A friend on Facebook posted the following question: "'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' - FDR. When did we become a nation that is so scared? So paranoid?"
It is a valid and good question, and I spent the better part of two hours thinking about it. But in line with my long standing policy of publishing not a thing political or political theory based on Facebook, I decided to give my thoughts on the matter here.
What would make "us" this way? After carefully pondering the issues, I came up with at least five things:
1) We have taught people what to think instead of how to think: Instead of teaching our young - and ourselves - how to think critically about facts and situations, we have taught them what to think them. What this means is that when they are presented with alternate information or information that does not comport with their world view and knowledge, they do not take the time to think through what this means and if it is true what these means. Instead, they simply react - and what they have taught to think about things that do not comport with what they have been taught is to fear it.
2) We have taught people to rely on others, not themselves: Instead of teaching our young - and ourselves - to learn to do things for ourselves - or at least try to learn to do them - we have taught them that only the collective can bring the answer. What this means is that when something happens and cannot instantly be resolved by someone else, be it a tow truck driver or law officer or government agency - we become afraid that the problem will go unsolved and we will be inconvenienced or suffer, instead of at least trying to do something on our own. In fact in some situations this drives us into even deeper fear, where we clamor for more people to do more things for us. We have carefully trained ourselves that we "cannot" as individuals. We only "can" as a group.
(A convenient side note of this is, in general, this is the sort of behavior that so many governments and bureaucracies and business thrive on. Self reliant people, in general, do not like to give power over any part of their lives to others.)
3) We have created a society of either/or, where things become a reaction to the other side rather than trying to come up with the truly best answer: There are two items here. The first is where policies are passed by fiat and imposed, regardless of how it impacts the individuals involved. When the matter is brought up, the typical response seems to be something along the lines of "Tough. Adapt. We are in charge." Not unsurprisingly, people come to fear this sort of social or economic governance. The other side of this is the counter-reaction, where the other side (who is now the ascendancy) pushes back. Now those who passed the first round are in fear.
What does this mean? The answers offered are always either/or: "We won" comes the response, "and we will do what we think best." "We think best" is most often not the same as "What is best." Asking "what is best" takes a strength of character in that we must accept views contrary to our own, and that these views may be right. It also takes the ability of people to critical think instead of just react (see item 1).
(Lest you think I am speaking only of government, business has the same sorts of modus operandi. For example, everyone loves electric cars; no-one really cares to want or know how batteries are made or how destructive they can be to the environment. Likewise with driverless cars: We are told it is the future - yet Yahoo cannot hold onto my e-mail securely. The chances that the cares are any less prone to hacking? Oddly enough, never discussed. Again, it is an either/or solution: either you are for safety and cleanliness or you are for the unsafe and environmental destruction. There is no third way.)
4) Fear sells: Fear sells in two ways. The first way is simply as an economic tool. People - governments, businesses, individuals - make money off fear. If I can get you to become afraid of an outcome, I can offer you a solution - and with you emotionally engaged, you are far more likely to act to "solve" your fear.
The second is that fear brings power. If I can make you afraid and offer a solution, then you will support me if you believe that my solution is superior to the fear. Again, this stretches across governments, businesses, and individuals. How many have found their start in fear - and stretched that fear out, lest the problem be solved and their power dissolved?
It is commercial exchange run amok: the buyer gets a sense of safety, the seller profits from the power. Unfortunately like any addiction the relationship will probably never end, as it is not in the seller's best interest and they will do their best to convince their buyer they are "better off" with the fear and their solution than addressing the problem head on.
5) We no longer value risk or failure: When I was a lad, I did some incredibly (by today's standards) risky things. I went down a rather steep hill on my back on a very narrow skateboard. I played with fire. I rode without a helmet, swam before 30 minutes, and tore around in the woods at night without a flashlight. In other words, for the time I lived in I was a normal boy. I risked. And sometimes I paid the consequences.
I have also failed. More than I wanted to of course and sometimes in painful ways emotional and economic. I learned from the those experience things I would not otherwise learned.
But as a society, we are different now. We don't encourage our children - or ourselves - to risk, except in specific socially acceptable ways. And we sure do everything in our power to avoid our children or ourselves failing, to the point that this is unhealthy.
What does this create? A people that, when presented with new or potential unknown situation, are neither willing to risk trying something or simply will not do something because they may fail. It is easier to live in fear that try at risk or try and fail - because risk and failure are perceived as the true thing to be feared.
How to solve this? As usual, I pose questions to which I do not know that I have the answers. But I suspect a good place to start would be to simply reverse the five items:
- Teach ourselves and our children how to think instead of what to think.
- Teach ourselves and our children to be self reliant.
- Teach ourselves and our children to look for the best solution, not the either/or solution.
- Teach ourselves and our children to not allow ourselves to buy into fear, or to sell ourselves to it.
- Teach ourselves and our children to risk and fail.
Easy to write, hard to do. But the only other option seems to be the increase of fear in our society, to the point that simply become able to do or say anything and live instead in a circle bounded solely by the fear we have of everything.