Monday, August 12, 2013

The Kingdom of Fear

These words were used to describe these United States by the late and remarkable if not always great Hunter S. Thompson before his suicide, and were also used in a song he co-wrote with the late, great Warren Zevon.  I hesitate to call Thompson "great" without qualification because of the manner of his death; not necessarily because he took his own life but given the way he went about doing so.  As I recall, he shot himself while on the telephone with his wife and while his son was at home in another part of the house.  Exiting the kingdom in this fashion seems intended to cause the greatest possible harm to those who are close to you.  That may or may not have been his intent, but regardless of whether that was the case it is not an honorable departure.

But I can't help but think that the description is apt.  We are fearful of many things and that would seem to be a prerequisite of living in the Kingdom of Fear.  That is, apparently, also why we have so many guns and indeed should have them according to the gun shills; and we should also fear, of course, as others with guns may try to kill us or those we love or, worse yet, may try to take away the guns we require in order to prevent them from killing us or taking away our guns.  It is all a part of the great Circle of Strife.

There are certainly things to be feared, and perhaps more people to be feared than there were to be feared in the past.  As Thompson and Zevon put it in their song, "dangerous creeps are everywhere."  But one must wonder if this is indeed the case.  As we all know what transpires around the world with great rapidity, and as our government, ostensibly in charge of the Kingdom of Fear, knows what we know and do and say and write, it may be the case that we believe there is more danger simply because we have access to more information than we did.  Dangerous creeps may be more evident than they were not because there are more of them, proportionately, but because we can no longer be ignorant of them.  We can see them or hear of them or read of them 24/7 (a clumsy but useful little summary phrase).  Indeed, our knowledge of them is in a sense compulsory; we would have to be in a wilderness without TVs, radios, smart phones to enjoy the bliss of ignorance.

Perhaps also the dangerous creeps among us have more opportunity to display and indulge in their infinitely varied creepiness than in the past.  The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it is as well an outlet for all that is good and bad in us, and the bad, sadly, exceeds the good, or at least is more easily expressed than the good in the available format.

We've always been subject to fears and it seems are inclined to be overwhelmed by fear.  This inclines me, not entirely fearfully but perhaps warily, to wonder whether our interesting times have made us ripe for another of the periodic religious "awakenings" which occur now and then in our history.  Such things can have profound effects, not all of them good.

Religion is not really the opium of the people as Marx claimed; at least not religion as it develops in ages of anxiety like ours.  Opium may dampen fear, and religion can as well, but true comfort can only be obtained by certainty and certainty through religion is a product of righteousness.  If religion can be compared to a drug due to its use in confronting fear, it's more like cocaine.  It arouses, it is active.  It's certainty provides comfort in the form of euphoria, a kind of ecstatic absoluteness.  But certainty can degenerate into intolerance and paranoia.

Now it seems existent religions don't provide the kind of certainty required to quiet fear.  But that may change, and perhaps is changing as the religious become more emotive, simple, unquestioning in their beliefs.  The times demand action, we feel, and action is most satisfying when it is unthinking, and certainty becomes uncertain when subject to critical thought.  And so in the Kingdom of Fear we abstain from critical thought, the better to be certain.

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