Thursday, March 3, 2016

Be Not Afraid

Have you read "The Rise of American Authoritarianism" by Amanda Taub on Vox? It's making the rounds on social media, at least my social media. It's fascinating. I know nothing about her or the website that published her article, but... wow. Reading it creates in my head the sound of tumblers clicking as they fall into place.

And as these things do, it clicks because it meshes with recent experience in my own life. Not political experience. Nothing to do with Donald Trump, or immigration. But still, it was an experience of fear of The Other taking from me what I see as my own, my right. My experience has no place here, as it is not my story to tell, for the most part. Let it suffice that my "other" is just a blowhard drunkard (read: douche!), not the specter of a horde of inhuman invaders (read: Muslims, LGBQT, atheists, environmentalists, etc.) whose values are terrifyingly foreign to my own experience. Although that particular douche is, in my mind, inhuman. And his values are as foreign to me as they could be. But still!

What I noticed in my own experience is this: the fear was more real than the reality. The possible was more real than the actual. As such, it was not a possibility, it was a certainty. And thus it demanded something from me: a response, a prevention. Action!

Does this make me authoritarian? God, I hope not.

What my own fear experience taught me, though, is a lesson I should have learned before now, because I've had this epiphany before, particularly when I gave up reading What to Expect When You're Expecting about a third of the way through, when little Thumper was still a bun in the oven: the fear experience can be nearly orgasmic. The pomposity of feeling like you're expertly preparing for the thing you fear is also nearly orgasmic.

But! The thing you fear and prepare for is likely not the thing that will happen, and the thing that will happen is likely not the one for which you prepared. And obsessed. And worried. And drove yourself to ecstatic levels of stress and anxiety imagining.

Don't read that book, by the way. If you're expecting, don't expect all those worst-case scenarios. Expect joy, instead. Deal with what comes, if it comes, as it comes. But don't read the book first. It preys on fear. It profits by the uncertainty of the inexperienced and their powerful desire to be ready for whatever experience may be coming.

But! That's the nature of life. You can't be prepared for every possible experience that is approaching you from beneath the curve of the horizon. Besides, if you did know with certainty that the worst-case scenario was actually coming, would that make you any more prepared, really?

And here's the thing: in some of those cases, the fear itself brings about the very experience of which you were afraid.

For instance: the military industrial complex, of which Eisenhower warned us, employs over decades the rhetoric of fear of Islamic fundamentalism (which, by the way, is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity) to help justify and build support for what is largely a gigantic money grab. So for fear of Islamic fundamentalism spreading across the globe and attacking us at home, we approve of putting boots on foreign ground and everything that entails, which engenders a deep hatred of us globally even beyond the existing Islamic fundamentalists and fuels the growth of fundamentalism, providing new motivation for exactly the kind of attacks on American soil of which we were originally afraid. Which makes us more afraid.

Oversimplified? Yes, of course. But to some degree, we fueled, because we were terrified, the growth of the very thing that terrified us, and now we're even more afraid.

So is fear the answer? Is voting for Trump going to make anything better? Instead, be not afraid. Be not afraid of the Mexican immigrant. Be not afraid of the protestor who wants only for his child to have as little chance of being murdered as your child does. Be not afraid of the woman on the bus who has covered her hair out of the same kind, if not the same flavor, of piety that motivates you as a good Christian church-goer. Be not afraid of the sex lives of those that aren't having sex with you. Be not afraid of those who suggest that unrestrained consumerism may, in fact, be ultimately destructive. Be not afraid that the weed will lead to the heroin will lead to the children dying in droves, impaled on the pikes of syringes on every street corner. Do not dehumanize the other, nor fear his values, though they seem on the surface foreign to your own.

Please don't vote for Trump. Forgiving for the moment that he speaks in sentences and thinks in patterns far less complex, sophisticated, and nuanced than even my 8-year-old does, remember always that a political leader cannot defeat your fears. Only you can. Instead of fearing, live. You do you. I'll do me. Let each of us be calm. Take deep breaths. Meditation is good for that. So is yoga. But hey, I'm not militant, so if that's not your thing, that's cool.

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