I’ve long followed Connor Boyack’s career. A libertarian and out of the box thinker, Boyack has never been afraid to defend his conclusions, and he does so with articulation and passion.
His latest literary foray is no exception.
In Feardom: How Politicians Exploit Your Emotions and What You Can Do to Stop Them, Boyack fervently argues for greater individual responsibility in the face of growing and often deceptive government communication and behavior. The argument is timely. Trust in government, whether it is Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, or even police, is at a record low.
Nor is the government alone, says Boyack, finding that the press occasionally take common cause with the government. As headlines fill with threats from ISIS and Ebola in the weeks before the election in October 2014, then quietly take a backseat to other news after, it’s hard not to support his point. The press seems to be either complicit, as manipulated as average person, or unaware.
While I don’t agree with all of the examples that Boyack cites–his examples stemming from Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War are especially jarring when weighed against the result of ending slavery in America–I am sympathetic to his message. At the heart of the book is a message of increased individual responsibility, urging the reader to take control of their life, to become aware and informed beyond short media sound bites, and to be willing to live with risk in order to maximize liberty. I doubt this is a message that anyone of any political stripe with an interest in a more civic-minded population would argue with. Better informed people make better decisions, elect better representatives, and create stronger communities.
To that point, then, Feardom is a thought-provoking call to arms. Not of guns or of violence, but to self-activation and participation in communities and our country.
There are those that will note that fear does at time have a very useful function, warning us about danger and encouraging us to take action to remediate or avoid the harm. I agree with them, but I think that Boyack–an Latter-day Saint Christian–would note that knowledge and faith triumph over fear and allow individuals to stride forward confident in spite of risk. In that sense, I would expand Boyack’s thesis and message beyond just a polemic against the political machinations to anyone that attempts to use fear as a tool. Hackers recently shut down the release of a motion picture by threatening, probably in futility, terrorism. Special interest groups email blast their followers with threats of government action if they don’t send money soon.
Yes, sometimes it is fear of the government itself that is levied against us just as the government and politicians weld fear to take us to war, raise taxes, or expand governments reach. In short, we ought to be wary of anyone–politician, journalist, or citizen activist–who oversimplifies an issue with an aim to provoking us to action for fear of a result.
In the end, I agree with Boyack’s message, even if I don’t necessarily find the evidence he portrays as robust or fully persuasive. Remember that even Winston Churchill was for a decade portrayed as a fear-monger by Neville Chamberlain, even as Adolf Hitler rearmed Germany with an eye to conquer the world. Fear has a place, but it needs to be answered with information. Churchill knew what most of England did not, receiving and reading reports on Germany’s radical changes that were not available to most Britains or even much of Parliament. In the early 21st century, we have access to information in a way that should allow us to form our own opinions without resort to cable news spin doctors.
According to the “authoritative” Urban Dictionary, feardom is “the state of having freedom, but being afraid of expressing it.” Connor Boyack’s new book, may not spell it out exactly that way, but it’s a sentiment that I suspect he would agree with, and I believe that he would argue that only in the willingness to exercise that freedom in the face of potential repercussion can Americans fully enjoy, and expand, the liberties once guaranteed to them by virtue of their citizenship.