Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paul Revere Was a Fear Monger

One if by land, two if by sea!

From Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“The British are coming! The British are coming!” Famous words from America’s best-known fear monger.

Of course, we don’t commonly refer to him that way, but that’s what he was. I mean, what a nut – riding willy nilly through the towns and countryside screaming his head off, scaring everyone in order to get them to wake up and fend off impending danger.

Mr. Revere was right, of course, and people believed him. If not we wouldn’t even know who he was. And given that we might be British subjects and Great Britain is now overloaded with heavy duty socialism, I am grateful to Mr. Revere for his fear mongering.

We see fear mongering every day. Signs warn us not to dig where there is a gas line so we don’t blow up, or to stop smoking cigarettes so we don’t get cancer, or not to enter the wrong way on a freeway off ramp. These are very helpful. Fear Mongers have been good to me, and all of us.

But wait. Maybe we should define fear mongering. An assemblage of definitions from different sources would define fear mongering to be along the lines of selling something by instilling fear with shady overtones or hints of dishonesty. It is evident the definition includes either false intent or false information as critical to the identification of a statement as fear mongering. That would imply that Paul was, in fact, not a fear monger. Whew, I so revered him!

This raises the question – how did the villagers in early America know Paul wasn’t fear mongering? If they had all gone back to bed when some politician-type had come out and cried “fear monger” as Paul rode through the town, we might bloody well be speaking with a British accent today. Does this mean we should not label a person or a statement as fear mongering until we have a chance to see what history provides?

Today when it comes to leveling charges of fear mongering, being correct seems unimportant. Politicians and pundits in the US have a habit of ignoring facts when it doesn’t suit them, and throwing the charge out as they please. It’s easy to scare us into believing all kinds of things in order to get someone elected. Is that fear mongering? Are statements about global warming fear mongering? Are warnings of terror plots fear mongering? How about warnings of death panels in the health care bill? When does it move from the realm of legitimate warning to fear mongering?

When listening to political debate I cast particular doubt on people who answer someone with the charge of “fear mongering.” To me, it is an indication they may not be bright enough to understand the issue at hand, consciously want to avoid the issue, or might reside in Polyannaland. If a statement is so blatantly false as to call it fear mongering, there should be plenty of facts to disprove the statement without resorting to the discussion-canceling label. Of course, if a subject has been discussed over and over again with an obvious conclusion, use of the fear mongering label might be justified. This is usually not the case.

From now on, when you hear the charge of “fear monger,” notice who is saying it, and ask yourself if the issue is so clear cut that they have a right to call it that.

It would be nice if politicians and pundits would just stop using the term, but that won’t happen. I would ask that you don’t accept the word as immediate and legitimate discreditation of a statement. I have my opinions as to which side uses the “fear monger” accusation more often to avoid discussion, but I would recommend you form your own opinions. So listen with a jaundiced ear to anyone who claims their opponent is a fear monger.

By the way, I do know it is unlikely that Mr. Revere actually rode through the towns shouting as is legendary, but you get the point. And needless to say, I never intend to start swinging a pick around a gas line, nor go up the wrong way on a freeway off ramp - unless I am trying to escape Charles Manson, Paris Hilton, or Keith Olberman.

Oops! There I go fear mongering.

Mercer Tyson

No comments:

Post a Comment