The Unfundamental Conversion
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Travel and Dispelling Political Fear

December 8th, 2012 | Posted by Lana Hope in Politics | SE Asia | Travel

I was on a walk with a teenager back in October when she said to me, “If Obama is re-elected I may not get to vote in four years.”

She had a lot of fear about this, that Obama would wreck America, that he would strip her of all rights, including the right to vote.

As a kid, I never thought I’d lose my right to vote, but I did have fears. I was scared that something  bad would happen if Clinton became president. The whole country would be wrecked, we would have no more rights.  I saw families bury guns and gold in the backyards, and it hurt my stomach because my family did not.

And I saw the fear with Obama before his first election, only this time I was an adult. But I still heard it, and I began to understand the fear I had as a child. I heard that if we have socialized health care, then all the doctors would quit. I heard that socialism will destroy the family, and destroy our values, and we will have no freedom. ever. I heard that we would lose our rights to guns, and then people would come and kill us. I heard that if gay marriage became legal, then pastors would be jailed for not marrying a gay couple.  I heard fear, fear, fear.

Libby Anne wrote a good post on fear and the Religious Right group Focus on the Family.

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I no longer see the Right or Left as ruining the world, and I don’t see either party as solving the world’s problems. This has everything to do with my travels through Europe and Asia.

Switzerland has so many social programs, and it was so clean and safe. And Germany, I loved Germany so much, and spent a few days staying with a German couple as well. They have strict gun laws there. Yet I never felt unsafe. Perhaps it was all an illusion. But their transportation system worked, and in Switzerland my expensive tourist tax I paid at the campgrounds gave me free buses, buses that more than paid for my tax. Despite my American friends (who also never travel) claim that Europe is so expensive thanks to socialism, it really wasn’t that bad.

And I have so many stories from Asia. Thailand is one of the most free countries that I have visited. In a sense, they are the opposite of what democrats push for because they have so few state regulations. Here is a good article on the chaos in Thailand. During their festivals, hundreds end up in the hospital injured or killed. And every day traffic is a death trap. Yet Thailand attracts huge number of tourists and expats a year, and has probably two of the most well known and famous festivals in the world, Loy Kratong and Songkran.  The first is a lantern festival where thousands of lanterns are released into the sky at once. The latter is a water fighting festivals where 20,000 people will gather in the street, along the water canals and dump water on each other for hours and hours. Even a simple trip to the grocery story will result in someone with a high powered hose drowning you in water. Its national water fighting week. 24/7.

In this part of the article, it raises the question, what if there is a time when Thailand pulls in the regulations and makes their country a safer place, what then?

 It’s probable that in the future your niece will be less likely blinded during Loy krathong as she pushes off her float into the river, and your nephew will have less chance of being electrocuted to death when he leans against a sign under a Phuket rain storm. You might not get stabbed or shot for a small loss of face in a disco with no fire exits, or tortured by the police until you sign a statement of guilt or pay for your innocence. It’s even likely that there will be a cause of death for your daughter, and her best friend, after they woke up blue one morning instead of watching the sunrise over the jungle. I’m not sure though that if when this time comes, many people will be taking their holidays in the land of smiles. It’s likely they’ll be looking for the next piece of untouched exotica where they can get a room and an iced-coconut for just a modicum of their precious currency, where the rules are lax, the ceilings fall in, and the cars smash into millions of pieces when drunks sleep at the wheel.

And to me that states a lot of my journey. I loved Switzerland. I loved that it was clean and safe. Parts of socialism is very appealing. But I also love the chaos I’ve found in Asian countries. I love buying cheap food, and I love that getting someone an income can be as simple as a buying them a wheel barrow.

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And I don’t know which I prefer. I guess that’s why I travel because I love variety so much.

But the fear tactics I don’t dig. Each country I visit is what it is. Each system comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Of course, all ideas are not equal. There are some things that need an immediate stop in Thailand, for example, such as the divorce laws. But I am not sure, if we ask who is happier, the westerners who live in insulated walls and have nice cars, or the Asians who have their motorcycle chaos and live in a barn? I’m not sure what is better, street food that provides everyone some income, or corporations that provide some people a nice job and leaves the poor class unemployed?

I’m not sure. I just know I don’t dig fear tactics anymore.

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And I’ve often wondered are kids  growing up on the left fearful of the right? fearful of what might happen if their two mommies can’t get married, or fearful of what if guns aren’t abolished?

I’m interested in input.

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  • JW

    Isn’t it too easy to accuse the religious right of creating fear tactics? Take away the religious right’s influence – can you say that these fears would not exist? Does the religious right have any credibility or does everything it says amount to pure dung?

    • JW, I still voted Republican in this last election. I am politically conservative, so I am not sure your point. Please read Libby Anne’s posts, and the article she quotes from Focus on the Family, and then tell me they (focus on the family) were not using fear tactics to motivate voters. They were. This does does not mean their points are all wrong, but their tactics are fear. If you read my last point, I asked if the left does the same thing. I suspect they probably do. I suspect they probably tell their kids they are going to die if we keep our gun rights and all this. But since I am not on the left, I don’t have experience in that area, only have experience on the right.

      • M

        I’ve lurked, but I figure I’ll speak up on this one.

        As someone who grew up liberal, and has only become moreso as I’ve grown up, no there isn’t that culture of fear. I was taught that the religious right was wrong because the facts didn’t support their positions, but not that they were evil. I learned that guns needed to be regulated because unregulated weaponry was dangerous to society, as evidenced by our high firearm murder, suicide, and accident rates, but not that “guns will kill us all AAAAAAAAH!!” I learned that a socialism/capitalism mix, in which the state cared for those who needed it, helped people, and protected the environment while still pushing for entrepreneurship and free enterprise, was probably the best economic system. Just look at the world and figure out which countries are doing best!

        I have come to fear in recent years, but I consider it evidence-based fear. I fear the erosion of my reproductive rights, because that’s a talking point to many politicians. I fear the erosion of my civil rights, because we’ve passed laws that take them away (Patriot Act, among others). I fear what specific problematic policies and rhetoric, and work against it, but I am not scared of ideas like “the Right wants to kill us all” or “the Right wants to destroy America”.

        What I’m trying to get at, and I’m not sure I have, is that I was taught that American conservativism is incorrect but not evil. That people could be mistaken without wanting to destroy everything that is good in the world. This pervasive fear that people who grew up in the religious right talk about is foreign to me, who was raised a liberal.

        • Very good answer, and I appreciate your perspective. I would much prefer for both sides to use facts and talk about what are our rights and go from there. This is logical and to be admirred.

  • To echo what M said: I grew up in a conservative area, and in a conservative house. But it wasn’t the fear culture you are describing. My mom thought that bad democrats coming into power was simply a sign that Jesus was coming back soon, and this was viewed as a good thing.

    As a liberal now, I do have certain fears associated with politics, but these fears are evidence based, as I’m one of the 40% who is dependent on the government for my health insurance. Living in Texas, I fear that the republican leaders will work to block “Obamacare” from the state, as Rick Perry promised, and that I’d lose my health insurance. (Thankfully the federal judges pretty much put a stop to that.) I also fear that austerity measures will kick us off the foodstamp program. I try to stock up on canned goods each month to help us last longer if that happens. Speaking as a poor person, there is a level of vulnerability involved. Health insurance and food stamps are helping my family until my husband finishes school. It’s not an issue of mooching off the government. We want to better our position and every little bit helps.

    • “Jesus has his foot already out of the clouds,” as I’ve heard it. haha!

      Rick Perry is a big mouth of nothing and won’t be able to swing it. We need socialized health care. I’m screwed too when I visit the states because I don’t work there. If health care were affordable like it is here, it wouldn’t matter. But a single tragedy can bankrupt you in the states.

  • H

    One of the key things to understand is that progressives are pro-change, while conservatives are anti-change (even if sometimes their understanding of that can lead to changes). People who are afraid of change gravitate towards conservatism, and find fear a great motivator. There’s something to be said for both sides of course: if you aren’t afraid of anything, you’ll likely die young from doing crazy things, but if you’re too afraid, you will cut yourself off from life.
    The point being that progressives don’t use fear as a tool nearly as much, because it’s just not their primary motivator. That is not to say that all conservatives are fearful or all progressives lack fear (not brave, that is not the opposite of fear).
    Check out this book, which talks about the personality type that tends to be conservative (and probably fundamentalist for that matter). http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

    • Loved this. Still thinking on this bag going to check that out. Thanks so much!

  • I can’t answer for kids on the left, but I can say from experience that Jewish kids learn to be at least worried if not afraid of what might happen if the Christian Right ran the US. With a couple of exceptions (Holland from the 17th c., Denmark from the 18th) EVERY place that has called itself “a Christian nation” has treated Jews as aliens, sometimes tolerated and other times, seemingly at random, dispossessed, evicted or killed. The current strain of Islamophobia in the Southern states is anything but reassuring. It is only the assurance of a secular government — the much-maligned Wall of Separation — that allows Jews to comfortably label themselves Americans. If that Wall were breached, I think a fair number of Jews would flee.

    • Interesting. Thanks for sharing. Seriously. Thanks.

  • I know I was terrified of my husband being sent off to war if a republican president got voted in during the election 4 years ago, especially during the primaries. Some of the Republican candidates really scared me with their talk of wiping the middle east off the map. I voted democrat mostly for the purpose of avoiding more wars and keeping my husband home with me.
    Now everyone is terrified of economic collapse and all the sides think their way is the best way to deal with this pending doom. *sigh*

    • I would have voted democrat over that too.

  • Maria Lima

    I grew up in Latin American country during decades of a bloody rightwing dictatorship. For us, the right meant the supression of lots of our freedoms, like the right to vote or free speech. So, I guess I view the right not as a protector of individual rights at all, at least not in principle. Today, my country has turned to a more leftist government, and this has been really good, both for our economy and, more importantly, to really reduce poverty and famine. Today, I am not afraid of the right-wing as I was used to because they have much less power, but I would not like to see them back in power using the economic measures that kept my country back for so long.

    • Maria Lima

      I forgot to say that I love you blog. I think it is fascinating! I think that you’re very brave and intelligent young women.

    • Interesting, thanks for sharing your story with me.

  • I also grew up afraid and thinking the end of the world would come if Clinton was elected. Now I am a Democrat, and see it more as a government system – I find the right annoying, but sometimes we should demand more research rather than just changing things for the sake of change. I don’t think those decisions should be made in fear though.

    I became a Democrat because travel made it extremely hard to deny what I saw. I loved the people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Bangladesh and the Maldives. How could I say that Muslims were all radical extremists? I saw the environmental damage in China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc. How could I say it was no problem? Gun control works well in Australia, Japan and across Asia. Welfare is necessary not just for the poor, but also for the safety of the middle class and rich – in a way, Japan pays people not to be criminals, which is a fascinating concept. I bought birth control off the shelf in Hong Kong. It has never made me want to run out and get an abortion (We have one child, and we love him). I hated the way the corporations were oppressing people and admired how taxes were being used to make life better for everyone.

    Ironically, it was public transportation and Obama’s plans to remake the system in the States that made me admire him first. Sure, the plan didn’t go through – but I chalked it up to Republicans never being out of the country enough to see how amazing it can be. It didn’t make me fear or hate them; I was just annoyed they didn’t seem to know how to do research!

    I’m a lot happier and less fearful now. As a Republican and growing up conservative I was afraid of everything. I would never want to go back to that.

    Countries were nothing like what I was told they were. Life is much more complicated than that.

    • Lana Hope

      Thank you for such an AWESOME AWESOME comment! It’s sort of yes, EXACTLY!!!!

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