The Swamp of fear

How the fear of ordinary people is weaponised

The Swamp of fear
Swamp Thing.

The Swamp

“Before I call the honourable member for Oxley, I remind the House that this is honourable member’s first speech, and I ask the House for the usual courtesies.”

The hair is screaming, red and proud, cut in a style from a long forgotten hairdressing poster that was out of fashion when the picture was taken. The earrings are big and gold, the kind your aunt wears to a suburban wedding. The voice is unfriendly, if it paid you a compliment, you would have to scan it for passive aggressive subtext.

This is one of Australia’s newest parliamentary representatives, but she is no politician. She is a fish and chip shop owner, a single mother of four and voice of the people. Self appointed, as only true voices of the peoples tend to be. Her views aren’t caucused, based on partisan policies, or from government think tanks, they’re just common sense. The most popular kind of sense.

She’s an independent, not out of choice, but because she was dumped by the Liberal party (Australia’s main conservative party) because of a letter she wrote to the Queensland times with her views on Indigenous Australians. Luckily for her, the ballot papers had already been printed, and she was in a seat that swung to the Liberal party during the 1996 election.

She has captured the country’s attention with her “woman who has had her fair share of life’s knocks” Aussie battler no bullshit ways. And when she stands to make her speech, there is a confidence and strength within her. Australians like people who get on the front foot, and like an attacking Australian cricketer she does just that in her first speech.

Hanson demands multiculturalism be abolished. Refuses to trust the government unemployment figures. Thinks “This nation is being divided into black and white”. Complains that Qantas has been partially sold overseas. Rails against the Family Law Act. Wants a 12-month national service because “I do not feel we can go on living in a dream world forever and a day believing that war will never touch our lives again.”

But it is on Asians she’s most strong, “Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.”

She also said, “I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians.”

Welcome to the swamp.

A woman is statistically more likely to be killed by her partner than any a terrorists. There are groups worried about paedophiles all over the world, keeping tabs on known offenders, but children are mostly abused by those within the family’s trust circle. We put any chemicals into our bodies, stand on unsecured ladders, pull off risky traffic moves, and we barely worry at all. And we kill ourselves, on purpose, all the time. Yet, what we really fear is something outside, something beyond, something we can’t control.

We are the biggest danger to us, we are the problem, but it is them we fear.


The them changes depending on where you are and who you are. But they are always out there, perhaps they are under the bed, like the communists were, or trying to hop on to the roofs of trucks from Calais like illegal immigrants entering England now, or maybe they are in Pauline’s Asian ghettos, taking over whole parts of your town. Wearing their own clothes, saying their own language, not being like you. That is exactly what Hanson was playing to in her speech, they are not like us, we can’t trust them.

Not everyone is worried by new cultures, but for those who that fear them, that fear is real. The fear of the unknown coming into their country, their region, their neighbourhood and doing strange things.

Fear gives your body a physical reaction. It readies you to fight or flight. Many of the problems in the world today that people have can’t be fought, and there is nowhere left to fly. This is everywhere.

‘What the hell is a Zika, is it an African thing, I probably can’t even talk about it because political correctness has literally gone mad now, someone would just sue me, which sucks because I’m living hand to mouth since the local industry moved to the third world, all the new jobs in town are low paid, the immigrants get them all anyway, just more proof the town has gone to the dogs, my wife is terrified by the local gangs, I told the council, but the woman there didn’t speak English, I’ve written angry emails about it hoping someone will read them, but all the emails are read by the government now anyway, and when I’m in my yard chatting to my neighbour the drones fly low enough to listen to me. And how am I suppose to go on as if life is normal when I could be at a nightclub, concert, grabbing a coffee, on a plane or a train and I can be gunned down by a person who thinks I am the enemy? They want to kill me, me, what did I do, I am just a regular person, living an ordinary life, how did I become the target?’

Fear as a tool to get people to do something is not new. Fear is used in parenting, in advertising, in laws, and in almost every level of human existence at all times. Because it works, we are afraid of a lot of things. Once you have a fear, there will be people lining up to exploit it.

In the UK during the referendum on whether to leave the European Union, that became known as Brexit, their was one politician who became the most divisive and most powerful when it came to that vote. He smokes, drinks, and he says what he thinks, Nigel Farage. And mostly, what he says is about scaring people about the great invasion that being part of the European Union has brought to the UK. It was the Polish first, then the Romanians, and then the refugees from Syria. He convinced people through fear that the only way to reclaim their country was to vote to leave the European Union. The remain politicians never had a simple message, they barely even got around to an emotional one, and the UK voted to leave the EU. Farage was last seen helping Trump ahead of debate number two.

In Chris Erickson’s book, “The Poetics of Fear: a Human response to Human Security”, Erickson talks about the history of fear in politics going back to Homer’s Iliad. And when you look at almost every single campaign that has ever been run, there’s always been a fear of something involved. Fear that the new candidate may not be up to the job, the other candidate will continue to be bad at the job, one of them is weak on crime, on immigration, on drugs. Even positive campaigns court fear.

Donald Trump tells us that a vote for Hilary Clinton is essentially a vote for the terrorists and Mexican rapists; Hilary Clinton tells us that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for a mad man. Fear in every direction.

Fear makes you vote emotionally, and often without the need for facts. Hell, vote with your gut, the thing that turns food into shit. But not your head, no, them facts can fuck off.

Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler wrote a paper called, “When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions” in 2006. According to this paper, facts do fuck off, “Individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views. Instead, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly — what we call a “backfire effect”.

There is a blog post written by Jason Lefkowitz called against line-chart liberalism, and it’s all about people thinking that charts and graphs will win people over, “That sentiment makes the deadly assumption that a chart, all by itself, can tell a story. It can, but only to people who know how to read it — people who have been educated to read and understand visual interpretations of data. If you are not one of those people — if you’re one of the vast majority, in other words — putting your story in the form of a chart is like distributing your would-be Top 40 hit in the form of sheet music.” In his epic Twitter storm during the Republican convention Clay Shirky nailed it as perfectly as anyone before him. “We’ve brought fact-checkers to a culture war”. The Washington Post ran a piece on August the 4th called, “Why facts don’t matter to Trump Supporters”. It was listed as opinion on their site.

Online this often plays out through memes of racist frogs and factually inaccurate photoshopped images. Someone puts a meme that backs up their political beliefs. A friend notes this, goes to (the fact checking site) and then posts a rebuttal to the meme. The original poster then links to a piece that says Snopes is actually a left wing tool from the website

So what is the truth?

You can choose the news site that best sums up what you already believe. You can get your news from stand-up comedians, bloggers who never leave their house, and social media if you choose. But in a perfect world, you then look at each bit of news unemotionally.

No one has the time to analyse every single comment by a political candidate from a critical distance. Most of us won’t ever look into the facts on one issue correctly, and it’s not as if we even know which facts are actually the factiest. The internet has given us all the information in the world, and all the misinformation in the world. We now have instant access to the people we use to walk past on the street who wear sandwich boards and stand on soap boxes.

It isn’t just the crazies with their comic sans websites we have to beware of. The Daily Mail in England recently ran a piece about how Russia was about to go to war. The reason the article existed was when they used Google Translate on a Russian website. Which meant they got the story wrong (or maybe that is what the Russian troll farms of St Petersburg want us to think). Even though the story didn’t stand up, many other newspapers and websites ran with it.

Forget not bringing fact checkers to a culture war; we don’t even bring them to a real war. People around the world would have seen this story and just been a little more terrified.

What we fear is not always that clear cut. The them aren’t always terrorists, sometimes the are freedom fighters, refugees fleeing war or sexual health practitioners. We rarely get to fear one true enemy like a barechested Vladamir Putin riding a nuclear tiger or an impolite arse raping nazi dragon, usually there is more nuance.

But people lust after the simple. They want to go back to the good old days, which were, never as good as fading memories remember them.

In Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, you get people looking back as if America isn’t actually better than it has ever been before. America is a better country than when it had state-sanctioned racist segregation. The Brexit vote was also about going back to the simpler times when you racism and class warfare was a daily routine in Britain. And many in Australia want to wind back the clock to what the country was like in the 1950s, when Australia didn’t count its indigenous people, and often managed them through flora and fauna departments.

That doesn’t mean we are now in a utopia, there’s still many parts of society that we will look back on in fifty years or even five years, and we won’t be able to believe how we used to treat certain people. But it is getting better.

It is also getting more complicated. People used to be gay, now they are part of the LGBTQ community, and toilets have become political. Evolution is bringing joy and complication at unprecedented speeds.

Modern life can never be looked at with rose-tinted nostalgia goggles because the fucker is here and now. We have to live in it, one day, these will be the good old days. Right now, they’re just days. Days aren’t always easy to get through, and for those that struggle the most, they fear the most.

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.”

That was Obama in 2008, speaking in San Francisco, a place of little political importance a generation ago, and now the people who control the information. He went on to say, “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This was when the phrase Clingers became a big deal for Obama. At Trump rallies, some have worn a t-shirt that said, “Obama called me a clinger, Hilary calls me a deplorable, Terrorists call me an infidel. Trump calls me an American.”

The t-shirt is a perfect representation of how so many feel about liberals vs. conservatives, and also about mainstream politicians. When Obama was talking to a bunch of his kind of people, liberal elites, he talked down about the sort of people that Trump calls real Americans. The truth is there is no such thing as a real Australian, Great Briton or American. It’s a construct, a stereotype, bullshit. You can be an American if you like to eat at whole foods, go to slam poetry nights and enjoy Mongolian throat singing, the same as you can be American if you love guns, burgers and the Bible. No one person is more American, being a liberal elite who studied in Berkeley makes you as American as the quarterback from Lubbock, Texas.

Patriotism just seems to upset people, people are either too patriotic or not patriotic enough, or as Doug Stanhope one said, “Nationalism does nothing but teach you to hate people you never met, and to take pride in accomplishments you had no part in.” Patriotism is the sort of thing that can be exploited even at 3:17 pm, on a Wednesday, in a coffee shop, in Idaho, during in a conversation about pick up trucks. So during an election the patriotic conversation explodes into full-blown verbal nuclear masturbation.

It’s the time when being from a country is not enough, you need to be a proud American, proper British or true blue Australian.

Not that pretend patriotism is doing it alone for Trump, part of his real charm is the fact he is not a politician. That is important because we hate politicians, we’ve hated them more and more every year, and they’ve earned that hate. That isn’t a left or right thing, ordinary human people, liberals, conservatives, deplorables and snobs, all get frustrated at this. Politicians turn normal speech into empty euphemisms, delaying tactics, meaningless soundbites, and codes. Or to sum up, they take an age just to saying complete and utter bullshit.

All of that, the lies, the failed promises, and the prevaricating instead of action has some people, according to Nigel Farage, upset, “the little people are saying “We have had enough, and we want a change, and we don’t care if that change causes a rupture””. Protest votes aren’t exactly a new thing; Ross Perot received quite a few of them, 19,742,267 in fact. The Australian Democrat party’s official slogan was “Keep the bastards honest” until they got so popular doing that and they joined the bastards to form a coalition government. It just might be that we are nearing a point in the West when there are more protest votes than regular votes.

Politicians have lied for generations, and in part, this is because politics is quite confusing. To get stuff done involves either the rarely granted mythical mandate, or compromising while working around archaic infrastructure as you try and stay popular enough to be re-elected. Things move slowly. And every single time one side says something is good, their opposition rise up to tell us it’s bad.

And then comes along Trump, Hanson, and Farage, they don’t speak like other politicians (in Trump’s case, they don’t talk like other humans at all). These new politicians tell it like it is, give it to your straight, refuse to sugar coat the spade they are calling a spade while they drop their truth bombs. It’s not just the right either; Jeremy Corbyn has taken over the British Labour party largely by not being like any major politician England has had in 25 years. They are fresh, dangerous, honest (even when they aren’t) and most of all, not politicians. You could see Farage leaning on a bar holding court; Hanson is the sort of shopkeeper you have chatted with your entire life and Trump is like the charismatic boss that freaked out all the new girls, but who dragged you along with their way of thinking.

You could go an entire lifetime and never meet someone like Hilary Clinton. It’s kind of odd even one of her exists. Think of the era we are now in; there is an entire industry around people believing that our political elite are shapeshifting lizards from another planet or demons who smell like sulphur. People believe that our politicians aren’t human, and the politicians have spent generations perfecting their actions and words in such a way that they have earned this belief.

The media love the straight shooting politicians, as they don’t have to think, they just point and shoot. The views, likes, RTs and ratings follow. So the media push the hell out of them, so everyone is bound to hear what they think. For all the talk about the mainstream media rigging things for Rupert Murdoch or a left wing agenda, mostly the media stands agape pointing at the dog taking a piss on the postman’s leg. The real conspiracy about the media isn’t about whether it is biased or part of an evil plot, it’s that it isn’t that good.

So they can’t help but show these straight shooting politicians as they, much like monkeys in a zoo, fling their shit at a wall and hope some of it sticks. And with all that flinging, something they say is bound to resonate with people, with their struggles, sense of national pride or fear.

In Wales during the Brexit vote, a town called Ebbw Vale voted to leave the EU. They are a former steel town with unemployment at around 40% and little immigration. Many believe Ebbw Vale to be the city that has received nearly the most EU funding per capita in the UK. The funding was to bring in new industry from Europe. Ebbw Vale voted 62% to leave the European Union.

They listened to Farage, they voted, and in all likelihood, their problems will get worse.

You can call them deplorable, clingers, angry whites or the left behind, but the bigger problem is the people they are listening to aren’t the ones looking to help. They just exploit their fear and blame the them. Nothing gets solved, things only get worse.

Inside a beautiful open plan kitchen in London, elderly middle-class people take their food from a server hired for the day and move their way to a stunning dining table. The group are successful professionals from varying industries; all are educated and worldly. They are old friends, and they instantly open up the way you only do when everyone already knows each other intimately.

They gossip about people they know, boast about their kids who are doctors and lawyers, and describe their latest holidays. When Brexit comes up, they talk about how many of them are voting for England to leave the EU. The cliche arguments against immigrants appear; from they take all our jobs to queue jumping criminal terrorists who don’t hold on to our values. In my life, I have heard this conversation on five continents. I am an Australian who now lives in London and has spent much of the last ten years travelling to places like Africa, Europe, Asia, the Pacific and North America.

The difference between this conversation and the others is that the people in this room are immigrants to England, they are dark skinned, and several are Muslims.

Instantly I imagine a table in London 40 years ago where the exact same kind of conversation happens, except about the people in this room when they made their journeys here.

There is no doubt much of the anger, hate and fear has come from uneducated white people in Australia, England and America; Trump’s strongest voting block is uneducated white men. But they don’t have the monopoly on it. This isn’t just an education, skin colour or ethnicity issue; this is about privilege and fear. The people in this kitchen have lived the immigrant dream, come to the West, built a successful life for their family, and have become an entrenched member of the middle class. They don’t want to lose their well-earned privlidge.

And this isn’t just something that happens in the west. Earlier this year Abdul Qadir Baloch, a Federal Minster in Pakistan said, “It is difficult for the locals in various cities to find jobs as over one million Afghan refugees are working in Pakistan,”. That was tame compared with the Balochistan provincial home minister, Sarfraz Khan Bugti, “Either the Afghan refugees can return voluntarily, with respect and dignity, or the people of Balochistan can humiliate them and throw them out of the country.”

Many of these Afghan refugees live in an area known as Pashtunistan; it’s just that Pashtunistan is not a country, as the borders drawn up by the British split Pashtunistan between Pakistan and Afghanistan. So many of the Afghans who crossed the border for refuge during the Russian war or the reign of the Taliban, are still in their spiritual homeland, but not in their legal homeland. They are genetically and geographically linked to many of the Pakistanis, but Baloch and Bugti, and others like them, want the Afghans gone.

The facts might suggest that many of the Afghans were born in Pakistan, and many others have lived there for around 20 years, they have made homes and families while being hard working members of Pakistan society.

The fear says, their time is up, they take our jobs, they are linked to the Taliban, they have overstayed their welcome, we don’t want them here.

That is what some say in Pakistan, while at the exact same time in other parts of the world, that is what some say about Pakistanis.

Donald Trump will probably not win this election, Nigel Farage’s UKIP party is still a minor party in the UK and Pauline Hanson is part of an even smaller party. Fear is rising, but so far, it isn’t a huge winner.

Earlier in 2016 fear played a big part in the London Mayoral election.

Years earlier a man named Amanullah Khan was sucked into the warm and ancient bosom of London. He was born in Pakistan, but emigrated to London and spent 25 years as a bus driver. Amanullah Khan is no different to the millions of legal hard working immigrants in the UK. But he had a son, Sadiq Khan, and it was that son who was contesting the mayoral election as the Labour candidate.

During the campaign, the Conservative party sent out political leaflets (some were from then Prime Minister David Cameron), but the letters weren’t sent to everyone, they targeted individuals with Indian-sounding non-Muslim or Sri Lankan Tamil sounding names. It was racial profiling aimed at enemies of the old country. Other leaflets from the candidate, Zac Goldsmith, suggested that Khan was radical and dangerous. Similar messages came from outgoing London mayor Boris Johnson — the man that suggested Barack Obama’s denouncement of Brexit was because of his Kenyan ancestors- said Khan “shared platforms — to put it at its mildest — with some pretty dodgy people with some pretty repellent views”.

And the final dirt was in Goldsmith’s Daily Mail column a few days before the election. “Yet if Labour wins on Thursday, we will have handed control of the Met, and with it control over national counter-terrorism policy, to a party whose candidate and current leadership have, whether intentionally or not, repeatedly legitimised those with extremist views”. The picture they ran with it was of the terrorist attacks in London of 2005. It was quite clear that Khan was a radical and dangerous Pakistani Muslim politician that you should fear.

With all this information London voted unequivocally. They gave the son of the Pakistani bus driver, the radically dangerous Sadiq Khan, over 300,000 more votes than Goldsmith, and thusly gave him the largest personal mandate in the UK. In a city that had been attacked by terrorists, they decided to vote for the better man and politician, and not for fear.

Obama recently called the alt-right believers a swamp of crazy. Donald Trump has talked about draining the swamp of Washington.

But the real swamp isn’t the crazy alt-right who believe that Obama is a secret agent of gay globalist Illuminati or the horrendously grotesque world of Washington politics with their legalised bribing systems.

No, the swamp is the ordinary everyday folk who live their life honourably, build their homes, work hard, and being sucked in to frauds and liars through fear. The fear is not new; it won’t ever completely go away, but sometimes in history, we have seen what happens when there is too much fear, entire nations make mistakes that take generations to come back from.

And if we hope that the false prophets will go away, they won’t.

Pauline Hanson only lasted one term in parliament; the two opposing parties teamed up to ensure it was only one. Even outside of politics she used the media to keep up her profile, she even appeared on the Australian Dancing With the Stars. She formed her own political party (twice, the first one collapsed and she was briefly in jail, before being cleared), and she re-campaigned using hate and fear.

So 20 years after she was first elected she was back, in the Senate, and her party had three other senators with her.

When she stood in front of the Senate to make her speech this time, she looked every inch the politician. But her speech, well that was familiar. According to her, Australia is no longer in danger of being swamped by Asians, but by Muslims.

People’s fears had changed, fear of an Asian country has given way to fear of Islamic terrorism and Sharia law. So her hate got a modern refurbishment. In 20 years or 20 weeks, it will be a different menace, different fear. The swamp will change; the swamp will stay the same.

Maybe she is a true believer, but it doesn’t matter if she is, or an opportunist like Farage or a political playboy like Trump, it’s what they stir up, what they leave behind that matters. Trump’s campaign is scarring America, at a time when they need healing as much as ever. Farage’s Brexit campaign ripped the UK in two like a crap Game of Thrones spin-off. And Hanson’s rise has lead to a poll in Australia that suggests 49% of Australians want a ban on Islam immigrants.

Think about the stupidity involved in not only suggesting, but believing that is a good idea.

If Australia, or any country, were to ban Muslims, forget the huge step back on religious freedom it represents. Forget making the entire country look like a moronic backwater cesspool. Forget that if you were a born and bred Australian, you couldn’t marry an Islamic New Zealander and live together in your country. Forget about the people who would lie about their faith just to improve their lives. And forget the fact that it’s pretty damn hard to prove someone’s religion in the first place.

Think about what happens next. The local Muslim community would feel more terrified, more angry, more like the country they were born in or chose to move too didn’t want them. That would create more anger, more extremism, and more problems. They would become a legally discriminated minority inside the very country you are trying to protect. It’s a like a version of bad video game where the idea is to build a militia that hates you.

And what happens next, can you stop them practising their religion, stop them breeding, stop them living?

It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t a good idea. It couldn’t possibly work. And none of that seems to matter. Good ideas and facts, they get drowned in the swamp.

This isn’t a right or left problem; this is a problem for everyone regardless of what your ideological kink is. The left can sneer at people they think are stupid, and the right can pretend they haven’t fanned the flames of hatred, the rest can hate both sides, but when so many people are afraid, it is everyone’s problem. These people aren’t swamp things, they are good ordinary people trying to get by in life, and their fears are being weaponised. Nothing good can come of it.

The swamp rises and falls at different times, but right now, it feels like it might overflow. That is my fear.