Friday, July 29, 2016

The Kingdom of Fear

The late Hunter S. Thompson described our Great Republic as "The Kingdom of Fear" in the title of a book he wrote, and also in a song he co-wrote with the equally late Warren Zevon which appeared in his fatefully titled album My Ride's Here.  More and more, we seem to become that place.  Worse yet, perhaps, we're in active search of a King of our kingdom.

It's not the first time, I suppose.  FDR's claim we have nothing to fear but fear itself was made during a fearful time for our nation.  But the fear which now seems to define us is different from that we felt during the Great Depression.  That's my speculation, of course, and nothing more.  I didn't live through the Great Depression.  My parents did, and I know of it only through what they said and what I've read.

But I think it's reasonable to say that what we fear now is different from the fear one feels when there is no money or even food to feed ourselves or those we love.  There's no question there are things to fear now, and they are serious things.  But the fear too many of us feel is of other, different, people, and too often is of difference itself, which is to say of anything with which we're unfamiliar or uncomfortable.  And in this case our "leaders" (such as they are) unlike FDR are telling us we should be afraid; they urge us to feel fear and act on that fear.

It happens that they often do so to benefit themselves.  This is unsurprising in politicians and pundits, but contemptible nonetheless.  But it's dangerous as well because as I noted in a prior post, fear is an idiot (to quote Ambrose Bierce).  Fear, in other words, makes us stupid.

We happen to have quite a few guns here in God's favorite country.  I have a couple of "long guns" myself.   I don't carry them about with me, though I've heard of some cases where men do so, brandishing them proudly in fast food places and supermarkets.  It takes a peculiar kind of person to indulge in such displays, I believe, particularly with a rifle or shotgun.  I saw a man wearing a handgun on his hip at a restaurant not long ago. 

If I speculate why someone who isn't in law enforcement or engaged in hunting or shooting sports would carry a gun of any kind in public, and particularly in public establishments where other people eat or shop or congregate for any reason, I find it hard not to conclude that it is out of unreasonable fear, or due to the fond hope that they may use it in some manner in an heroic fashion, killing or maiming one of the many bad guys who haunt our thought and, we are being told, must defend ourselves against.  It occurs to me that people who are afraid, or looking for a chance to use a gun, are best off not carrying them around in public.  At least, others are better off if they don't. 

Fear begets a number of other unpleasant things.  It of course begets fear itself--in my case, fear of those who encourage fear among us--but also hate, anger and generally a thoughtless response to circumstances.  This was of course a fairly common subject of episodes of The Twilight Zone.  Rod Serling taught us nothing, it seems.  Was Serling's time more like ours than the time of the Great Depression?  The Communist scare may be comparable.  We were afraid of commies lurking unknown among us.  But now those who should frighten us according to those who delight in telling us what to do and think are identified more easily.

It's difficult to see fear in others, except when we're face to face.  It's easier, though, to see hate and anger and conduct caused by fear.  Unfortunately, we see these things more and more, if not on our TVs, smart phones, tablets and other devices then in our daily lives.  We're all angry at something as far as I can tell, and our anger is in front of us, and related by us to others, thanks to our technology, front and center 24/7 as we've been taught to say.  The Republican National Convention, sadly, was a kind of celebration of fear and its effects, a festival of it in fact.  We'll see more as this agonizing, endless presidential campaign winds down.

Fear may motivate us to address our problems but it is useless and even destructive in solving them.  The Kingdom of Fear will be brutish, intolerant, quick to react to any slight, real or imagined, but also cautious in the extreme when it comes to change of any kind and the unfamiliar.  It will seek scapegoats.  It will shut its gates.  It will be an unhappy place, filled with people who will find no comfort, being fearful.  There are those who long for this kingdom.  "Dangerous creeps are everywhere" according to the lyrics of the song Thompson and Zevon wrote.  They were right.

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