Thursday, November 18, 2010

Enough Fear Already!

We’re a species that likes to celebrate. We celebrate all four seasons: harvest, the snow and quiet of winter, spring’s rebirth, and the bloom of summer. Yes, we may bitch about various aspects of those seasons, but we do more celebrating.

We seem to have a few wired-in fears, like those of snakes and spiders, but most of us can overcome even the wired-in. Fear usually disappears as its cause does.

So it’s been ten years, almost, since the dreadful events of 9/11. The vivid reports and pictures were cause for fear. But then the more rational mind kicks in: how probable is it that such a thing could happen again? And the gut reaction calms as the events are not repeated.

That’s part of the message that the opt-outers are sending. They’re also saying that we’re entitled to make known our sanitary napkins, adult diapers, ostomy bags, mastectomy prostheses, diabetic pumps, prosthetic bones, or unusually sensitive bodies or minds, only to those we know and trust. Our founding fathers agreed.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Those who are fine with getting naked in front of strangers say that fear should win. They would be more persuasive if their fear were being allayed by reality, rather than performance, um, art.

Another aspect of fear of terrorists has been the theme of a few things I’ve said in recent posts. The Belfer Center at Harvard University has focusing on fear of terrorists with nukes. Their arguments are exceptionally weak. There are bad people who want to do bad things out there, wooooh! Well, yes. There always have been. The bad people who wanted to blow up airplanes have not been particularly competent lately, which suggests that they might have a bit more trouble with nuclear weapons. There are lots of threats and lots of things that are less than threats. Fear is not the most productive response to either; finding ways to thwart them, and putting appropriate priorities on the various threats is much better. We can look at how the Germans are handling their latest terror threat. (Once again, the bad people seem not to have been terribly competent.)

And now we have a couple of journal papers saying something similar about how scientists have been talking about global warming, that the fear of apocalyptic scenarios isn’t very effective. Such scenarios conflict with people’s ideas of a just world, and that conflict tends to be resolved in their minds toward the just world. More celebrations in a just world! A better approach, the papers suggest, would be to offer ways to solve the problem.

The Republicans have been relying on fear for some time, and it worked pretty well for them in this last election. Although winning just one house of Congress isn’t the most amazing electoral feat ever, so maybe people are getting tired of Republican fear too. Look at the faces of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner: pinched mouth, dull eyes, even fearful themselves. Let’s prolong the financial misery. Jon Kyl’s seems to want to damage relations with Russia, and, btw, keep our weapons inspectors home so that we can imagine all sorts of fearful things, like the nonexistent missile gap of the 1960 election. Democrats can do the fear number, too, but today the Republicans seem to know no other tactic. Their narrow desire to keep Americans fearful and therefore voting Republican is likely to lead to a world in which there are genuinely more reasons for fear.

But people get tired of fear, and it wears off. We have some real problems, like the economy and global warming, that must be dealt with. The electoral system has been too blunt an instrument. There’s humor as well. Laughing at fear is a good way to extinguish it. And perhaps a demonstration next week to show that fear has been carried too far in passenger screening. And we can hope that everyone gets to that Thanksgiving celebration and past the fear.

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