Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Its all about fear

Over the last couple of days, we've seen a lot of talk about the debasement of our political discourse in this country. I wish we could have a reasoned discussion about that. But I'm not sure its happening...yet.

One of the things I've been thinking about is how our experience on 9/11 has affected all of this. I know that many feel that it was the election of Barack Obama as President that was the spark - and there's a lot of truth in that.

But it seems to me that we also took a wrong turn after 9/11 that is part of all of this. I know that in the aftermath of that day, I felt abandoned by the conversation I heard. Mostly I felt stuck in confusion and sadness while it seemed that the rest of the country had moved on to anger and revenge. I wanted some time to grieve and some answers about what would lead people to do this kind of thing. Most people wanted to see those who were responsible killed. The sense of fear and powerlessness was palpable. And so we not only attacked Afghanistan - we let ourselves be lied into a war with Iraq and justified the use of torture thinking that somehow it would help protect us.

In all of that was the implicit idea that we were afraid of our enemies and that ANYTHING we could do to eliminate them or stop them would make us safe. For too many people, that fear got fed emotionally rather than addressed. And so the feeling of powerlessness continues to lead us to think there are enemies out there that must be defeated or eliminated.

This is why I resonated so powerfully with that story from "The Interpreter" that ended with Vengeance is a lazy form of grief and George Orwell's connection of revenge and powerlessness on the day of the shooting in Arizona.

I also think that our politicians have over-sold their ability to protect us. Certainly they have a responsibility to do their best to prevent these kinds of things from happening. But we also have to grapple with this fear and the impermanent nature of our lives, as Mary Rose O'Reily said:

This country has puzzled me since 1960, when I belatedly began to think. Where did we get the idea that we are entitled to be pain free and worry free, that accidents must always be someone's fault, that all cancers should be gotten in time, that babies should be born flawless, and that death could be relegated to the back burner? What is the implicit idea about being human here?... Under the rock of every fear is the refusal to accept the contractual conditions of being human. I don't know why I came into the world or where I will go when I boil over on the back burner, but I know that I was born into a condition of radical instability...The only way to overcome fear is to accept without equivocation the worst it can propose, belay your ropes, and step across the next crevasse. We have no choice, anyway, about stepping.

Being driven by fear means that we tend to see our opponents as "enemies" and are therefore justified in de-humanizing them. We can do that with words and sometimes with violence. Our political culture has embraced this way of looking at things and its no surprise to many of us that people die as a result.


  1. the country is still reeling (away) from the events on 9/11/01. watching structure collapse was visible that day, less visible, but still on-going, today.

    good to hear your voice.


  2. ps. thanks for the reminder re: The Interpreter. downloading!

  3. Yee Haw - good to "see" you kj!!!!!!!!

  4. Oh, and yeah...The Interpreter - how did I miss that one? Its really one of the overall best I've seen in a long time.

    What I decided is that anytime Sean Penn is involved in a movie - don't ask questions. Just watch it!!!

  5. just finished watching The Interpreter. the scene re: vengeance and the acting by Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn was superb. the two of them bounced intensity back and forth like it was loaded, to use the weapon metaphor.

    Kidman's character deciding her way was too slow coupled with the scene reading from the book's dedication, powerful.

    i haven't have a place to put this latest tragedy. i'm falling between Jon Stewart's take and somewhere closer to drawing a line of cause and effect. there are intangibles and i'm maybe too quick to give in to a default mode of finding a reason. on the other hand, language matters. and i know you know that very well.

    what bothers me enormously is the connection to this country's reaction to the events of 9/11/01... which i see as the current default... and each time we go there, we reinforce it.

    rambling. :-) just read "Winter's Bone" and then watched the movie. the movie is fantastic, the book is even better.


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