Fear has been used throughout our history to justify some of the most horrible actions ever taken by people – all in the name of justice, righteousness, and protection. It has happened before, and I assert that it is happening again. And it is up to us to stop it now.
There is a great line from the movie V for Vendetta:
“I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.”
This has never been more true than it is now. I especially like that bit, “rob you of your common sense.” Allow me to demonstrate the ridiculous levels to which our fear has elevated itself (with thanks to Bruce Schneier for the links):
Fear that Terrorists might Poison Gumball Machines
“Fear that terrorists could poison children has led three Dover aldermen to begin inspecting gumball machines.
“They’ve surveyed 103 machines in the Morris County town and expect to report their results on New Year’s Day.
“Aldermen Frank Poolas, Jack Delaney and Michael Picciallo have found 100 unlicensed machines filled with gumballs, jawbreakers and other candies. The three feel they’re ripe for terrorists to lace with poisoned products.”
Fear that Remote-Controlled Toys Might be Used as Bombs
“Airport screeners are giving additional scrutiny to remote-controlled toys because terrorists could use them to trigger explosive devices, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.”
Snow-globes are also suspect:
Fear of Snow Globes that Might be Used as Bombs
“Snow globes, regardless of size of amount of liquid inside, even with documentation, are prohibited in your carry-on.”
The list goes on and on. In case the absolute absurdity of that first one escaped you, let me re-state it: someone is checking gumball machines because they are afraid a terrorist might have poisined the gumballs.
What sort of person thinks up things like this? How afraid do you have to be to wake up one morning and think, “Oh my God! Our gumball machines are totally vulnerable! What if someone poisined them?” Just how fearful are you to seriously consider this as a credible threat, one worth spending a lot of time worrying about? You’re probably more likely to get hit by lightning, but I don’t see newspapers plastered with headlines like “Terrorists Claim Responsibility for Lightning Strike.” (Although now that I’ve said it, I’m sure I’ll see that headline soon.)
It’s sad, very, very sad, to see all this happening in my lifetime.
Think about this: we’ve become so fearful that we’re willing to accept any vague “threat” as if it were an imminent disaster about to strike. It’s the “Chicken Little” phenomenon – we were hit on the head once, and now whenever someone makes a claim like “the sky is falling,” we react as if it were totally true and possible.
All this, of course, leads me to ask a simple question – with a rather troubling answer:
Can you really say you are “free” when you live your whole life in fear?
You might argue that there are “reasons” to be afraid. You might even be right. But a healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way towards preventing abuses. I don’t like “slippery slope” arguments, but experience has shown that the “slippery slope” is often quite real.
Speaking of “slippery slopes,” allow me to quote Captain Picard:
“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts! But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think.”
Although a fictional character from a (science) fictional show, there is a good deal of truth in that statement. And while I’m at it, let me quote the Afterward section (written by Erich Fromm) of the paperback edition of George Orwell’s 1984:
“…fright and hatred of a possible aggressor will destroy the basic attitudes of a democratic, humanistic society.”
And since 1984 was written in 1948, you can see that these are not new ideas. We’ve seen it time and time again – fear used to usurp power.
I’m not trying to place blame here. I’m not a mindless “Bush-basher,” nor am I going to spout the other party’s lines that would place the blame all on Clinton (either Bill or Hillary). The situation is a bit more complicated than that, although few people seem to realize it. Politics is a complex game of give and take, after all. Although if you want to point fingers, well, allow me to quote V for Vendetta again:
“…if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”
This is a democracy, after all. Whatever else has been going on, you still have the power of your voice and your vote. Hell, with the power of the Internet, your voice has never been more powerful, or more capable of reaching a wide audience. There’s no escaping responsibility on this one.
Of course, frankly, at this point, I think you can put aside all the talk of terrorists and Islamic extremists and whatever else you want to use to justify these sorts of actions. At this point, they could all retire, and nothing would change. We’ve become our own worst enemy. Fear has become our enemy. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and that’s God-damned right. It’s time for us to grow up, and stop being afraid.
I know I’m not afraid. The question is, then, are you?