There are many different kinds of fear. Fear of death. Fear of severe illness. Fear of losing a loved one. But vast, undefined fear of what may come, like some fear of a still-unknown meteor strike, too often motivates people in ways that they cannot consciously realize.
Let’s say that you are a white man in a neighborhood that has mostly white residents. You see a Black man running down the street. He’s just jogging. But you have heard that there are robberies in the neighborhood, and someone says that they have seen a Black man coming from one of the houses that had been robbed. You’re an active citizen and you act. But not in the most prudent way.
You confront the man, who is an average citizen who happens to be Black. He is incensed by your action. He’s a big man and…to you…dangerous looking. Someone else intervenes with a club. Someone strikes the Black man and he dies. You started out with good intentions. Why did things go wrong?
Fear. Blind, irrational fear, stoked by rumors, innuendo, by your perception of a Black man, perhaps, by your subliminal perception of Black men in general, and by the information, about which you still do not know the facts, that houses were robbed, and robbed by a Black man. In this case, your well meaning, perhaps, actions were done outside the law, prompted by your fear, buried somewhere in the back of your mind, that Black men are dangerous.
Fear. In this case, a seemingly rational–at the time–fear of a Black man robbing houses in your neighborhood. It could be your house. But it was not true. You participated in the death of an innocent man…you’d call it an accident…because of fear. Fear of letting it pass. Fear of being seen as someone who would not act. Fear of a future where, if you let this pass, this man running down your street, you might not see him again, might not get the chance to stop a future crime.
None of it happened, as it turned out. He was simply a neighbor, now dead, whom you had not met. He had committed no crime…as you go off to be incarcerated, the police tell you that they have had no reports of robberies i your neighborhood. And no Black men have been reported to the police for any reason in your area. Now, not only do you look and feel foolish, you have changed society. A man, perhaps a father, a brother, a son, is lost to his family and friends. You are going to jail for manslaughter at least, which can be twenty years of your life.
Fear. Herman Goering, the Vice Chancellor to Adolph Hitler and co-conspirator in the conflicts that killed over 50 million people, perhaps even more, in the Fascist violence that culminated in the consequences of World War II, once said to the author of a book on the Nuremburg trials that: “Goering told him that “…voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
So, fear of attack, of murder, death, rape and pillage. Fear of not being patriotic enough. Fear of being seen as not defending what is yours. Of cowardice. And fear of loss or pain to your loved ones.
But what is your obligation? Are you not obliged to find out if that Black man running down the street is someone menacing? Aren’t you obliged to give anyone, regardless of color or complexion or race or nationality the benefit of the doubt? And, when you hear that a politician or a prominent citizen or even a celebrity has done something, should that make you act somehow in response? What is the motivation for your response? It can’t be fear. What can this person do to you? Nothing really. We have extensive systems set up in our Democracy to not only alleviate fear but to make other changes in society…on civil interactions, on education, on medicine that are voted in by the People.
Of course fear can cause people, who may then organize other people, to act in ways that are not legitimate responses. You can’t riot and burn down City Hall because you don’t like a new one-way street provision. And you can’t legitimately change voting laws so that only people with your view of a law or law makers gets to count the vote.
That’s what Hitler did. He was elected, as any President of Chancellor would be, but then he used his majority to declare himself ruler and declare any disobedience to any law that he created to be disobedience to him personally. The consequence of this would be imprisonment or even, in some cases, death. Eventually, the legal system, judges objected and tried to refuse to adhere to this kind of law. So he set up his own courts and created laws under which these courts superceded older traditional courts.
Nazis were blindly happy. People in their party were given special treatment, and what’s more, even those who were not Nazi party members were given many new benefits, even though they often had to join various organizations in oder to participate. Some people were sacrificed, made to seem like enemies of the state and of people in general, despite their prior good conduct, education, goodness, and benefits to society.
What do we fear? Remarkably, we fear those wth least with which to challenge us. We fear, apparently, poor, ragged immigrants who come across the border illegally to find menial work. We fear Muslims, mostly Arabs, because of a handful of terrorists from the Middle East who make up only a tiny fraction of those in this country who kill tens of thousands a year with guns. We fear the poor and homeless, mainly because we don’t know what to do with them The average citizen cannot take them in and the wealthy do not want to trust government to assist them in a rational way. So we hand out money piecemeal, through the mail, on street corners or in halls and groups, that does little but alleviate the pain for a day or a week.
Those who seem to fear the most, the tens of millions of people who voted for Trump, want a different life, and fear that it will never be attainable. They fear continuing as they are, apparently. They feel that somehow, Trump will change their lives for the better, not through education, for most are not educated, not through genius, for most are not rich inventors or enterprsing capitalists, not through dedication, for most are simply average individuals who are skilled but not superior, practised but not masters. And many, many are barely literate. They are the great exemplification of our failed educational system and our lowest standards of civility.
And what do they fear? Apparently, they seem to fear being better educated. They want to be richer, smarter, happier and healthier without better jobs, education, relationships and health care. They want independence although their independence has brought them nothing but enough dissatification that they run out at the first opportunity to buy a baseball cap with words on it and run to a meeting or a rally. They should hateful words at people they do not know and about whom they claim information, while at the same timed decrying the news to be untrustful.
Fear drives people to do totally irrational things. Fear can make you drive off a cliff if someone has persuaded you taht a rhino is right behind you, gaining on you. Fear can make you believe that your fellow workers have penned up children in their basements and performing all kinds of perversions on them. Oh, no? Not your neighbors? Well of course not. But fear mongers, those who actively promote fear, don’t try to persuade you about your neighbors. They somehow convince you that the same people, in the same kind of house, same kind of neighborhood, same kind of job, same religion, same nationalities and family practices who live across town or in another state–are different. They are the ones who kill and eat children. No, not you. Not your neighbors. Just unnamed, unknown others.
Fear leads to hate or foolish acts. People who dislike other people, and our society breeds these kinds of people these days–home entertainment, Covid, individual travel to and from work, alone, in traffic. We resent other people sometimes because we wonder who are the ones getting those new pieces of furniture, new cars, new homes we see on all the ads and the programs about affluent lifestyles. This is a consumer society. We are a Capitalist country…winners and losers. And the big winners, those 50% of billionaires, for example, who did not earn it but in fact inherited it, often do not want to share what was shared with them. Even some who earned it don’t want to share it. The philosophy is: I earned it, somehow. Workers are just people I paid to help me earn it. I’ll keep 90% of it and I’ll decide with whom and how much of it I will share.
And so they hire people to pay off politicians, mostly Republicans, to make sure that people don’t know much about that, don’t know much about how economics really works, how much money they actually do make and how much contol over everything in your daily life they control. From the number of television commercials you see to what you pay for electricity or how clean your water or air may be. They spend more money each year than the budgets of entire communities of hundreds of thousands of people in order to keep you from the facts. They pay a hunred times more people to work on lobbying for them…for their banks and corporations…that they own…the majority of stock…than the actual number of public representatives we the people have in the House and the Senate.
And so they promote fear. But fear alone is not enough. We do need security. Most people realize that there are bad people out there,dangerous, often deranged leaders of other countries who would attack us. So we rationally have a large military. But these hugely powerful wealthy individuals,certainly 400 but perhaps as many as 4000 perhaps even as many as 40,000 these days, spend a large part of their spare change and their free time hiring people to make you fear…not foreign countries, but your own fellow citizens.
Not true? If you are one of the fearful, you are afraid of government, of doctors, of research scientists, of judges, of college professors, of teachers and, for God’s sake, even of some nurses! You’re afraid of vaccines, of school children who might learn the truth about our history. Afraid of African-Americans who seem to be taking over the country, even though the average African-American family has only one tenth ($14,000 vs $140,000) net worth as the average White family. You’re afraid of young college-educated people taking your jobs, even though they are afraid that they will never be able to retire because of student loans that can’t be forgiven.
Hundreds of radio commentators, hosts of programs that seem to have no purpose other than to attack one political party (statistically 90% are attacks on Democrats, especially those who espouse progressive programs like affordable health care and getting vaccinated before contracting a virus that has killed three-quarters of a million people in one year, or better education or minimum wages one can live on.) And what have those millions of impressions ( recently reduced by the number 12…that is how many Right Wing radio hosts have died from working against and not being vaccinated for Covid) produced? People who support a man who wants to end our Democracy. Support for a group of men who believe that women should be treated the way the Taliban treat them, led by a man who made a deal with the Taliban to leave them alone to abuse their women. And a whole raft of other things that only a chauvinist and a narcissist could conceive of for government.
Fear will make us to crazy things, like attack the governments of states, attempt to kidnap and murder an elected governor, attack the national capitol, and wonder about our neighbors, even though, if you look carefully, they are simply us, in other clothes.