The Fear Factor

I must confess that I don’t understand the “Keep Fear Alive” and “Return to Sanity” marches scheduled later this month.  I worry when comics become a central part of our political discourse, Will Rogers excepted.

As far as I can gather, Jon Stewart thinks the discussion has gotten too bitter and impolite.  Steven Colbert plays the foil, arguing that during an economic crisis, Americans “cannot afford to face reality.”  In their childish and ham-fisted way, they are both poking fun at the freedom folks–those incomprehensible people who have the audacity not to go along with the program.

Which brings me to fear.  Irrational fear is a menace to humanity.  From Salem to Saving the Planet, countless false but graphically-rendered threats to humanity’s well-being have resulted in the incarceration, torture, and deaths of millions.  We have burned witches and imposed malaria on innocents in the name of the common good.  The specter of a thing unseen but foreboding strikes at our primal hearts, incapacitating our reason in favor of lashing out.

Yet not all fear is irrational.  The shadow following us down a dark alley may be a mugger.  The coming thunderstorm could spawn a tornado.  Absent a fear of the consequences, one would have no reason to pull out the pepper spray or get down to the basement.  Tossing one’s well-being into the arms of fate works just often enough to con the clueless.  The rest of us figure out that reasonable precautions make sense.

The Stewart/Colbert spectacle is as dangerous as it is unfunny.  Stewart’s call to civility smacks of condescension and arrogance.  It is directed at Tea Partiers, who are reminding the world that liberty is a worthy cause and that current policies are killing it off one nutty program at a time.  Is that fear-mongering?  Please.  History has yet to demonstrate that witches are a real threat, but it has repeatedly shown us the result of unchecked state power.  Warning people of the danger is the right thing to do, not a witch hunt.


Terry will not be attending the jointly-held marches in Washington.  He suspects that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert will not read his blog, either.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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2 Responses to The Fear Factor

  1. Sally Lacy says:

    Ah, Terry, you know me. I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think comedy is a perfectly appropriate response to absurdity, and by absurdity, I’m not referring to those who are truly concerned about the economic path our country is taking. I’m talking about those who are enjoying the energy of their anger about Obama and his runaway spending while simultaneously decrying the repeal of tax cuts for the upper 2% of earners (and I use the term “earners” very loosely for some in this group) and the decision not to provide social security recipients with a cost of living increase this year.

    There are some libertarians in the tea party movement whose anger is born of a philosophical disagreement with the role of government. But for those who just want to complain because there is a (fill in the blank) democrat, moderate, black man in the white house who is not pushing their personal political agenda of ‘protect me and mine and to hell with the rest of you,’ I think comedy is a perfectly respectable response. It is not nearly as effective as manufactured outrage*, but it has its place in the process.

    (and yes, I fully understand that not all of the outrage is manufactured,but a large portion of it in my neck of the woods appears to be.)


  2. Terry Noel says:

    Always great to hear from you, Sally. It is sad that the hateful ones get lumped with the sincerely concerned ones. People I run into in this movement appear to be about the farthest thing from racist one could imagine. Most of them don’t care if Obama is black, white, or plaid. Of course, I recognize you may be seeing a different slice of the crowd.

    My problem with Stewart and Colbert is not the use of satire–no one loves good satire more than me. It is their seeming inability to fathom that the values of liberty and individual responsibility are still held dear by many Americans who are anything but crazy or mean. It comes across, at least to me, as an attempt to take those values off the table in public discourse. That is not healthy for our country. We need to recognize that the Tea Party crowd has a legitimate beef and hear them out.

    As I told Lisa yesterday, we are all looking in the same direction, just from a different angle. Perhaps we can set a good example by continuing to disagree the way we should–civilly and with pure hearts.


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