Tag: fear


Fear and Failed Hobbesian States

thinking-05This is an interesting article on the use of fear in the service of state power.

Thus, it is not just threats to the well being of citizens — or even the citizenry’s fears of those threats — that compel governments to take action against those threats and certainly not the rights-abridging actions government officials so often do take. It is threats that the government deems worthy of public attention that will be acted upon. …. The problem is not that we live in a world of Hobbesian states; it is that we live in a world of failed Hobbesian states.

While the analysis is interesting, there are two point the author misses, and misses badly.

The first is that while the mainline conservatives in the US have been guilty of using fear in this way to promote specific military actions, the “liberals,” the left wing, has been far more effective at using this same strategy in the realm of social and environmental issues. The author says:

But that failure has not stopped liberals from arguing, as the saying goes, that politics stops at the water’s edge. And so when they have tried to chastise conservatives for using security for political ends (even though they do the same thing themselves), they have often found themselves, particularly since the Reagan years, hopelessly outgunned.

Liberals have clearly not been “outgunned” in using fear as a motivator. From jobs to social security to “global warming,” to guns, to abortion, to medical care, liberals routinely and effectively use fear to expand government power.

The second is that the author completely misses the point of the problem at hand. He argues that Hobbe’s idea was the state would be a “disinterested party,” and he seems to imply the problem is that the state has far too much interest in things. Really, it’s human nature, sin nature specifically, that is the problem here. So long as there is a state that can use fear to coerce, there will be people who will use that coercion to expand state power. The more state power expands through the coercion of fear, the more people there will in the any given society that will be willing to use this coercion of fear to “make their mark,” to grab the brass ring of money, power, or whatever else.

Witness Al Gore, who has spent his entire political career making the case for “global warming,” through a long string of fear mongering films, speaking tours, etc. Along the way, he’s become a multimillionaire, maybe a billionaire, by investing against the companies he’s using fear to tear down. And now he’s sold his soul to the oil money he says he so hates — which tells you he didn’t believe in “global warming” in the first place. He was after the power, pure and simple.

The Hobbesian State fails because it is based on a failed worldview — a false view of humanity and the world. When seeing failure on this scale, we should reconsider our worldview, rather than simply asking for tweaks or changes that will “solve the problem.”


Close the Washington Monument

Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there’s no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.

Bruce Schneier


Why are We Afraid?

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement calling for large-type warning labels on the foods that kids most commonly choke on — grapes, nuts, carrots, candy and public enemy No. 1: the frank. Then the lead author of the report, pediatric emergency room doctor Gary Smith, went one step further. He called for a redesign of the hot dog. … What’s happening is that the concept of “risk” is broadening to encompass almost everything a kid ever does, from running to sitting to sleeping. Literally! –Lenore Skenazy

Why does terrorism work against our society? Two things, coupled together, lead to a massive inability to understand risk. The first is that we don’t really face a lot of risk in our lives any longer. It used to be that people faced substantial risk just by getting up in the morning —or for that matter,just laying down in their bed at night. We intentionally go out and create risk now, in order to “feel alive.”

If we won’t go that far, we live out other’s risk vicariously, through movie plots and “reality television.” The upshot is a focus on the quick, visceral, and visually fantastic. A plot that accompanies great visuals in our minds (but they have to be visuals that aren’t too sickening, or really real), will frighten us to death.

For instance, choking on a hot dog —we’ve all seen people choke in a movie or television show before, or act like they’re choking. So here we have the perfect hazard to go nuts about. Its bloodless, horrifying, fast, and makes you feel like you can’t do anything. The reality is it’s rare, and it’s something you actually can do something about. There are lots of good remedies for choking out there; no-one should actually choke to death in our modern society as long as any other member of the human race is present.

At the same time, we hide from things that don’t fit our “movie plot scared criteria.” For instance, did you know that 3500 acres of one of our National Parks has been closed to public use for four years? This strip of land, on the US/Mexican border, has essentially been taken over by drug smugglers (and perhaps worse). What are we doing to clean out this little hornet’s nest? Apparently not much of anything. So not only do we refuse to protect our border against a real and existential threat, we just go ahead and cede the border to someone else’s control. It’s just not quick enough —or visually impressive enough— to catch our attention. It wouldn’t play well on COPS. Besides, taking this little slice of 3500 acres back might seem a little racist. And the one thing that truly scares us is being called a racist.

We’re destroying ourselves with fear, because we’ve lost the ability to really understand risk. We’ve become so visually attuned, and so sound bite/tweet oriented, that we can’t process more than a few words and a picture at a time. It’s even coming to the point that we need motion to convince us to pay attention; still shots are losing their ability to catch our attention. Text no longer means the written word, it means texting, short bytes of information we can process in the span of a half a second or less. We place the risk of being called a racist alongside the risk of having our Country overrun, and we choose being called a racist as the greater problem to fear.

We’re destroying ourselves with fear, because we’ve lost the ability to pay attention. Rabbits are scared because they have such a short attention span. Rabbits are also easy to kill, however, because they have such a short attention span.

Enough. We need to stop being afraid of terrorist, and start realistically assessing the ideology behind terrorism. We need to stop being afraid of hot dogs, and start being afraid of losing our way of life.



About two months ago, I left an eating establishment after discovering that there was a meeting of individuals all “bearing arms.” Since it was a buffet, they were walking all over the place, many carrying children along with their guns. … This week, I drove over 15 miles to eat at a healthy place that served soup and salad. Standing in line I saw a customer bearing his gun, while holding hands with his 5-year-old son. I got sick to my stomach and left the restaurant.

What are these people scared of? The only thing that scares me is them. … What happened to “In God we trust?” –AZCentral

The first thing that struck me when reading this is how emotional the writer is. “I got sick to my stomach… The only thing I’m afraid of is people openly carrying guns… I drove 15 miles to eat at a healthy place…” This emotional worldview drives the writer into a total state of fear, complete with physical reactions. The writer probably doesn’t even realize how much his emotional state controls his thinking.

The second thing that struck me was how physical this person is. Throughout the short letter, there are references to people holding their children, the writer getting sick to his stomach (physical manifestations of fear), and eating healthy. The writer is focused on the physical world, apparently enmeshed in a materialism so deep he doesn’t even realize just how much the physical, animal, nature controls his emotions.

And finally, there is the statement at the end, “whatever happened to ‘In God we trust?” There are only two ways to interpret this singular statement. Perhaps the writer truly believes in God, and is simply unaware of the higher spiritual things, enmeshed in a world of material things and physical fears. If this is true, the writer’s state is exposed by his own contradiction; if he’s afraid of people with guns, then he doesn’t have much trust in God, does he?

More likely, he is using this simple statement, “In God we trust,” as a weapon to throw in the face of those he perceives as Christians, and yet who own and carry guns. He thinks there is a contradiction between being Christian and owning a gun, or being ready to defend yourself, because Christians are supposed to have faith in God, rather than in material things.

But here he errs, for there is no contradiction in being a Christian and yet believing you should defend yourself against criminal attack, or even a government gone to tyranny. The writer holds the common misconception that if you learn to use a tool or skill, then you are “trusting in” that tool or skill in the same way you should, as a Christian, trust in God. If we took this motto the way the writer implies, he wouldn’t be driving 15 miles to get something to eat; after all, God will bring healthy food, right?

The underlying problem is a misunderstanding of the concept of faith; trusting in God does not mean to act like a baby in diapers, to stay a toddler screaming “mine, mine,” without a thought or a care in the world. Trusting in God means to understand that God will make all things come out the right way, and then going on and living our lives the best we can, within the means we have.

Trusting in God is knowing that if someone tries to kill us, and they succeed, God chose that specific outcome for a reason. Trusting in God is knowing that if someone tries to kill us, and we successfully defend ourselves, then God chose that specific outcome for a reason, as well. Trusting in God means we do the best we can, use our failures to learn, and know that God works through it all for His design, and His goal.

Not that we should lay down our arms, get rid of our fire alarms, get rid of air bags and seat belts, and, in fact, get rid of farmers, because if God wants us to live, He’ll make it happen.

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