Modern Power Seeks to Distress, Not Repress
Fear is a completely natural human emotion that guarantees survival. But taken to the extreme, it has the power to condition one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. People in power have always known that fear is an effective weapon that can be used to control others and make them think, feel, and act exactly the way they want them to.
People in power have always turned to fear to suppress the people under their command. In its most basic expression, fear is instilled using physical punishment, which threatens the integrity or the lives of those subjected to it.
Physical violence, deprivation, and pain are tools that have been used throughout history to punish insubordinates, subjugate enemies, or to keep a latent threat alive among those who obey.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
But it was one thing to subdue a few feudal servants in the Middle Ages, and another to control the masses in the present day.
Many people can escape physical punishment, since it would be impossible to detect every action that goes against the ruler, or to effectively punish those who do so. Therefore, power today has become much more sophisticated. It no longer deals with repressing those who break the rules, but rather implementing mechanisms that guarantee the obedience of the majority.
Power and fear today
If there’s one emotion that has taken a massive hold of people today, it’s fear. But it’s an imprecise, diffuse fear that comes from recognizing hundreds of latent threats, even though there is no precise data regarding the danger. The risks aren’t completely clear, which is why fear is able to take hold and invade our emotional lives without us noticing. A more exact word for this type of fear is anxiety.
What has really been established is a fear of living, and without wanting to, we face this fear by being obedient. Half consciously, half unconsciously, we abide by the commands that have been given to us. We try to join the flock. We even rebel in a submissive way; we can outdo each other in a soccer game, but few have the inner freedom necessary to throw everything away and fight for what they’ve always dreamed of.
Many people are even capable of giving up their rights, if they receive a supposed state of higher security in return. Politicians know this, and that’s why they use a threat as an excuse to justify taking away people’s rights and freedoms.
If they limit health services, it’s to avoid a financial collapse. If they raise taxes, it’s to guarantee your pension. If they allow the police to enter your home without a warrant, it’s to fight a terrorist threat. They say that these days, politicians don’t promise dreams, they guard against nightmares.
The threat factory
The world today isn’t exactly a song of harmony and brotherhood, that’s for sure. But it also isn’t the filthy sewer that the news and the media say it is every day. The media has specialized in making crime, violence, and corruption the center of reality. While it’s true that all of this exists, it’s also true that there are millions of actions each day performed by honest and good people who just want to live peacefully.
But power needs anxious people, because anxious people are vulnerable, and vulnerable people feel more than they think. And if they feel without thinking, they get carried away by the fear that inhabits them and accept the unacceptable: living based on bland conversations on a smartphone, worshiping the muscles of the body, getting five Masters degrees to feel competent, or obsessively seeking a romantic partner who will save them from everything.
There are people who are skilled at producing fear and anxiety. There’s no employee who isn’t afraid of getting fired, because in most businesses the ghost of “workforce reduction” looms over them.
Few mothers raise their children peacefully. There are pedophiles, ADHD, and a thousand other things to worry about. We all face the uncertainty of the next deranged person who will throw us into war, or the next irresponsible person who will change the rules of the game and remove us from it.
Why punish with physical force? Why repress? Making society anxious is enough. That’s what the fear factory is for, to teach everyone that they can’t take control of their lives, that there are threats that are beyond their capacity to react. And this justifies the fact that there are hundreds of repulsive beings in positions of power.