Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How Cities Help Regulate Fear

Why do people in rural areas tend to be more Right-wing than people in urban areas?

First, Rural and Suburban areas promote fear:
In an open city...people of different colors and incomes must negotiate their mutual fate together. In some respects, they learn to value one another more highly, and social networks are expanded. In socially isolated environments [such as gated suburbs], social distance leads to stereotyping and misunderstanding, which in turn leads to fear and even greater distance. A resident in one of our [suburban] focus groups exemplified this dynamic when she told us that she never left her downtown San Francisco office building, even for lunch, for fear of people on the streets. Her building is located on a central street of department stores and offices, populated at lunch hour mainly by businesspeople and shoppers. But because it is a public space where anyone may go, it is too uncontrolled for her comfort, too unpredictable. Unlike her gated suburb, its openness increases the vulnerability she already feels to an unacceptable level.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As one citizen told Constance Perin in her study of community and place in American life: "See, you have to understand the fundamental feeling in the suburbs is fear, let's face it. The basic emotional feeling is fear. Fear of blacks, fear of physical harm, fear of their kids being subjected to drugs, which are identified as a black problem, fear of all the urban ills. They feel [that] by moving to the suburbs they've run away from it, in fact, they haven't, in reality they haven't, but in their own mind's eye they've moved away from the problem." From Blakely & Snyder's Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States via Bicycle Fixation

Not only are residents of vibrant cities usually less fearful of crime, they also tend to be less fearful of the big 'T': Terrorism, despite inhabiting much more likely targets than suburb dwellers:

We do not live behind gated communities and we do not have private security forces. We walk by alleys after dark and we dodge mentally unstable people to get to our subways and to make our bus connections. When you neglect the needy, we are the people that suffer. When the dispossessed and alienated riot, they riot in Newark, Detroit, and Watts. They do not riot in Topeka, Boise, or Crawford, Texas. From On Courage

Second, I think the simplistic cliché that the Left is all about hope, while the Right is all about fear holds a lot of truth. The Right Soothes Fear. The Right offers people the promise of security and order in what can feel like a world gone out of control. Witness McCarthy-era anti-Communist hysteria, which is very similar to the current hysteria over "Islamic terrorism". When facing something frightening, it feels good to have a strong, protective big brother.

Right-wing leaders know this, and they use fear as "a way of getting people to act against their own interests to work up hysteria and to get people to do terrible things to other people, because they’ve been made afraid." - Howard Zinn

Fear is one of our biggest challenges. Also see Can Fear be a Useful Tool for Progressives?


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I agree entirely with your characterization of right-wing ideology, even if it holds some truth for contemporary politics. You should try reading "Hard Right Turn" by Brooke Jeffrey if you get a chance; it documents the growth of the "new" conservative movement in Canada.

Red Jenny said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll definitely hunt it down.

I think there's more to it than what I've discussed, but I do think fear is a motivator for right-wing support. That's not to say that the ideology is based around fear. I would say it is based around dominance, among other things. I think fear is a tool though, which easily fits their rhetoric.

I hope that makes sense. I'm kinda out of it today, so i might not be explaining myself well.

kevvyd said...

You make interesting points, red, things that I think I've felt but hadn't quite sorted through in this way before.

Good post.

Larry Gambone said...

Fear is definitely a part of it. Look at how much the extreme right is concerned by "antis" as in anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-liberal, anti-immigrant, anti-evolution etc. This is related to the fear of their world having to change to accommodate different people and ideas. And of course, for many of these people the economic rug is being pulled out from under them and they seek stability in their prejudices and superstitions.