We are living in a culture of fear. We have fetishized our fears, trepidations and anxieties to such a monstrous degree they have consumed us. Fear eliminates options. Fear stifles creativity. Fear paralyzes. Fear poisons. Fear murders the reasoned ability to act. Our fear thrusts us into one of two courses of action: fight or flight. And when our fears encompass the painful consequences of fighting, we are left with one choice—which is not a choice at all. We run.
Fear is a compelling motivator. And fear is not necessarily an irrational response to certain stimuli. When faced with very real danger, fear reminds us—sometimes not so gently—that there is a preferable alternative. In that respect fear is a good thing. Arbitrary death and injuries—be they physical, mental, emotional, financial or familial—are wasteful tragedies. They should be avoided—prevented if possible.
But our culture has transcended this simple approach to danger. And in so doing has made us more isolated, less tolerant, more prone to selfish bouts of anger, rage and conflict. Perhaps these are fleeting reactions to a perceived lack of control over our own destinies. That saddens me.
Here is just a short list of items to be feared. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I can say that all of these items have been presented to me within the past week as dangers. Friends, family, newspapers, television, politicians, strangers, social activists and religious leaders have all unwittingly contributed to this short list: Asian bird flu, terrorism, gas prices, carbohydrates, sodium, speeding, alcohol, sex, tobacco, mini-blinds, graft, gang violence, bicyclists, violent crime, identity theft, bacteria, steroids, asbestos, myspace.com, and deer.
As tempted as I am to spend the rest of this entry refuting each of these items point by point I will refrain. Instead I will state that buying into the culture of fear is damned stupid. I do not like to be afraid. I do not respond well to fear. I can hear you now answering, “Join the fucking club of the most of us.” I do not know many people who can honestly state that they enjoy being afraid. I am not talking about manufactured pseudo-fear like we might find in a Stephen King novel or on a wicked roller-coaster. I am talking about the sort of fear that sucks up your balls, freezes you sleepless in bed, or proselytizes you to endorse the deceitfully-named Patriot Act.
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
The world is a risky place. I cannot let the fact of risk’s existence dominate how I approach my life in this world. I will not succumb to the culture of fear. This may make me naïve; this may mean I get hurt. What am I saying may mean? I have gotten hurt. Badly at times. And each time I have gotten back on my feet and gone back at it.
I have spent some time reflecting on what personal traits I may exhibit that have made this possible. Stubborn tenacity, creative flexibility, dogged determinism, blind luck. Perhaps these contributed. I am uncertain. What I do believe is that having experience with risk from a young age taught me how to contend with its more devilish consequences. The culture of fear stifles this necessary lesson—makes it increasingly difficult to learn.
A significant emphasis of the phenomenon has been placed on children. Many oratories, sales pitches and political platforms are predicated on protecting our children. Whirl and I do not have children. I wonder if the fact of childlessness colors my opinion on today’s topic. That is, if we had our own children if I would have a different opinion from the one I am about to give. I do not believe that to be true; I believe I would hold the same or similar thoughts. Namely, the culture of fear is depriving the last two generations of the ability to react appropriately under adversity. The culture of fear produces listless indifference and a generation of unjustified entitlement.
How do I get here? – I will tell you. Let us say for sake of argument that I am a parent. As a parent embroiled in the culture of fear, I am afraid that Something Awful will happen to my son. I protect him: I drive him the three blocks to school rather than having him walk; I vet all of his friends; I give him a cellular phone so he will always be able to get in contact with me; I buy him all of his desires on request so that he has the best opportunities. Happy, well-tended, within easy access of his parents—my hypothetical son is without a care in the world. Most everything he could want, he receives.
Here is the problem. My hypothetical son is never tasked with taking a risk. Any trouble he gets into has a clear solution: call home. He does not learn to judge the consequences of his actions. As a result his actions have no consequence. And he learns that he is entitled to all the good things that he enjoys. He has it coming to him.
Remember the reason for this to begin with—the overwhelming atmosphere of constant fear has caused my hypothetical parental persona to shelter my son. This arrests my son’s ability to judge a reasonable risk.
I realize the issue is not as simple as I have presented it. Nonetheless, the kernel of my point is true. Risk is a necessary and important part of life. Continuously avoiding risk is not the best reaction to that condition. I will not be afraid. I will not allow fear to paralyze my life. I will not expend precious time, money, effort and attention on a vaguely-defined suite of disastrous hyperbole—made by madmen.