don't know. I was young then, and began playing D&D because I was actually attracted by the idea that a mere game could be that intense. I didn't go insane, but I found I really liked D&D, just as I had many of the things that mainstream culture insisted were dangerous. In fact, by then I'd figured out that most of the things they said were bad, bad, bad, were, in fact, bad, but also, equally, good. Drinking, socialism, and masturbation to name a few.

It was a revelation that really hit me as a teenager, as it does a lot of us when the cloud of fear clears and our critical thinking kicks in. Even as I knew they were doing it for my own good, I resented that anyone but me could determine my "own good." Just maybe I wanted to live fast and die young. Maybe that's the best idea out there, huh? Prove I'm wrong!

To this day, I can't prove myself wrong, but I'm still alive, so I can at least say that I've not been proven right either.

Maybe it's because of this essential orientation to life that I'm automatically doubtful of those who would use fear to motivate me.

On the morning of 9/11 I was with my wife Jennifer on a cruise ship headed to Alaska. I'd left our cabin to grab an early breakfast at the never-ending buffet. I was making small talk with fellow passengers when Jennifer came up to tell us that someone had flown jets into buildings in New York. We all laughed at her, telling her she must have had a bad dream, but as we all know something truly horrifying had happened.

I rushed back to the room, turned on CNN, and there I sat for the next several hours in disbelief. And then, like a call from reality, I heard it, from the White House, someone used the words "war on terror." I turned to Jennifer and said, "The terrorists have won." You see, while this was the worst, it certainly wasn't the first terrorist attack. Up until then, we'd treated them as mere criminals, not granting them the dignity of any special fear, but now . . . Now we were giving them the power of the hell of war complete with red alerts to keep the citizenry on its fearful toes. Then, because you can't fight a hot war against a tactic, proceeded to drain our treasury and deplete the ranks of our young men and women in a disastrous adventure in two countries halfway around the world that had nothing to do with anything. And we did it all based upon the cynical use of fear as a motivator.

Fear: as a person with a background in advertising, public relations, and marketing, I know it's one of the most effective sales tools out there. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and the rest of the corporate education "reform" crowd are using it to sell us (and parents in particular) on Common Core, high stakes testing, and the rest of their money grubbing agenda. "We're falling behind!" "The Chinese are beating us!" "Our schools are failing!" "Children need more rigor!" Never mind that even a shallow examination of their claims disproves them, and critical analysis of their "solution" can't even be performed because there simply isn't a lick of reliable data to analyze. As I've written before, this is clearly the Shock Doctrine at work, the very strategy the big fools used to get us in over our heads in the Middle East.

Fear is how they're selling guns to the nuts like those who recently rallied around that criminal rancher and his welfare queen cattle down in Nevada. Fear is how they've convinced so many people to leave their children unvaccinated. Fear is at the core of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Fear drives much of our politics. The fear of hell stood at the core of my religious upbringing. 

Fear is a normal, adaptive human response, triggering an instinctive fight or flight response. There are real things of which to be afraid, but let's be clear, fear also makes critical thinking all but impossible and that is exactly what they are banking on.

This is a well-known phenomenon, one that is used exclusively by those who have agendas that simply cannot be supported by reason alone. Fear is how to get someone to do things against their own best interest. Fear is how to command obedience, compliance, or sell hogwash.

No, when someone tells us to be afraid, that's the time to get curious. And remember, while there is a kind of sick power in fear . . .

There is magic in boldness. ~Goethe

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Anonymous said...

There's so much to say YES to here!!!! Thank you for writing truth! I am overjoyed to read this and see another educator standing up to fear.

Anonymous said...

There's so much to say YES to here!!!! Thank you for writing truth! I am overjoyed to read this and see another educator standing up to fear.