Fear Factor

Ebola, ISIS, the Border: So Much to Fear, So Little Time!

If there’s a pandemic or crisis that we should really be worried about, it’s this relentless election-time fear-mongering.

If you're not afraid, you are clearly not paying attention. So much to be fearful of, so little time!

If there is a pandemic to be actually worried about, it's the pandemic of fear as we approach the midterm elections. Election time almost always is a time for fear-mongering, but this particular season seems to be more so than in the past.

Ebola, a horrific disease for sure, is surely threatening all the people of the United States, despite the tiny number of people who have contracted it while treating people who actually have it. However, the fear of Ebola has infected vast numbers of Americans who will never have the opportunity to come into contact with someone who actually has it. But be afraid!

ISIS, the more common name for the so-called Islamic State, is a threat to everyday Americans. After all, I heard it on Fox News! Although this group of barbaric and inhumane humans is having a tough time conquering the geography they actually inhabit, their real goal is to come after us. And they will do so by simply walking across our Southern border with Mexico, because, you know, that border is so porous and unprotected.

Which brings us to undocumented people in this country. You should be afraid of them too! They'll take your jobs (never mind that you don't want to do the burdensome and humble jobs they are willing to do)! They are only here to reap the rewards of the American safety net (such as it is) and thereby raise your taxes.

And in a sleight of hand mindboggling in its absurdity, politicians are combining these three fears into one by getting you exercised over ISIS terrorists coming into the United States from Mexico, infected with Ebola. All because this president (who has presided over more deportations in his first term than George W. Bush did in his entire presidency) refuses to take these fears seriously, as does the entire Democratic Party.

And just for good measure, why don't we add on our fears about race? It's interesting, isn't it, that these Ebola-infected ISIS terrorists are only a threat from our brown-skinned Southern border, not from the white-skinned northern border with Canada? White people, after all, just couldn't be this bad. The tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent reaction to it, only underscores the threat of a non-white population that is seething with anger and ready to get back at the white population that oppresses them. So much to be afraid of here.

Religion is not immune from fear-mongering either. The famous New England preacher Jonathan Edwards is perhaps most noted for his "sinners in the hands of an angry God" sermon, in which he had people collapsing out of fear of a God who dangles them over the burning fires of hell, held by a spider web-thin strand of hope. One gets the impression that God would take great delight in letting them go. Modern religion is no different. Many conservative religionists believe that "they" are coming to get us, to force their secular beliefs on us, and win the so-called War on Religion. Much of the evangelical church seems bent on raising their members' paranoia and anxiety about the culture that is hostile to them. And it sure does fill the coffers on Sunday morning.

Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It is indeed the human being's natural and appropriate response to danger. Jews were right to fear the Nazis. Bicycle riders are prudent to fear being clipped by a passing car. The unemployed have a right to be anxious about the ravages on their families exacted by their unemployment. Americans have a right to fear over-zealous and unwarranted surveillance by the NSA.

Oddly, though, Americans are not fearful enough when it comes to real threats. Humans seem to be the only species that fouls our own nest, perfectly willing not to fear the environmental calamity our present course of inaction will surely wreak on the entire world, unless we reduce our carbon emissions, or entirely deny the science that foretells it. Smokers (I am one) seem entirely willing to live with the danger of self destructive behavior, in hopes of escaping its devastating consequences. Racism, income inequality, and a rising political and financial oligarchy threaten the very existence of American democracy, yet we are paralyzed when it comes to talking honestly about these issues.

But fear of something that is not actually a threat is not rightful fear, but rather paranoia. Feeling under attack may be a great way to raise money in churches and political races, but it's a terrible way to solve the problems that actually face us. But in order to discern the difference between things that rightly should be feared, and those that shouldn't, we need to be willing to talk about our fears and face into them. Which brings us to FDR's first inaugural speech assertion that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." Indeed. Nothing may actually threaten America more than our own fears.

Perhaps the worst fallout from all this is that when we are gripped by fear, we usually make terrible decisions. Like in elections. All of us should be going to the polls to vote this week. It is the most important civic duty we have as citizens, and in some ways, it's the our only shot at changing things for good. But beware of voting based on the fears stoked by politicians for their own political gain -- on both sides. It's a terrible way to make the important decisions about whom to vote for.

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And know this: No politician is going to take away your fear and anxiety. If you're already fearful about contracting Ebola, finding an ISIS terrorist at your door, or the anxiety you feel when you encounter a person of color, you won't find any relief on the day after the election. That's work you and I have to do for ourselves, every day. We need to separate trumped-up fears from the legitimate ones. The state of the nation and the state of humankind may depend on it. Now that's something to be fearful about.