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Fear Deployed: Are you scared yet?
Fear Deployed: Are you scared yet?

JURIST Guest Columnist Benjamin G. Davis of University of Toledo College of Law discusses the use of fear as a mechanism for social control…

Fear is deployed in the United States as a means of social control. The ICE raids are one kind of way of making people fear by the sudden disappearance in deportation or in facilities where they are being held. The threat of 100,000 National Guard being deployed that is swiftly denied. The dismantling of health care and the other structural destruction being imagined (Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development) all of these are spikers of fear. Another aspect of this is the language of repression and power we have heard from persons close to the President such as Stephen Miller most recently over last weekend.

What I hope people are noticing is just how much pleasure these deployers of fear seem to get from their role. Instilling fear is a way to exercise dark power on all those around. It is a method that forces praxis: identifying those who can be disdained as being weak for they kowtow to the fear bringer and those who must be destroyed who resist such fear.

Not expecting any kind of broad coalition to develop in this country since there are so many ways that any movement gets co-opted, side-tracked, oppressed, or killed, one is left watching a monster growing in one’s midst who stimulates paralyzing fear.

As an ordinary citizen experiencing disquiet one must first find a way of naming that emotion. Once one recognizes that the inchoate feeling that one experiences is a form of a much deeper and complex emotion called fear, I submit one begins to regain one’s bearing. The fear that seems so ambient is seen for what it is - something being weaponized to make one malleable and docile.

Coming to terms with this weaponization of the emotion of fear, the next question is to what extent one wishes to acquiesce to that fear and succumb to paralysis. It is certainly tempting to succumb and stay out of the line of fire of those who are pushing out this fear. It is the thing that people in many cultures over many centuries have done to avoid being in the path of the wrath of some uber leader.

If through one’s position of privilege and comfort a vague disquiet is all that one can muster, then it is truly unlikely that one will be hero or heroine in somebody’s story let alone one’s own. That lack of ability to sense the contradictions or to be moved by the contradictions being experienced, suggests one is not sufficiently engaged in experiencing oppression.

But, for whatever reason, if the experience of what is happening causes you to be in a heightened state of stimulation by the contradictory emotions and facts, rather than being ashamed of that heightened state of arousal one might think of something else. Rather than being immobilized by the fear, let it stimulate you to action.

That action might seem trivial or it might amount to something much more extravagant. The scale of what any individual does cannot be significant for we each have our means&#8212some modest and some more extensive. But by one’s actions one begins to respond to the fear as deployed and confront it.

And what do we do to confront such fear? Might I suggest that we confront that fear with the energy derived from our better angels. In other words, put forth energy of inclusion and support. Inclusion and support of others, dialogue on difficult topics, peaceful means of dispute resolution, and insistence on decency in the face of governmental oppression and corruption

One does not have to become the abyss when one looks at it. In the storm, we must again learn to dance between the raindrops.

Benjamin G. Davis, professor of law, is a former member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Law and National Security. He is a Founder of Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions. Davis led the adoption of the 2006 American Society of International Law Centennial Resolution on Laws of War and Detainee Treatment. Davis is an international expert on topics such as cyber dispute resolution, drones, detainee treatment, military commissions, torture and international law. He is a graduate of Harvard College (BA), and Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School (JD/MBA).

Suggested citation: Benjamin G. Davis, Fear Deployed: Are you scared yet?, JURIST – Academic Commentary, Feb. 21, 2017,

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