Category Archives: Fear

Leveraging Sexual Anxieties

 

We must always remember that the principal values of democracy are freedom and equality. Those are robust values. They are worth defending and fighting for. Many people in the US, among many other places, seem uninterested in defending those values. Freedom does not include the right to exploit others, because that negates their freedom. You can’t have such freedom. Many forget this. One of the “freedoms” some claim is the “freedom” to impose your view of sexuality on others. Again, that negates their freedom so such an attitude should be off limits for a proponent of freedom.

As Jason Stanley the philosopher of Fascism, said when interviewed on PBS’s Amanpour & Co.,

“Among the freedoms were enjoy in democracy are the freedom to identify with whom we want, to have the adult partners we want. And this freedom is under attack. And this attack on LGBT citizens is very eastern European in character. It comes in the wake of an attack on so-called critical race theory, but the attack is not really on critical race theory, it’s an attack on the teaching of our history, the teaching of our anti-democratic racist history and now we have an attack on LGBT rights. This puts us into the world-wide autocratic context.  If you look at autocrats and would be autocrats around the world, from Russia’s gay propaganda law of 2013, that prohibits teaching minors about non-standard life-styles and had a terrible effect on LGBT communities in Russia. If we look at Viktor Orban’s Hungary the recent election was dominated by attacks on LGBT. If we look at Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil who won election with attacks on LGBT communities. We see American right now embracing this world-wide far right autocratic attack on freedom. This is just putting us in line with the fascist right world-wide”.

 

American conservatives like Tucker Carlson strongly support Orban in the name of freedom, but as I have said imposing your approved sexuality on others is not freedom. It is anti-freedom. Pedophiles also don’t believe in freedom, because they want the right to impose their lusts on other—the most vulnerable in society.

Many Conservatives in the US seem to think that all liberals are pedophiles.

Recently, the Republicans in the US Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, showed by their absurd questions that they believed, or at least wanted others to believe, that she was a pedophile supporter (if not a pedophile).  US. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene said that the 3 Republicans who voted for her must be pedophiles too. Of course, much of this comes from QAnon and Greene is one of the most famous QAnon supporters among the many in the Republican Party. QAnon claims that the Democratic Party is infested with pedophiles. QAnon used to be considered a fringe group, but increasingly it is mainstream Republican.

Of course, all of this might just be a deflection from the fact that the Republican Party no longer has any policies other than missiles in the Kulture wars. The American right has an uncanny ability to latch onto primal American fears. It used to be communists. Now it is pedophiles, or other “sexual deviants” as they refer to others with different sexual orientations. Many Americans fear nothing more than an attack on innocent children by pedophiles. And that fear has generated a plethora of crazy conspiracy theories.

Nancy McLean, a professor at Duke University, says the Republicans have been seizing on parental anxieties about children being attacked or groomed for attack by pedophiles in order to gain support for their causes. They have been focusing on this, she says, not out of genuine concern for children who are vulnerable, but for personal gain. They are doing it to get anxious parents to vote against Democrats. Does anyone really think that Ted Cruz actually thinks Ketanji Brown Jackson is a pedophile? Of course not. He just thinks the Republican base will love his spirited attack on a strong, intelligent,  black American woman. That’s all his nasty insinuations are about. McLean said Cruz is “despicable, and dishonourable but the Republican base eats this stuff up.” That is how you leverage sexual anxieties for political gain. And Cruz is good at it. That is how American and Russian fascism work.

It is not about freedom. It is about imposing your will and your views on others. Again, that is the philosophy of the bully. Pick a vulnerable person or group and impose your will on them.

 

The Mennonite Pharisee and the Polish Samaritan

 

Refugee crises are invariably wicked problems. Every country wants to control its own borders. No country just wants to open the gates completely wide. After all, what good would it do to let countries be completely swamped?  No one benefits when anarchy is spread everywhere.

On the other hand, most countries want to help, particularly their neighbours. But that is not always easy to do.

What we need is calm and compassionate consideration and temperate with rationality. That is not an easy task.

Turning our backs on the refugees is not the answer for most of us. Most of us don’t want to be Pharisees. We don’t want to turn our back on the poor soul mired in the mud or lying on the ground. But how can we help? Destroying our lives and those of our loved ones is also not the answer. What is the answer? The first thing that is sure, is the answer is not simple. Miriam Toews was right. Kindness is complicated.   As a result we will make mistakes.

 

Melissa Martin in her Winnipeg Free Press  article said she did not believe that the  way we deal with difficult refugee problems is inevitable. we must make choices. Yet Poland has shown to us what is possible if we work together. Big problems can be solved. Only with teamwork would it be possible for a small country to do what Poland has done in accepting 2.5 million refugees.

People on all sides tend to oversimplify problems and their solutions. As she said,

 

“News, often, has an unfortunate way of flattening places and events into a narrow focus without nuance, without texture. In one such narrative, Poland becomes all good; in another, its treatment of largely Muslim asylum-seekers caught on the border, it’s all bad.

 

The reality is, of course, is that it’s neither. Yes, it’s in Poland where a border dispute has forced people to suffer in limbo, but it’s also in Poland where activists and aid groups risk everything to get food and warm clothes to the people huddled at the Belarusian border. Some have been caught by police and taken before a judge; still, their brave and ferociously loving work continues.”

 

Poland has shown us clouds from both sides. They have shown us the best of people, but have also shown a dark side. I remember when my own Member of Parliament—presumably a good Mennonite—showed us what the Pharisees were like. When people from Central and South America were trying to enter Canada because they feared what Trump and his cronies would do to them, and fled here across a frozen Red River, he told us to fear these refugees and complained that our Prime Minister was opening the borders wide.  That was very different from the Poles that Martin described in her article. People living near the border sneaked into the woods to hang bundles of aid in the trees even though they were threatened by the police.  One of them told the New York Times, “no one will die in my forest.” There was the Good Samaritan—the good neighbour. My pious member of Parliament looked down on the hapless people freezing in the cold, and urged us to do the same.  on the other hand, Martin described how volunteers in Emerson in the winter of 2017 when there was an unprecedented wave of people walking across the border north into Canada from the US  tried to make sure no one froze to death. More good neighbours.

 

As Melissa Martin said,

“The bad in the world, and in people, speaks in cruelty and destruction. But if you want to see the good in people, you will find it in the same place, and from there you can see the foundations of bridges that are waiting to be built. The lesson of Poland’s refugee crisis — not two, but one — is that the good is ever-present, waiting for an invitation to happen.”

Each of us can choose to be a Pharisee or a Samaritan.  And we may have the chance to make that choice more than once. One time we can be a Samaritan and the next a Pharisee. It’s  all up to us.

 

The Classics: Wisdom Speaking

 

For Cornel West the search for wisdom is also a spiritual search. Cornel West wrote an article in the Washington Post in response to Howard University and other universities getting rid of their Classics Department.  In fairness to Howard it is a university that does not have the massive dnowments that some of the Ivy League schools have. Howard University is not Harvard. Yet West thought they could do better in their search for wisdom.   Walter Isaacson interviewed West on Amanpour and Company on the dispute.

 

Cornel West believes it is important to preserve and read the classics. He said,

 

“I am convinced we are living in a moment of spiritual decay and moral decrepitude in the American empire. We have to come up with countervailing forces and countervailing weight against the rule of money, rule of mediocrity, rule of military might, rule of narrow conformity, and rule of indifference and callousness. The best classics of any civilization, of any empire, of any culture have to do with trying to convince ourselves to get involved in a quest for truth, and beauty, and goodness, and then for some of us like myself, a Christian, the holy.”

 

To me that sums up the best of the humanities—i.e. the wisdom of civilization. But West believes there has been a deep moral decline in the west and a deep intellectual narrowness has crept in, and that the classics can help us to resist this trend. He says, the reason it does that is

 

“The classics force us to come to terms with the most terrifying question we can ever raise which is what does it mean to be human? The unexamined life is not a life of human according to Plato in his Apology in line 38a. “Human” comes from the Latin humando which means burial, we are disappearing creatures. We are vanishing organisms on the way to bodily extinction. Therefore, the question becomes, ‘who will we be in the meantime?’ What kind of virtue can we enact? What kind of vision will we pursue? What kind of values will we try to embody? And once you raise that question what it means to be human, then you begin to see on the one hand what Shakespeare and Dante have taught us, like Toni Morrison, and John Coltrane have taught us, it’s dark in our history! Most of our history is the history of domination and oppression. The history of hatred. The history of contempt. It is the history of fear driven cruelty. What is the best of our history? Counterweights against that. And that is everywhere you look. Every civilization. Every continent. Every race. Every religion. Every gender. Every sexual orientation. And once you come to terms with that, then the question becomes how do you become equipped? What kind of spiritual and moral armour do you have that allows you to think critically? That allows you to open yourself to others. That allows you to act courageously.”

 

Now if that is not a spiritual quest, I do not know what is. West used Frederick Douglas as an example of a man who did that. He teased out truths from foreign languages as anyone can do. He was already a freedom fighter, but the classics of other countries helped him to find the truth, beauty, and the good. According to West, “He teased out an eloquence. And what is eloquence? “Eloquence is wisdom speaking,” say Cicero and Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (often referred to as Quintilian) a rhetorician and educator.

 

According to West, the essence of wisdom speaking is having the courage to know how to die by questioning your presuppositions. Every time you let a presupposition go that is a form of death because it allows you to be reborn. It allows you to grow. It allows you to develop. It allows you to mature. If you can learn that, from religion, philosophy, music, or the classics you have the necessary spiritual armour.

As West said,

 

“We live in an empire my brother that has grown powerful and rich but has not grown up. F.O Mathieson used to say, America would in some way be distinctive because it could move from perceived innocence to corruption without a mediating state of maturity.” The nation believes it is innocent. How can you be authorizers of devastation of indigenous people and African slaves and then view yourselves as innocent? “

 

In many ways that is the problem many people have—particularly those who have been privileged and fail to recognize that privilege. How can you fail to look at the crimes produced in the name of your civilization? We all need to grow up and see that we are not innocent, no matter how much we would like to be innocent.

Facts over Fear

 

Fear is a powerful emotion and it can be a force for good as well as force for bad. . We all need some fears. Young children learn to fear hot stoves thanks often to their mothers who instil that fear in them. That is a healthy fear. We could be seriously hurt if we did not have that fear. There are many positive fears like that which help us to avoid danger or harm. That is all for the good.

Other fears can be completely disarming. An example I often use is the United States. It is a country dominated by fear. They spend more money on arms and weapons than the next 8 or so countries behind them combined. That is what fear drives them to do. Everyone knows they would be much better spending the money on other things, many of which could actually make some of those fears go away. For example, Americans have a great fear of crime. As a result they spend vast sums on policing or weapons and that does little to drive away the fear. Fear can make us do stupid things.

There is plenty of fear going around these days. Recently, I attended an anti-vaccination rally in Steinbach and the leader of the rally as far as I could determine was a woman called Sheena Friesen. She spoke a lot about fear. She claimed fear of Covid-19 was making us do stupid things.

One person held a sign that read, “Facts over Fear.” I agree entirely with that sentiment, yet I think he and I have a very different conception of what we should fear. It seems he thought we were mistaken in fearing the virus that causes Covid-19. I think our fear of that virus is healthy, but we should not let it get out of control.

The difference is this. I believe that fears are valid and a force for good so long as they are kept under control and are rationally based on evidence of harm which the disease can cause. In other words, some fears are reasonable others are unreasonable. By definition, an unreasonable fear is called paranoia. Such fears are always a force for evil since they are not based on evidence.

American philosopher, Martha C. Nussbaum had important things to say about fear in her fine little book, The Monarchy of Fear. The title itself says a lot, suggesting we should not be controlled by fear. We should never let fear be our boss or king. Here is what she said,

“There’s a lot of fear around in the U.S. today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy. Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.”

 

This is precisely right. The real problem with fear is that it can and often does interfere with rational decisions making. For example, I admit that I have an unreasonable fear of heights. It is not a rational fear. If I get to the edge of a tall building or structure I start getting scared even when there is nothing to fear. After all, I am not going to pitch myself off the building. I am not going to fall over the edge. There is nothing to fear, but I can’t stop being scared. I even get scared when I see total strangers getting what I think is uncomfortably close to the edge, when they have no such fears. My fear is unreasonable. Therefore, it is an irrational fear and I should learn to control it and not allow it to control me. That is easier said than done however. Nussbaum says fear can disrupt rational deliberation, leading to unwise choices. I think we can all think of many examples of exactly this.

Beyond making us suffer, irrational fears can lead us to make bad decision for our community and our country. From a public policy perspective we should not allow fears to lead us to faulty decision making. It can be dangerous. For example, Nussbaum said,

“What is today’s fear about? Many Americans themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of loved ones. They fear that the American Dream–that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done–has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all too attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the “othering” of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women. “They” have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country.”

 

Fear drives us to make unreasonable decisions. For example, if people have an unreasonable fear of government or authority they can refuse to listen to them when they give us good advice such, advising us to take vaccines that mountains of research and by now millions of actual experiences such irresistibly that our vaccine are safe and beneficial.

I think fear of others led Americans to make a disastrous decision in electing Donald Trump as president in 2016. It was a disastrous choice and led to near catastrophic results. Americans irrationally feared others such as Muslims, Mexicans, and elites. The last of those might have been a rational fear. Certainly more rational than the first two.

As Nussbaum said,

“The problems that globalization and automation create for working-class Americans are real, deep, and seemingly intractable. Rather than face those difficulties and uncertainties, people who sense their living standard declining can instead grasp after villains, and fantasy takes shape: if “we” can keep “them” out (build a wall) or keep them in “their place” (in subservient positions), “we” can regain our pride and for men, their masculinity Fear leads, then, to aggressive “othering” strategies rather than to useful analysis.”

 

The most effective means of dealing with such “othering” is to rely on our sense of fellow feeling. Empathy can chill many a pervasive fear. In fact, fellow feeling is the opposite of “us” vs. “them.”

According to Anti-vaxxers like Steinbach’s Sheena Friesen we are overly scared of Covid-19 and as a result we impose irrational restrictions on others like forcing people to wear masks or take vaccines that are dangerous.

In my opinion, fear of Covid-19 so long as it is held in check is an entirely reasonable fear. Millions of people have already died from it. Millions more have got sick, often with permanent damage. Millions more again, have had important medical treatments such as life-saving surgeries dangerously delayed. These are not unreasonable fears. These are completely reasonable fears which lead us to take reasonable precautions such as wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. Hundreds of millions of people have already taken the vaccines with remarkably few serious side effects. Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Medical Officer of health recently said he and his team have so far found no deaths in Manitoba that could properly be attributed to taking the vaccine and very few cases of serious illness resulting from the vaccines. At the same time, they have saved thousands of lives in Manitoba.

I think the antivaxxers, not the rest of us, have been dominated by unreasonable fears of the vaccine. They are ruled by unreasonable fears, not those who are taking reasonable precautions at very little cost.

 

Science and the hobgoblins of fear

 

This photo was taken by me yesterday at an anti-vaccine rally in Steinbach where the message was that we should not give in to fear.

A reliance on reason, evidence, analysis and critical thinking is the hallmark of Enlightenment thinking and its progeny—science. Science is reason refined.  Science is not perfect nor is it the only way to understand the world,  but it is certainly the best. That does not detract from the arts and other disciplines. It adds to it.

 

The historian David Wooton reminded us how much the thinking of people has changed since 1600, the approximate time when the Enlightenment began.  He said that in 1600 the educated Englishman believed the following:

“He believes witches can summon up storms that sink ships.

He believes in werewolves, although there happen not to be any in England—he knows they are found in Belgium…He believes Circe really did turn Odysseus’s crew into pigs.  He believes mice are spontaneously generated in piles of straw. He believes in contemporary magicians…He has seen a unicorn’s horn, but not a unicorn.

He believes that a murdered body will bleed in the presence of the murderer. He believes that there is an ointment which, if rubbed on a dagger which caused a wound, will cure the wound. He believes that the shape, colour and texture of a plant can be a clue to how it will work as a medicine because God designed nature to be interpreted by mankind. He believes that it is possible to turn base metal into gold, although he doubts that anyone nows how to do it. He believes that nature abhors a vacuum. He believes the rainbow is a sign from God and that comets portend evil. He believes that dreams predict the future, if we now how to interpret them. He believes, of course, that the earth stands still and the sun and stars turn around the earth once every twenty-four hours.”

 

Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now pointed out that within 150 years of the Enlightenment starting the ordinary educated Englishman no longer believed any of those things. That, when you think about it, is an astonishing achievement in a remarkably short period of time. That really is a revolution. And that is what the Enlightenment and science brought to us, and that is not an insignificant achievement. Pinker goes farther when he says, “It was an escape not just from ignorance, but from terror.” That is an achievement we should shout about. We should celebrate it. It is a magnificent accomplishment. This achievement allowed the world to escape from unreason. As Robert Scott a sociologist said, until then “the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed a kind of collective paranoia.” Escaping the forces of unreasonable fears is vastly important, and we don’t think about that often enough. We have not escaped all unreasonable fears, and that is regrettable, but to escape so many, is magnificent. Science allowed us to escape what R.A. Scott called  “the hobgoblins of fear.”

Everywhere until then people were paralyzed by those hobgoblins of fear that were ushered in by superstition and irrational thinking. So, people thought the sea was filled with monsters, forests with scary predators, thieves, ogres demons, and witches. Everyday activities were governed by the belief in omens, portents of danger, and scary thoughts. It was difficult to carry on ordinary life under such circumstances.

The vaccine rebels keep harping that we should not be controlled by fear. I agree entirely with them on this point.  But their way is not the way to do that. In fact, I would suggest, they are actually giving in to fear.  If we listen to them they will bring us back to those hobgoblins. More on that later.

In times of pandemic we need science more than ever to escape the hobgoblins of fear. We need to turn from paranoia to the light. That is what enlightenment is all about. That is exactly what the anti-vaxxers don’t understand.

The Christians are Killing US

 

Steinbach resident and business owner, Evangeline Loewen, who was recently interviewed by CBC in light of sky-rocketing rates of Covid-19 in our town, said that she wants to separate old and vulnerable people from the rest of us so we can live and work and they can stay somewhere else?

Evangeline Loewen said, “It looks like we are preparing for Communism.” No doubt this will be put on National TV. I think it was. Is wearing a mask now comparable to spending 10 years in the Soviet prisoner of war camps? Are masks a slippery slope to that?

She doesn’t want people to be “pumped full of fear.” She also said people should be afraid because we should trust God who heals us. As our hospital emergency room is jammed to capacity as a result of Covid-19 cases, she really thinks everyone is making too big a deal of Covid-19. Many others in our town feel the same. They don’t like the restrictions. People like that think it is a major infringement on their liberty to be forced to wear a mask when in public so that others are protected.

Because people are asked to wear a mask in Steinbach mainly to protect the lives of other people, the opponents of the restrictions organized a protest rally against compulsory mask use. They did this as Steinbach has the highest per capita rate of Covid-19 in Canada! 49 new cases of Covid-19 in Steinbach today!

Meanwhile, as citizens like Evangeline Loewen from Steinbach and Reeve Lewis Weiss from Labroquerie dismiss mask-wearing Steinbach has the highest per capita rate of Covid-19 in Canada!

But ignorance has consequences. Recently, I listened to a heart-breaking interview with a Sarah Neufeld (no relation), a Health Care Worker from Steinbach’s Bethesda Hospital.

 

Here are a few of the things she said according to Steinbach Online (It’s long but it’s worth the read):

“Sarah Neufeld is a nurse in the Emergency Room at the Bethesda Regional Health Centre. She says the number of positive COVID-19 cases she and her team are dealing with on a daily basis are considerably more than they or the hospital building itself can handle. She notes it is not uncommon to run out of rooms and be forced to relocate beds into the hallways and even beds themselves are not always available.

“I liken this to what it must have been like around The War when the injured just kept coming and coming and coming and they had no place for them, that is the feeling that we have. Right when we are exhausted, we have filled every bed, we have finally transferred a few patients out, then we get four more in.”

“We’ve even had someone in a chair because we didn’t even have enough beds,” she remarks. “To have every room, every space, every hospital bed, and every ICU bed full. It is something I have never seen in my career.”

There have been rumors around Steinbach that certain individuals with the virus have been forced to wait out the night in an ambulance. While Neufeld could not substantiate those reports, she says, considering the current spatial constraints, it is not altogether unlikely.

“If we have Covid-positive patients that come in via EMS they cannot be offloaded until we have a bed and because we are so overcapacity, it is entirely possible that they had to wait for hours in the ambulance bay with attendants.”

In addition to not having enough staff to manage the number of incoming patients, Neufeld says the staff that the hospital does have are burning out fast. These days, she says it is realistic to expect an eleven-hour shift with no breaks.

“How are we supposed to manage in these conditions?” she questions. “These aren’t sustainable.”

“I feel driven to advocate for my fellow healthcare workers that I work alongside,” she states. “I feel like the community does not have an idea of how bad it is and how desperate we are in the ER

During the weeks ahead, Neufeld anticipates that she and her coworkers will become even more mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted than they already are. Ultimately, the only way Neufeld can see the situation improving in the ER is if they get more housekeepers, work clerks, nurses, and doctors. She is calling on the government to do just that.

Meanwhile, Neufeld says there is one small thing the public can do to make their workload lighter…

“We need a show of solidarity from our community,” she stresses. “We hear about these anti-mask people or these anti-mask rallies and we are utterly shocked and dismayed at the fact that there are people doing that when we are working so tirelessly for our community. And the paradox is when they are sick where do they go? They come to us at the hospital. So if people could wear their masks and show respect and kindness, that this the biggest thing they could do.”

 

What Neufeld and her co-workers do not need are dangerous fools like Lewis Weiss who thinks because he does not feel sick he can’t spread the disease to others. What Neufeld and her co-workers don’t need are religious zealots like Evangeline Loewen who thinks restrictions on our freedom such as wearing masks are an unreasonable imposition and a prelude to Communism.

I don’t want people to be pumped up with unreasonable fears either, but it seems to me we should be concerned about these dangers.

Sarah Neufeld warned that these conditions in the hospital are not sustainable. She also said, “when people keep coming we can’t handle them.” If the health-care workers can’t keep up what will the people do when no patients are allowed in to the hospital? Get medical treatment from the local Reeve perhaps.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

 

Way back in 1964 Richard Hofstadter in an important essay nailed down what he characterized as “the paranoid style in American politics”. It did not appear out of nowhere. It was part of the soil in which the country was born. It did not suddenly disappear from American politics in the 60s either. It has been around for a long time and it is far from dead. In fact I think it is more alive than ever before and Hofstadter’s analysis is still vital.

Remember the word “paranoid” may sound odd, but it really means an unreasonable fear. Fears are good because they alert us to dangers. But unreasonable fears are well unreasonable. They are without reason, or at least in sufficient reason.

Kurt Anderson in his very readable book called FantasyLand which I have posted about earlier, traces the roots of this paranoid style to the arrival of Puritans 400 years ago! It is baked in to America.

I really think it has something to do with America right from the start being subjected to the dominant will of groups of people, like the Puritans, who wanted to abandon reason in favor of faith—but only their kind of faith. When this is done for long periods of time—and 400 years is certainly plenty of time—people learn to abandon reason and when that happens  as Goya said, “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” And no one knew this better than Goya.

America, like Canada, has always had plenty of those. I have commented on this in an earlier post as well. That is why the United States thinks that it must spend more on its military than the next 9 highest spending countries combined! That is why I call this paranoia in high def. Fears are natural and good. They help us stay alive. But unreasonable fears are something else. Unreasonable fears are delusions. They are dangerous. And America has plenty of those. I would not be surprised if someone counted them and found they have more of them as well than the next 9 countries on the list combined.

This is what Hofstadter said:

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

I think this is even more important today than it was 50 years ago. Does this not describe to perfection Sean Hannity and a legion of Fox News pundits? Hofstadter pointed out the toxic brew that was created when anger, resentment, heated exaggeration, a suspicious mind and conspiratorial fantasy were combined. Anyone who follows American politics is very familiar with it. Donald Trump is merely the most recent practitioner in a long line of ignoble politicians and other demagogues who took advantage of this poisonous strain for their own political advantage.

 Hofstadter acknowledged that this was a pejorative phrase, but he was comfortable with that because “the paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent.”

Hofstadter in the 1960s pointed to the toxic brew that was created when anger, resentment, heated exaggeration, a suspicious mind and conspiratorial fantasy were combined. Anyone who follows current  politics is very familiar with it. Donald Trump is merely the most recent practitioner in a long line of ignoble politicians and other demagogues who took advantage of this poisonous strain for their own political advantage.

In politics or religion or other social settings this toxic brew is particularly dangerous. I think it applies even more to current times than the 1960s when Hofstadter  wrote about the paranoid style. It helps us to understand the crazy times we live in.

The Monarchy of Fear

 

When I saw the title of a book, The Monarchy of Fear, I was immediately attracted to it. Then when I saw who wrote it, I had no choice; I had to buy it. The author is Martha Nussbaum, considered by some, to be the finest philosopher in the United States. I had read an article about her in the New Yorker, but had not read any of her books. In that article I learned that she liked to write about emotions. To me, a graduate in Philosophy some 5 decades ago, this seemed unlikely. I was wrong. Emotions are important in so many ways and it is good that philosophers opine on them.

For quite some time I have thought fear is an emotion that can have extraordinary consequences, particularly in the modern political context. Fear is a natural product of the age of anxiety or the age of anger. What could be more important than that?

Nussbaum had important things to say in the very first paragraph of the book. Here is what she said,

 

“There’s a lot of fear around in the U.S. today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy. Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.”

This struck exactly the right note from my perspective. The real problem with fear is that it interferes with rational decision-making. And we see it everywhere. In Canada just like the United States, but I think it is particularly prevalent in the United States. That country is the richest in the world, has the best armed forces that money can buy, spends more on prisons and police than any other nation by a long-shot.  Yet it seems to me to be a country infused, no saturated, with fear. Americans like to call themselves the ‘land of the brave,’ but over and over again, from gated communities, to elaborate armies, the country is hobbled by fear to such an extent and with such intensity that it constantly surprises. And as Nussbaum suggests, such fear often “blocks rational deliberation.” Nowhere is the effect of this powerful more evident than in the election of Donald Trump. What rational deliberation could have ushered in his presidency?

Nussbaum boldly asserted the following:

“What is today’s fear about?  Many Americans, themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of loved ones. They fear that the American Dream–that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done–has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all to attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the “othering” of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women.  “They” have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country.”

How many of the important social problems of the day are encapsulated in that paragraph? There is a lot to chew over in that paragraph.

And of course with such fears rational deliberation is unlikely! It is hardly surprising as a result that the United States, in its moment of fear, has turned to a man who is probably more unlikely to solve its problems than anyone else we could consider. As a result of fear they made the worst possible decision imaginable. That is the monarchy of fear!

Ancestral Pueblo People (Anasazi)

The American Southwest which I have visited for the last few years, is area that receives a mere 10 inches (25 cm) of rain each year, but has supported inhabitants for at least 12,000 years. Paleo-Indians arrived at about 12,000 years ago and they learned how to live there.

Thousands of years later, the Ancestral Puebloans, Indigenous People of the American southwest and are also known as Anasazi, arrived, but that name was given to them by Navajo for it basically means “Ancient enemy ancestor.”  That is not the most complementary name. The Ancestral Puebloans are thought to have settled near Mesa Verde in about AD 550 where they lived in pithouses and later astonishing cliff dwellings. By about 800 AD they had developed significant masonry skills and began to build housing complexes using sandstone, which is fairly common in the region. From about 1100 to 1300 AD they used their impressive skills in weaving, pottery, jewelry and tool-making.

Kivas are round pit-like room dug into the ground and roofed with beams.   The kiva was the religious and ceremonial center of Ancestral Puebloan life and is still used by modern Puebloans. It usually had no windows and the only means of access was through a small hole in the roof. Small kivas were likely used by one family. Larger ones could be designed for the entire community, like a church in Europe.

Ancestral Puebloan ruins can be found in Chaco Culture National Park and Mesa Verde National Park as well as Canyon de Chelly. This is the White House in Canyon de Chelly.

By AD 1,300 the Ancestral Puebloans had abandoned many of their long established settlement sites perhaps on account of climate change. Things got much drier around about the time they left. There was a 50-year drought that placed great strain on their civilization. A large population could not be sustained in the desert with its minimal resources and led to a lengthy period of social upheaval.

The Ancestral Puebloans did not disappear but live on today in Puebloan descendants. The Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi, lived there from about 500 until some time in the 12th century.  They are the ones that created the numerous evocative ruins found in the area including those at Mesa Verde in Colorado, and the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Canyon de Chelly and Camp Verde in Arizona.

 

 

Many people forget that the Ancestral Puebloans were farmers who began to cultivate maize (corn) and pumpkins. Eventually they added beans, squash, and other vegetables to their arsenal. They even domesticated turkeys from a native subspecies.  It is interesting that eventually “Through trade and plunder, the same turkeys would eventually make their way south to the Aztec empire in Mexico. Conquistador Hernan Cortes later appropriated some and shipped them home to Europe. From there, farmyard turkeys traveled back to the New World with colonists of the East Coast. All domestic turkeys descended from the wild turkeys originally tamed nearly two millennia ago in the North America’s drylands.”

 

The descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans include the Hopi whose pueblos are reputed to be the oldest continuously occupied towns in North America. They began to occupy territory a little farther west of Canyon de Chelly.  We drove through First Mesa, where they live to this day, even though our friends Dave and MaryLou advised against it.

 

Then we drove near to Second Mesa, another settlement still occupied by Hopi people.

 

A very interesting question is “Why did Anasazi leave their cliff dwellings?”  I thought about a brilliant book—Desert Solitaire written by Edward Abbey. It is a fantastic book. One of the best books I have ever read on the American Southwest. Abbey compared the ancient Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) to modern Americans. Abbey said, “Apparently, like some twentieth century Americans, the Anasazi lived under a cloud of fear.” Why else did they go to such trouble to build their homes where they did?  As Abbey commented,

Fear: is that the key to their lives?  What persistent and devilish enemies they must have had, or thought they had, when even here in the intricate heart of a desert labyrinth a hundred foot-miles from the nearest grassland, forest, and mountains they felt constrained to make their homes, as swallows do, in niches high on the face of a cliff.

Their lives must have been severely cramped by their overpowering fears. As Abbey said,

“Their manner of life was constricted, conservative, cautious: perhaps only the pervading fear could keep such a community together. Where all think alike there is little danger of innovation.”

That seems like a perfect description of the gated communities in modern North America subdivisions. From my experience, the people are fearful, nervous, and entirely lacking in courage. They fear everyone and everything. For example, many people in Arizona fear that Mexicans are coming across the border in hordes to take their best jobs, cleaning toilets in airports. Does that make sense? So they want to build a wall to keep them out of the country. Then the people fear that the Mexicans who someone got into the country, will send their youth to attack their homes.  So they build a wall around their tiny communities. The existence of these walls makes it perfectly clear—the people live in fear. Is that a sign of a guilty conscience or cowardice?

What will happen to the modern Americans in their insular communities? Will they survive or perish as the Anasazi did? Will the same forces like climate change that drove the Anasazi to abandon their cliff top homes cause the modern suburbanites to abandon theirs?  Abbey writing in the 1960s, long before the time the gated communities became so popular, described the situation this way,

Long ago the cliff dwellings were abandoned. Were the inhabitants actually destroyed by the enemies they had always dreaded? Or were they reduced and driven out by disease, by something as undramatic as bad sanitation, pollution of their water and air?  Or could it have been finally, simply their own fears which poisoned their lives beyond hope of recovery and drove them into exile and extinction?

What a great question?  In my view, it is likely that the modern American gated “community” will suffer the same fate as the ancient cliff dwellings of the Anasazi.  No wall no matter how high, can keep the barbarians out. The Romans learned that the hard way, so did the Anasazi, and so will the modern suburbanites. It probably won’t be actual external enemies that lead to their doom. It is much more likely that it will be the combined effects of pollution and minds being cooked in the juices of their own lurid fears.

Perhaps this is what the modern gated communities will look like in a hundred years?

Fear Porn

Fear Porn

 

In recent years many people in the west have characterized refugee issues as security decisions rather than humanitarian issues. This has had important negative consequences for refugees. As Jennifer Welsh said in her Massey lectures, “One implication of this ‘securitization’ of asylum seekers is the tendency to reframe the responsibility to tackle refugee situations as a matter of peace and security and to focus on immediate causes of displacement.”

This approach causes many people, such as my own current Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, to concentrate on the destabilizing effects of the presence of refugees on neighbouring country’s security, communal cohesion, and national identity. People like Falk believe that refugees are dangerous. They fear refugees and therefore make poor decisions about them.

Such irrational fears have spread around the world but particularly to the United States. Of course, as I have indicated elsewhere, the United States is a peculiarly fearful nation. They especially fear the influx of migrants and immigrants and refugees from the Muslim world and from Mexico. It is not an accident that many of these people that they fear have skin colours other than white. In my opinion this is the legacy of the American history of racism going back for centuries to its horrible treatment of indigenous people and importation of African-American slaves and their offspring.

President Trump himself was filled with venom and anxiety at the thought of the approaching brown hordes. Then he turned to filling his supporters with fear. That is something he has a unique talent for. Of course it is easy to mock absurd fears, but fears are important. They are used to generate hate against people seeking asylum. Stoking fear and hate in a democratic state is a very dangerous thing.

Donald Trump capitalized on these fears to get elected President in 2016. It did not matter that the United States had an extremely onerous vetting process of all such possible entrants to the country. It’s not a perfect system, but it is probably the best in the world.

Trump also tried again, with less success, to capitalize on such fears just before the Mid-term elections in 2018. He warned of the so-called “Caravan” of refugees and asylum seekers heading from Central American including Hondurans and others to the United States. Donald Trump and his close ally Fox News ratcheted up the fear to such an extent that millions of Americans feared this group of rag-tag people consisting by most accounts of a lot of women with young children.

The Republicans claimed the Democrats were organizing this crusade and that they believed in completely open borders. Trump was a master of manipulating this to his own advantage. He said he would send 5,200 troops. Later he increased this to 15,000 troops. Not just border guards, but troops. According to the Washington Post, “This appears to be the largest such peacetime deployment of active duty U.S. troops a the border in a century.” This was more troops than the Americans sent to fight super scary ISIS. The American troops were also ordered to secure the border walls (remember many already exist) with razor wire.

Of course all of these security people were being added to a border already hyper-militarized with 16,000 border guards, 5,000 ICE personnel, 2100 National Guards and many deportation agents. All this to oppose men, women and children who might throw rocks.

Many Americans interviewed on television said this was an invasioneven when they were more than a thousand miles away. It became a huge election issue and fired up his base of supporters. This was not surprising since Trump and his Fox allies relentlessly fueled the fears. Sean Hannity, watched by millions of Americans, repeatedly referred to this as “an invasion” as did other Fox contributors. He also referred to it as a “a mob of humanity.” Donald Trump himself repeatedly referred to it as an imminent “invasion of our country.”

All of this was done while the invading “army” without weapons was a couple of months away. What kind of invading forces give the target country a 3 months heads up?

Would young mothers take their children on such a perilous journey if they were not fleeing something they really feared? Like gangs that were to a large extent fueled by American deportees returning to their presumed homeland. These gangs were often fueled by drug money from American consumers. Should we not show some empathy for them? Or should we listen instead to demagogues? These people are suffering; they should not be demonized.

Even other stations, besides Fox, are getting on the bandwagon against these demonsapproaching the border? Trump tweeted, “the caravans are made up of some very tough fighters.” Later in the same day, October 31, 2018, 5 days before Mid-term elections he tweeted again, “Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border. Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our border is sacred Must come in legally. TURN AROUDND!”  Clearly he wanted to scare the crap out of people. Some have called it Trump’s scaravan.

Talking about the Caravan while helping a Republican candidate in Florida Trump said this about the Democrat rival,

 

“Andrew Gilliam wants to throw open your borders to drug dealers, human traffickers, gang members, and criminal aliens. That’s great. That’s what we want. Let those people pour in folks. Let them join come join you on your front lawn.”

 

Trump is a master of stoking fears.

There were actually 4 caravans that appeared to be heading toward the U.S. The Washington Postdescribed the situation this way,

 

Military planners anticipate that only a small percentage of Central American migrants travelling in the caravans U.S. President Donald Trump characterizes as “an invasion” will reach the U.S. border, even as a force of more than 7,000 active-duty troops mobilizes to prevent them from entering the country.

According to military planning documents, about 20 percent of the roughly 7,000 migrants are likely to complete the journey. The unclassified report was obtained by Newsweek on Thursday.

If the military’s assessment is accurate, it would mean the U.S. is positioning five soldiers on the border for every one caravan member expected to arrive here.

“Based on historic trends, it is assessed that only a small percentage of the migrants will likely reach the border,” the report says.”

 

It turned out the military planners were not as worried about the potential migrants as the American President. The military report was more concerned about Americanmilitia groups eager to lend their well-armed support. As the Washington Postsaid, “The assessment also indicates military planners are concerned about the presence of “unregulated armed militia” groups showing up at the border in areas where U.S. troops will operate.”

Trump was also quick to characterize the members of the caravan as scary individuals, even though most other reports, other than Fox News of course, said they were mainly women and children fleeing violence in their own countries often caused by gang members that had been deported there by American authorities. Trump described them this way at different times: “many young strong men,” “very tough fighters,” “terrorists from the Middle East,” “hardened criminals,” “lepers,” “people with small pox and TB,”  and “a lot of bad people.” Another Republican added, “pedophiles,” and “wife beaters”. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else. Added to that, according to the Washington Post, “He also insists the number of migrants heading north is much larger than estimates put forward by U.S. and Mexican officials.” Of course Trump has never allowed the facts to stand in the way of the hateful or fearful messages he wants to send.

Trump said similar things in April that everyone forgot about. Trump painted a picture of a large group of migrants near the border as rapists and pillagers. It turned out to be 400 people requesting asylum which they are legally entitled to do.

Then Trump added that if any of these people throw rocks the troops should fire their guns. Reminds me of the Gaza strip. Is that what American has come to?

It was no accident that Trump made a huge issue of these caravans a few weeks before the American midterm elections of 2018. He did not want to wait until the potential migrants arrived as that might blunt the political message he wanted to use in those elections. Now he is doing it again to gain support for his big beautiful wall.

Trump, together with many of his supporters loves what Bill Maher called Fear Porn. Why is that? I think that Trump like populists and demagogues around the world uses fear to drum up support for his policies. He does that because his ideas have little rational basis. How else can he get people to support them? Porn sells.