The Power of Nightmares

November 27, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

I’ve  previously written about a BBC documentary called “The Power of Nightmares,” but I want to mention it again because it repeatedly seems relevant. The following are the opening words the documentary :

In the past, the power of politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people . . . Politicians were seen simply as managers of public life. But now they have discovered a new role that restores their apparent authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us . . . from nightmares.

While reading the following passage from The Happiness Hypothesis (written by Jonathan Haidt), I was reminded of the “The Power of Nightmares”:

When the moral history of the 1990s is written, it might be titled desperately seeking Satan. With peace and harmony ascendant, Americans seemed to be searching for substitute villains. We tried drug dealers (but then the crack epidemic waned) and a child abductors (who are usually one of the parents). The cultural right vilified homosexuals; the left vilified racists and homophobes. As I thought about these various villains, including the older villains of Communism and Satan himself, I realized that most of them share three properties: they are invisible (you can’t identify the evil one from appearance alone) their evil spreads by contagion, making it vital to protect impressionable young people from infection (for example from communist ideas, homosexual teachers, were stereotypes on television); and the villains can be defeated only if we all pull together as a team. It became clear to me that people want to believe they are on a mission from God, or that they are fighting for some secular good (animals, fetuses, women’s rights), and you can’t have much of a mission without good allies and a good enemy.


Category: Military, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. “I watch whatever is on TV.” : Dangerous Intersection | January 16, 2012
  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Mike Adams raises many of the same questions I ask myself. Especially, where are the terrorists?

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