What motivates people to action? It would appear that the first thing would be seeing, desiring and seeking some goal, and that goal might be either a positive one and moving toward it, or a negative one and fleeing from it. There must be some route to follow to get to any goal, unless you are already there, and then defending what you already possess. When the situation is distant it is easy to waffle and pretend that no goal exists, or that it isn’t valuable, or it isn’t worth the trouble, or it is risky and trying to get it might result in loss of what you already possess.
If the danger is close, and there is a clear and present danger, then an external danger creates a unifying force that will bind people together into a unified group that is easily organized to defend itself. This situation combines the two great motivators of mankind, the fear of loss of property and of life of those dear to you, and the hope of capturing the property of the hostile enemy.
The situation demands a leader, that is, one who can unify the people and create the hope of a victory over the dangers he has made obvious. He must create fear and simultaneously create the belief that he, and probably he alone, can solve the problems. People are easily convinced of absurd hopes if they are filled with absurd fears. Thus a potentially successful leader will create multidimensional fears that will appeal to the intellect of rational people, the emotions of emotional people, and fantasies of irrational people. A great leader feeds the hopes and fears of all his people.
In a country that has lived in peace for a generation or two, or three, the people have no fears and begin to feel that peace is the natural state of man and of nature, and will begin finding grievous faults in relatively minor problems. Major civil turmoil can be created over unpleasant social issues where few if any people have been killed, and little property destroyed. In times of major wars these same problems would be so insignificant as to be ignored. There wouldn’t be any disturbance of this size even reported in the newspapers.
I have brought up this problem of our present beautiful situation many times in the last few months. It is a problem because it seems the whole United States is in a stressful time. My contention is that things have never been better for humanity in the entire history of humanity, especially in this country. My friends practically boo me when I say that, and I assert that, “Between the years 1900 and 2000 over two hundred million people were killed in armed combat and mass atrocities. That is a rate of two million people killed per year. During Obama’s administration several millions have been displaced from Syria to Europe, but relatively few people have been killed, and those were mostly outside of American control. But even with those horrors, the death rate at present is very low, when compared to the average of two million per year, which is the comparison number for the previous hundred years. By the rate of the previous century, two million per year, Obama’s eight-year administration typically would have witnessed some sixteen million combat deaths and atrocities. Perhaps we should note that there are now three times as many people as the average world population during the last century, and by that multiple it would be three times sixteen million or forty-eight million. There is a movement to have a monument erected alongside the Viet Nam Memorial in DC for the five hundred people accidentally killed in the Middle East, because they were too near the five thousand known terrorists that were killed.” People mock me when I make those assertions, even if they are reasonably accurate. My friends say,
“Don’t you ever watch the news? Things are terrible!”