As Inane as Reality TV: Friedman’s “Fear Factor”

Yesterday Thomas Friedman distributed an inane Op-Ed titled The Fear Factor.  He attributes to Daniel Brumberg the opinion that

the Arab awakenings happened because the Arab peoples stopped fearing their leaders — but they stalled because the Arab peoples have not stopped fearing each other.

Sigh.  Sadly, this clap-trap passes for analysis of large-scale mass mobilization, protest, etc.  Christian Davenport and I are sufficiently fed up that we started recording podcasts to air our complaints.

What specifically troubles me?  This is colorful description parading as explanation.  It suffers the same problem that color commentary suffers in sports broadcasting:

Announcer 1: Goal!

Announcer 2: He scored because it was a great strike!  Brilliant!

Thanks.  Returning to the Arab Awakening, we are implicitly told that when people fear a dictator they will not protest/rebel, and thus the explanation for why they protest/rebel is that they no longer fear that dictator.  Now that they have stalled we might ask whether the Arab people now fear one another.  Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature rears its head, and one might hope that a Security Dilemma analysis, qua Barry Posen (1993), which is implied, would follow.  It does not.  Instead we get jingoistic trash that reads as if it were written by a politician’s speech writer.  To wit:

You would have to be very naïve to think that transitioning from primordial identities to “citizens” would be easy, or even likely. It took two centuries of struggle and compromise for America to get to a point where it could elect a black man with the middle name Hussein as president and then consider replacing him with a Mormon! And that is in a country of immigrants.

Thanks Tom.

I hasten to add that Professor Brumberg is not responsible for what Thomas Freidman attributes to him.  I certainly do not want to be accountable for what various journalists have represented me as having said.  One suspects that at a minimum Brumberg offered something akin to Posen’s Security Dilemma treatment.  That type of analysis has its own weaknesses, but that will have to be the subject of another post.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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