UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Silence descends : the effects of rising authoritarianism and fear on citizen engagement Brillinger, Marc A.


Neutralized by fear, so called first world citizens have failed to react to massive inequalities in the distribution of wealth, or the ongoing reductions in basic freedoms and social justice at home and abroad. The University itself is arguably suffering from this same malaise as powerful interests infiltrate its higher echelons and subvert its public responsibility as “truth tellers and truth seekers.” The apparent inactivity and non-responsiveness of citizens and students to injustice can be partially if not wholly attributed to the systemic and ubiquitous use of fear contained within the intensive influence campaigns undertaken by the authoritarian-infused milieu of politics, economics, and religion now dominant in modern societies. Beginning in the 1950s, research on and application of intense influence tactics began to accelerate. Authoritarianism at both individual and systemic levels in politics, economics and religion, benefited from these advancements in and proliferation of influence techniques. Further, intense influence is easily understood through an examination of common social processes and psychological conditions delivered in specific ways; however, the vast majority of the citizenry remain unaware or unconvinced of the efficacy of these techniques. Subsequently, modern society allowed, even assisted, powerful institutions to successfully subvert public resources for private gain. The ubiquitous use of influence techniques increasingly permeated with attributes of fear not only work to the benefit of those persons and institutions who utilize them for specific purposes, but also, have a cumulative debilitating effect on the citizenry intimidating and eliminating much needed reactions to any and all abuses. Here, I consider the possibility that the aforementioned scenario has nullified long-held assumptions that ever more education, research, information, and knowledge eventually contributes to significant improvements in society. The endless collection and extension of knowledge is probably of little use in a society where generalized fear of imagined repercussions prevents any meaningful transfer of that knowledge into action. I conclude that a critical thinking stance combined with a rapid increase in overall radical (direct) activism is needed to overcome the current malaise—in short, we are in desperate need of heroes.

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