Monday, May 25, 2009

Be Not Afraid

I will agree with the neo-cons on one thing: it is a dangerous time for America.

That's about the extent of my agreement. It's not dangerous for the reasons they say most loudly, which is that unless we spend billions on defense – and the expense of our own citizenry – then we will all be murdered in our beds. They also say that any administration that is not theirs will hasten the day when we're all speaking Chinese, Korean, Russian, or even Spanish.

Otherwise intelligent and amusing men are working very hard to keep us in a state of fear. It was easier to do this when the Soviet Union was around, but now that they're gone, we are being led to believe that the sort of threat that Al Qaeda and other Middle Eastern terrorists are making is one that will destroy our country just as the good old USSR would have done.

The sad – and dangerous – thing is that so many people are willing to believe this nonsense.

The reason this fear-mongering has been possible is that terrorists were able to attack the continental United States.

It frightened us into approving and funding two distant wars.

It frightened us into accepting the abandonment of our principles of justice and establishing a wholly spurious new category of prisoner called “enemy combatant” that somehow wasn't a solider or spy in the conventional sense.

It frightened us into spending billions on setting up a new, completely unnecessary department called “Homeland Security.” I had always thought that was what the Department of Defense was supposed to do. If they don't do that any more, why wasn't their budget cut?

Okay, I'm sorry: I know the above has elevated the blood pressures of a lot of people reading this, but the fact is that scary as Al Qaeda is, they are not in the same league as Hitler or Uncle Joe Stalin.

What Al Qaeda did on September 11 was abhorrent. It was psychologically scarring and changed the way we felt about our own safety. In no way do I deny that. Nor does it reduce my sympathy and grief felt for those who died and their families.

However, there are two questions about 9/11 that have never been fully addressed:

1.Why were so many people asleep at the switch? Why wasn't the Secretary of Defense sacked? Why wasn't the head of the FBI shown the door? Why wasn't the head of the CIA kicked out? These are the agencies that failed. Possibly the Secretary of Transportation should have gone too along with the head of the FAA.

2.Why was there never a serious public examination of why even this small group hated America so much? Was none of it our fault? Okay, there are cases when a complete stranger walks up to someone and stabs them to death or shoots them, but even those cases have some background to the perpetrator.

The neo-cons would have you believe that you're not a real American – and certainly not a real Republican – if you want answers to those questions.

And that's what there is to be afraid of.

How not to be afraid

1.Be rational. Ask to see evidence and question the source of the evidence. As soon as people start blustering or making clever remarks about those who ask for evidence, or cast apersions on sound rational argument, you should smell a rat big time.

2.Demand higher standards from public officials. Make them deliver sensible results for a reasonable cost within a reasonable time. If they don't, find out why. Ask to speak to their supervisors, and their supervisors. Don't give up, it's your money they're spending.

Hint: politicians will reply to your letters but deliberately not answer the question you asked. Don't be satisfied. Write again. Write to the newspaper and tell them that so-and-so fails to answer questions.

3.Keep informed. Don't just read the magazines and newspapers that agree with you. Listen to news from sources you don't trust. Listen to the radio on the internet, not just from American stations but from Canada, the UK, Radio Moscow – anyone who is saying something about America even if it's a lie – because that is what the world is thinking about us. Understanding that is a big step towards setting things right.

4.Push for higher standards in education. The dumbing down is real and it is the result of those who should be in authority caving in to public pressure and fashion. Those people should be in their jobs because they know more about education than you do, otherwise what is the point of insisting they go to college and get advanced degrees?

5.Be honest with yourself when listening to new ideas. Kant said that you should only read the books that make you angry, the rest you could have written yourself. Be critical, but rationally critical.

6.Try to develop an historical perspective and see what is happening, here and abroad in some sort of context. (For some, the last Bush administration made a lot more sense if you thought of Roman emperors rather than previous American presidents).

7.Accept that there is no God-given right for America to survive; decide why it should, and then decide how you are going to help ensure that it does.

8.Don't buy the false dichotomy about being with us or against us. You're more complex than that, and so are the issues. Most of the issues today are so tough that the phrase “If you think there's a simple answer, then you don't understand the question” is true 99.5% of the time.

9.Don't let the threat of terrorists stop you from doing anything. (Okay, wandering through parts of Baghdad singing “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” may not be a great idea, but don't let it stop you doing sensible things.

10. Stop criticizing America, the President, the Republicans, the Democrats, Gays, Feminists, Muslims, Creationists and other groups and do something about what you don't like.

FDR was right, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. At present, it's clouding our judgement and impairing our decision-making.


  1. I think you raise a great point in saying that Al Qaeda is not the same as Stalin or Hitler. Also, your questions regarding 9/11 are very well posed and should be answered, although many of those questions will likely remain mysteries to most of us. Your 10 points of 'how not to be afraid' are compelling and should widely read and understood. Great start to your blog Sarah!

  2. And I'll add that when we fear something or someone, we tend to retreat from that something, as well as our own rational faculties. Thus we have a Nation that will not debate the alleged abuses and excesses of its leaders (on both sides of the aisle), nor let due process and the rule of law actually prevail. Given all we've sacrificed to get here, one wishes it weren't so.