Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fear is an Idiot

Fear is much on my mind these days, or I should say the prevalence of fear.  More specifically, the prevalence of fear here, in God's favorite country.

I suppose this is to be expected now, as we are in the midst of a seemingly endless political campaign for the presidency.  The great Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, noted that it is the goal of practical politics to keep the people alarmed, and our politicians, practical or not, are busy doing so, none so diligently than Mr. Trump.  Mencken also knew (and said) that people value security more than liberty.  Napoleon commented that the two levers which move mankind are fear and self interest.

One can of course find other quotes about fear with considerable celerity, thanks to the Internet.  But one which seems particularly appropriate at this time is the statement by Ambrose Bierce to the effect that fear has no brain, and is an idiot.

Bierce was no stranger to fear, having fought in several battles of the Civil War, including the battle of "Bloody Shiloh."  He seems to have been reasonably successful in keeping his wits about him during combat, but there's every reason to believe he was correct in concluding, as I think he did, that those overwhelmed by fear are thereby overwhelmed by stupidity as well.

These are fearful times; quite literally fear-full.  The fear seems to arise more and more from the random violence which results from, or is inspired by, terrorism.  If the fear is also caused by random violence otherwise inspired, though, it seems that fear is given less attention, particularly if that fear relates to the use of firearms by those who are not terrorists.

The surplus of fear  may be due to the fact that in the politics of the moment, simple answers are sought, but not sought as much as simple characterization of problems.  Good and bad, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Americans and immigrants.  It's desirable to characterize these problems in a simple manner as by doing so our politicians--and media--may better maintain that they may be answered simply as well, and whine when they aren't answered quickly.  Simple answers to complex problems are stupid answers, but stupid answers appeal to the fearful, fear being, as Bierce noted, an idiot.

Sadly, among the Republicans, many seem enamored of a man whose political ability and acumen (for all I know he is a very able businessman) seem to me equivalent to that of the know-it-all one may always find at the local bar, and who is likely to respond much as that know-it-all would to questions after perhaps three drinks.  That is to say, loudly and without thought.  His popularity may be attributable to the fact fear has no brain. It's to be hoped that such an individual won't become president, but fear being an idiot anything is possible.  It's disturbing that it seems many understand him to be dangerous, but it doesn't seem to matter.  It must be wondered whether Mencken was correct about democracy and that we will, inevitably, eventually elect a moron to the presidency. 

That fear is an idiot may work to the advantage of our politicians, but provides us with little hope of resolving the problems we face.  It may instead lead to more problems, or rather an increase of problems of the kind we experience.  Events such as that which took place in San Bernadino seem to have at least one predictable result; the increase in the sale of firearms.

The possession of firearms isn't, to me, objectionable in itself.  But I think when fearful people have firearms, it's likely they will use them and use them ineptly, accepting as I do Bierce's description of fear.  I question whether those who buy firearms out of fear will go to the trouble of learning how to use them well and safely. I also think it likely that angry people will use them if and when they can, if they're very angry.  Anger may be an idiot as well.

FDR famously noted in those bleak times that we had nothing to fear but fear itself.  Sadly, fear itself gives us good cause to fear in these all too interesting times.

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