I was struck by the Epistle reading during Mass last Sunday – it's from I Peter iii, verse 14. There are, of course, many translations, but the essence seems to be that succumbing to not just the fear of others but to their own fears is a trap and a hindrance. It is certainly true that (to quote another verse) “sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof”, i.e we each have plenty of our own problems to worry about without getting drawn into the fears, anxieties, hang-ups, and phobias of others – getting infected, if you will.
And yet what is our society – and the world in general – but a hotbed of fear? And it seems especially accentuated for us, because we have more to lose – materially as well as in world-view terms. But most of it has nothing to do with our personal, direct experience – it is, rather, adopted. It is made part of our belief system, and thus becomes as real to us as an actual direct threat to our lives and well-being.
Now, much has been made of the role of the media in all this. Time was (and I remember) when you had to wait around all day for the evening news on the radio or TV, or the evening paper... or wait overnight for the morning paper. You could then indulge in reacting to the “outside world” for a while, but your everyday affairs still took precedence. But what do we have now? A 24-hour news cycle, hundreds of radio stations, TV channels, and the Internet, to augment the traditional “paper” media which have multiplied as well. And the question arises, or should – how much “news” is too much? Is this “global village” imploding, and collapsing of its own weight – its information overload? Is it really our duty as citizens to keep constant vigil – to be constantly on guard, with a panic button at the ready? Do we have the emotional capacity to “care” about everybody and everything that happens in the entire world? (Change.org is a good example of what happens when someone assumes that we all have the time and energy to attend to all the problems of the entire world population.) And, on a deeper level, has the world really gotten that much worse in only a generation or two, so that we cannot be allowed to rest, even for a moment – to turn it off? If this is true, then the “good old days” really were good – but on some level we know it's not that simple.
That's one line of questioning. Another, which has grown somewhat more popular of late, is – what is the function of all of this fear... anxiety... panic? Is it really to inform? It certainly doesn't make life any easier, so it must have something to do with survival, right? Except that pretty much any piece of “news” that one runs across carries with it an element of despair – that there's nothing any of us can do about it. Or actually there is – namely to run to the open arms of the government, since it is the only thing on earth powerful enough... wise enough... good enough... to protect us from the myriad threats that we are forced to encounter on a daily basis. And this agenda, if you will, is the very one that Michael Crichton presented so masterfully in his book “State of Fear” (published in 2004). The book is identified as “a novel”, but like so many good works of fiction that deal with the future, near future, or present, a canny reader will say “novel schmovel, this is the way things really are”. That is, we are being manipulated at all times -- “played like a fiddle” as the saying goes – not only by politicians but by all other species of fear-mongers as well. And what is the goal? Just to sell more tranquilizers – more liquor? Well, no – it's to increase (not maximize, note – that would be too much for the Regime to handle) helplessness and dependence up to some optimum point, where we would do the government's bidding without question, simply because of the terrible consequences that might result if we did otherwise.
And I shouldn't have to dwell on the irony of all this. After all, don't we constantly brag about our “freedoms” and our prosperity, and standard of living, as opposed to the poor benighted peoples of other lands (especially the ones we insist on invading – for their benefit, of course)? In fact, isn't “freedom from fear” one of the Four Freedoms articulated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address? And yet we have become a fear-ridden society, with anxieties and bogeymen that our forebears (of 1941 or earlier) could never have dreamed of. The Regime promised us freedom from fear, then with barely a skipped beat presented us with the terrors of the atomic bomb and nuclear warfare. And so it continues up to the present day, with enemies real and imagined... disease... hunger... pollution... overpopulation... global warming and/or cooling (depending on where you take your sample of the propaganda)... war... more war... even more war... and so on, ad infinitum. (And let's not forget “terror” -- the fear of fear. So perfect for our times!) And it's not as if some of these issues are purely imaginary; they may exist on some level. The question, rather, is how much time should the average citizen spend thinking – i.e. worrying – about them, as opposed to minding his own business, earning a living, and sitting – if there's any time left – under his own vine and fig tree?
Where does one look for inner peace, after all? Is it among what are called “tax receivers”? Their anger and resentment seems to know no bounds; the more benefits they receive the worse their attitude becomes. Is it, then, among the rich – the ambitious, the capitalists, the “one percent”? They're too busy trying to get even more. It's easier to find smiling people in the inner city than among millionaires and billionaires. Is it, then, among the middle class? But they are set upon by every side by the media and the popular culture; they are a majority that is treated like a minority (or the way minorities used to be treated before they became the majority) – with mocking and contempt. Every effort they make to improve their lot meets with push-back from the Regime; the tax code is designed to inflict diminishing returns on their efforts to better their material lot. They are, in effect, slaves who know not that they are slaves, except on those rare occasions when someone – typically a “tea party” type – sees a glimpse of the truth.
The peaceful people of this world tend, it seems to me, to be those with religious faith – not necessarily of a given creed but sufficient in strength to overcome the frustrations of the world and the fear those generate (or are generated – intentionally – by the overlords). And this is not to say that the answer to fear is to not care – to be apathetic, or a happy idiot. It's to put the material in its proper place, and allow faith (or philosophy, if you prefer) to have the upper hand. And yes, it's a delicate balance, because few are called to be complete mystics – spiritual beings who just happen – by accident, as it were – to be in the world. But on the other end of the scale, the dissatisfactions of materialism are all too apparent: Those who have not, want. Those who have, want more. Find me someone who has enough – who is satisfied – and I'll show you a non-materialistic individual.
And of course fear – which is how this got started – has to be directed at something, and that something is typically some kind of loss – of life, liberty, friends, fortune, job, health, home... all perfectly respectable things in themselves, but the fear of losing them can become an entity in itself, and corrode one's outlook on life, stifling enjoyment of the here and now. Our rulers claim they want a contented populace, but in fact they want anything but. Widespread contentment would put them out of work, so it can't be tolerated. In its place, we have a finely-tuned mechanism for generating and sustaining fear – not too much, not too little, just right. You can see it in the media on a daily basis – the constant cycle of crisis and reassurance – but not enough reassurance to totally eliminate the fear generated by the crisis. So the residual fear builds up; its names are legion and it begins to manifest itself in the physical – in terms of our mental and bodily health – which then becomes still another basis for increased dependence on the government. And there are always new things to be afraid of; they cascade around our heads each day. New ones are being created faster than new “terrorist” organizations. If we took each of them seriously, we'd have to be afraid of everything, and would sit, paralyzed, in a catatonic state of fear – which is, figuratively, the way a lot of us live already.
There are no simple prescriptions for this disease of ours, but a sense of proportion and of skepticism would certainly help, as well as the awareness that we are, in fact, being manipulated according to an agenda we had nothing to do with, and for purposes we have no interest in or use for. And rather than indulge in escapism (another tool of the Regime), confront the Fear Machine head-on. Put in a good day's work re-asserting your freedom – not just of body but of mind – and then sleep well, because the battle will resume with the morning light.