Managing our national state of fear
People love fear. More than that, they crave it, seek it out, wash themselves in it.
If you have any doubt, try counting all the Friday the 13th movies or Stephen King novels. Fear sells.
Fear is also the favorite tool of hucksters. Snake-oil salesmen for years have preyed on people’s fear to sell them potions promising to make them safe. Offer a cure for something that people fear, and they will pay you anything to get it.
We are a nation of fear. We fear terrorism, bird flu, global warming, you name it. News is dominated with things to fear: drugs, child abductions, cancer. If there were nothing to fear, the news media would probably be out of business.
Now we have news about Osama bin Laden, talking about new attacks supposedly coming to a target near you. Better make sure you have plenty of duct tape and plastic sheeting.
There’s nothing wrong with a little fear. It’s what keeps most people from jumping off cliffs. A man with no fear is a fool who will soon depart this planet.
But irrational fear can lead to irrational actions.
One of the most chilling examples I saw was a video of a boy standing on a beach in Thailand as the Asian tsunami thundered toward him. Onlookers screamed for him to run, but he was paralyzed with fear.
Fear can also breed violence. The burning of suspected witches in colonial America is but one example. Fear is the fertilizer that allows hatred to grow and flourish.
Franklin Roosevelt famously told Americans suffering in the depths of the Great Depression, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” He was trying to ease irrational fears and get America working again. He understood that we can’t let fear paralyze us like that boy on the beach, or lead us into a modern-day orgy of witch burning.
Benjamin Franklin also understood how to put fear aside for more important matters. The statement he made at the signing of the Declaration of Independence really spells out what he and the other founders risked just for putting their desires for freedom down on paper. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” And they all did hang together, against impossible odds, and gave birth to a nation.
Another nugget of wisdom from this wise old man stands out concerning our fears of terrorism, and what the government is doing to fight it. “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”
After the 9/11 attack, there was a lot of talk about giving up these freedoms Franklin risked his life for, that we as a nation couldn’t afford certain individual liberties.
Is this an irrational response to the fear of terrorism? Are we burning witches again?
You are far more likely to die of the flu, or being accidentally killed by a firearm, than being blown up by terrorists. Just driving a car is way more dangerous than all of those things combined. Yet, we still drive, own guns and we don’t walk around in spacesuits.
As bad as it is, the War on Terror is not World War II. We do not face the possibility that al Qaeda will invade and occupy the country. They attack with bombs, but their main weapon is fear. They can’t destroy us unless we give into that fear.
Terrorism is a threat from which we do need to protect ourselves. The 9/11 Commission recently gave the country’s protection efforts failing or near-failing grades in many areas, such as not having a single watch list of terrorism suspects.
Yet we are told that we must allow the president to supercede laws, erase parts of the Bill of Rights and rewrite the concept of checks and balances established in the Constitution in order to spy on Americans who might – might – be connected to terrorists.
Our Founding Fathers conquered their fears to bring us our freedoms. More than a million brave Americans fought and died to protect them. Having the president give into fear and erase those freedoms with the stroke of a pen is an insult to their sacrifice.
n Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at kcaraway@nevada appeal.com, or comment online at nevadaappeal.com.