On the efficacy of fear


I was going to write this essay earlier this month, probably after a GOP debate. But, life intervened, and I set it aside.

I certainly wasn’t expecting the Paris attacks. But I should have expected the reaction among most everyone on the Right.

While Parisians are crowding outdoor cafes and continuing with their lives as a raised fist against the fear which Daesh wants them to live under, conservatives in this country are running around flinging fearful fecal matter in every direction, warning that Daesh is under your bed, or that the orphaned refugee could be a sleeper agent ready to detonate a bomb at your nearest NFL stadium.

However, I’m not going to say that this is against American tradition. The fact is that the United States has always had a very vibrant Party of Fear.

This, in many ways, is to be expected. A country founded on the expropriation of the native population and the enslavement of another population will always have a healthy fear that what it stole will in turn be stolen. Thieves are the most paranoid of people.

First it was the Irish Catholics. Then it was the southern Europeans. Then the eastern European Jews. During all this, of course, the Yellow Peril was always good for a strong dose of fear. Then the various Red Scares (1920s and 1950s). The US has never had a dearth of people to fear. It can be quite accurately stated that fear is the motive force of this country.

So when my well-meaning liberal friends say that the scapegoating of Syrian refugees fleeing the same violence visited upon Paris is “not who we are”, I sadly have to say that history tells a different story. The meme going around Twitter is the fact that in 1939 a healthy majority of Americans were against resettling Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the US. And, of course, a few years later, American citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up into concentration camps for the duration of World War II. Fear is an old friend of the Republic.

That doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be so. That doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to our history.

The wonderful thing about humans is that, given the right conditions, they can evolve. They can become better. They can become more than who they were. Just anecdotally, I see this in my own life. I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of virtue. But I can see that I’m a better person now than I was in my youth, that I’ve grown and I’ve expanded my circle of concern. Every human has this potential within herself.

The problem is that fear is strong. To quote the poet: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Fear speaks to our basest, most unevolved instincts. It speaks to our reptile brain, the foundation of our evolution. Flee or fight. Sometimes both. Fear is the “natural” reaction.

Empathy and compassion are traits which belong to our evolved selves. They are learned. They are not instinctual. Someone who has developed neither can easily slough off the images of dead children and screaming mothers. It doesn’t concern them. It doesn’t impact them. It takes an entire culture to inculcate empathy and compassion. And that has always been a tough slog, the world over.

But the fact that it is possible is the hope upon which we hang. What Daesh and the US right share is a total slavery to fear. Fear of the different; fear of change; fear of losing power.

In the Middle East, Daesh must be confronted with the combined fury of an outraged world. At home, it must be confronted with the assertion that “we will not live in fear”. We will go to cinemas. We will go to concerts. We will conduct our lives because we are their masters, not you.

Fear has an efficacy if you let it enter your soul. Shutting your gates to fear is not “natural”. But it is the only choice which will allow the world to survive and prosper. Any other choice leads to the abyss.

133 Responses to “On the efficacy of fear”

  1. 1 Niliathiel
    November 19, 2015 at 2:55 pm


  2. 7 susanne
    November 19, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Good morning TOD.
    I’m lifting this quotation from a FB rant I read today: ‘ People say that the Syrian refugees are not like what happened to the Jewish people or to Japanese-Americans. They are right. They are right because in 2015, we should know better than those who lived in the 1930s and 1940s. We should know that by turning our faces away from man-made problems and treating everyone who “looks like our enemy” with hate and indifference creates the environment for genocides to occur. ‘

    It’s that last line that really captured the issue for me–

    ” treating everyone who looks like our enemy with hate and indifference creates the environment for genocides to occur. “

  3. 9 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 3:06 pm

  4. 11 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    LL, my hats off to your truth-telling prowess! Thank you Sir!

  5. 12 jacquelineoboomer
    November 19, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Absolutely magnificent, LL. Absolutely. I’m totally overcome by it.

    Thank you. And carry on!

  6. 13 forus50
    November 19, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    LL, Thanks, an awesome post.

    And this fits right in with it.

  7. 17 carolyn
    November 19, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Note to Chris Cilizza: President Obama is smarter and craftier than Paul Ryan could ever be. He’s just comparing Ryan to Boehner….who makes Ryan look ‘smart and crafty.”

  8. November 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Over on TPV we have one faction calling for primarying the 48 Dems, and another faction saying that it’s comments like that that show why we never win.

    This was my response:

    I would argue that the support was there for those 48 Dems to vote against the bill. The blowback they’re getting is precisely BECAUSE they voted for the bill. Again, I’m not saying primary them and let them never darken my door. But to say that they deserve no criticism is also a non-starter. Again, I do hope Harry can keep the Senate Dems in line. But here you have Chuck Schumer, who pretty much has a seat for life, saying that the refugee flow has to be halted. His seat is nowhere in jeopardy, and he’s caving to the fuckery the GOP is fomenting.

    • 19 Don
      November 19, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Thought provoking read as always, LL, every time we have this type of horror happen the usual suspects take their positions on cue. The Conservatives do their dance and the Liberals do their dance. This seems somewhat different in that some Democrats are dancing side by side with the Republicans. I have no idea how this country is going to respond, but I do have hope that cooler heads will prevail.

    • November 19, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you, LL. I’ve told Rep. Kind I have never been so ashamed of anyone I’ve ever voted for. (Even Blo-Boy!)

    • 21 nathkatun7
      November 19, 2015 at 9:20 pm

      LL, for a young man you dispense so much wisdom. Thanks again for another of you wise commentary that’s absolutely a must read.

  9. 22 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 3:36 pm

  10. November 19, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Harry smash

  11. 30 kid kanga
    November 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    I’ve been getting into on FB with some friends that should know better as well. Still debating if i want a round 2 by sending LL’s piece to them or not… its the same grp of people that are fairly priveledged, and watch way too much cable news.

    It sure seems to go together, this fear of others along with a need to be superior in some way. I’m not an expert, but something i’ve been feeling from certain people i know….

  12. 31 57andfemale
    November 19, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    I thought Bernie was giving his important “Democratic Socialist” speech this afternoon, after which every American will take to the streets, learn the error of their ways. Has it not happened yet?

    • 32 No Child Left Behind
      November 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      Wake me up when the revolutionners March on.

    • 34 57andfemale
      November 19, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Stump speech with a little more detail. Roosevelt was a “democratic socialist”. And everything is wrong in America. Not one, single, effing nod to the work done by this POTUS and VPOTUS.

      He is a small, angry man.

      • 35 nathkatun7
        November 19, 2015 at 9:35 pm

        It seems to me the the holier than thou leftists have something in common with the extreme right wingers: they are both quite good at re-writing history. If FDR was a “Democratic Socialist,” as Bernie Sanders claims, how come he dropped Henry Wallace and picked Harry Truman to be his VP?

  13. 36 jackiegrumbacher
    November 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you, LL, for making it clear that bigotry and fear of the “other” is an intrinsic part of American history and is very much what this country is. The so-called Home of the Brave has a very cowardly record when it comes to treating those who have sought refuge here. From Abe Lincoln to Barack Obama, great leaders have called on the better angels of our nature, but they have rarely been heard. There has hardly been an immigrant (or Native American) group in history that hasn’t been treated cruelly and subjected to outright bigotry and violence. It’s a sad and shameful legacy that we seem to be a very long way from redeeming.

    Today I’m especially ashamed of my fellow citizens and their so-called chosen representatives. It makes me sick to think of a Senate leader like Schumer and a bunch of weak-kneed Congressional Dems voting against our President and with the Republican bigots. They’ve chosen to sell their souls for what? votes a year from now? campaign contributions? How cheaply they can be bought.

  14. 37 andogriff
    November 19, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Excellent post, LL! You absolutely nailed it, as always. Thank you for your insight yet again! Our president will veto this one too.

  15. 38 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 4:19 pm

  16. November 19, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    It’s about to get real ugly in Chicago


    Judge orders release of video showing fatal shooting by police officer

    A Cook County judge on Thursday ordered the release of a video showing a Chicago police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him.

    The city of Chicago filed an immediate motion to hold off on the release of the video pending an emergency appeal.


  17. 41 donna dem 4 obama
    November 19, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Thank you LL

    I am sickened by the rhetoric of these so-called leaders in this country. The world is looking on us with shame!!!

  18. 42 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 5:08 pm

  19. 45 Obama Grandmama
    November 19, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Just emailed my Dem Rep that voted yes on the immigration bill along with the GOP. I let him know I was not pleased with his politically fear based vote.

  20. 46 donna dem 4 obama
    November 19, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I’ll just leave this right here:

    He fought in Iraq, but back home, he’s struggling to get by. Fight for $15 advocates that everyone be paid a decent wage.

  21. November 19, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Schumer now says he’s against the refugee bill. I doubt the GOP will get the 60 votes it needs to vote on the bill, much less the 67 to override a veto.

    • November 19, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Sen. Mark Warner was on MSNBC afew minutes ago and he does not support the House bill either. Paul Ryan is a disgusting creep like John Boehner. I just can not understand why Democrats do not come out to vote knowing how these Tea party racists right wing Republicans are.

    • November 19, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      That’s good news. The conservadem senators are abandoning this bid for sabotage.

  22. 52 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 5:25 pm

  23. November 19, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    OT, but important:

    • 54 susanne
      November 19, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      Thank you for this. There is a huge disconnect between Americans who think they’re suffering because they can’t instantly buy everything they see and want, and people around the world who are actually suffering. Taking a moment to imagine a city without sanitation services may be unsettling, but without imagination and courage, problems such as this will only get worse.

  24. November 19, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    You are on point, LL.
    Thank you.

  25. 56 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 5:30 pm

  26. November 19, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    I’m so furious right now, I can’t even see straight. STAND UP, DEMS!!!!

  27. November 19, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Hillary Clinton’s major donor. I’m DISGUSTED, is she?

  28. November 19, 2015 at 5:47 pm

  29. November 19, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Beauty and sanity break:

  30. November 19, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Because I keep having to tell myself that this is my job.

    And, on that note: My library system has set up a committee to see how we can incorporate My Brother’s Keeper into programming and projects. And guess who got chosen to be on said committee? Moi. Our first meeting is Monday, so I’ll keep everyone posted.

  31. November 19, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    • November 19, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      In times like these, I’m just completely freaked out by the fact that circumstances prevented Joe Biden from entering the presidential race. I’m absolutely convinced he is the right man for these times. Americans are so gullible and so vulnerable to fear propaganda, they would need a sort of daddy figure they can identify with in order to stay calm.

      President Obama is a wonderful human being and a unique, exceptional president. But his kind of leadership, aspirational, rational, nuanced, sophisticated, is a bit less effective when people are in a panic. Joe Biden is exactly the kind of guy, with exactly the right style of language and persona, who could connect with a great portion of those people who are succumbing to fear propaganda.

      Looks like AMerica needs a reassuring daddy right now. I hope Joe works hand in hand with the president to counter what’s happening. Fast.

      I mean…. it’s like a nightmare. Trump going total Hitler right now. Serious people talking about restricting the civil liberties of Muslims. How fast can things devolve !!!!??

  32. 71 tnmtngirl
    November 19, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Wanted to share some LTE’s from The Tennessean in response to the fear-filled state rep. Quick read. They are all excellent.


  33. November 19, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Good post, LL. A pivotal juncture in the life of a nation or an individual is whether we learn to see our unconscious and instinctually based fears for what they are and let our higher and more essential nature rule us. Great human beings like MLK, Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Bishop Tutu, and our dear President Obama point the way.

  34. November 19, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    • 74 arapaho415
      November 19, 2015 at 6:27 pm

      GA meta.

      Thanks for posting, was wondering how my rep Brownley voted (before 2010 redistricting was in solid R district, thank you CA voters for demanding a non-partisan election commission to undo decades of gerrymandering (district used to include parts of Capps’ district).

      • November 19, 2015 at 6:47 pm

        You’re most welcome, arapaho. I’m so ashamed of Dems who voted for this bill. We are witnessing a very dark period in our nation’s history.

        • 76 lmrj
          November 19, 2015 at 7:02 pm

          Thank you for posting this meta! SO ANGRY right now! Told my rep (who voted yes) not one dime until the Dems start standing up for what’s right and stand with their president!

        • 77 arapaho415
          November 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm

          OK, I read this wrong.

          Can’t believe my Dem rep voted for Ryan’s bill. She’s got TONS of Syrian-Americans and Japanese-Americans in her district, which is the epitome of sub/ex-urban living with pretty much ideal conditions (geographic, economic, demographic [quite diverse, though African Americans are under-represented :(]).


    • 78 lmrj
      November 19, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      VERY ANGRY to see that my Rep. Ami Bera voted YES! This IS NOT why I voted for him twice! Just sent a scathing e-mail to him!

  35. 81 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Glad to see my actual Rep Hank Johnson (and my spirit Rep John Lewis) didn’t sign on the the fear-mongering madness.

  36. 82 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:19 pm

  37. 86 arapaho415
    November 19, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    GA TODville.

    Here’s what the CA west coast looked like three months after Pearl Harbor.

    • 87 Lynn
      November 19, 2015 at 7:07 pm

      Spencer Tracy did a movie called ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ that tried to bring some of that horror to the american public.

      Another injustice swept away by indifference, but I’m sure you know more about that first hand, araapahoe.

      • 88 arapaho415
        November 19, 2015 at 7:25 pm

        Thanks, Lynn.

        Will need to locate that movie, am not familiar with Spencer Tracy’s body of work.

        • 89 Lynn
          November 19, 2015 at 7:54 pm

          The sad thing, Arapahoe, it’s still the same old us and them crap.,

          The movie was a bit controversial, but never got the coverage that ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ did.

  38. November 19, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    AWesome Essay,,,LL….

    yes our country has a history of ugliness…but we also have a history of struggle…that has moved us forward…onew painstaking step as a time….as you said….

    “Empathy and compassion are traits which belong to our evolved selves. They are learned. They are not instinctual. Someone who has developed neither can easily slough off the images of dead children and screaming mothers. It doesn’t concern them. It doesn’t impact them. It takes an entire culture to inculcate empathy and compassion. And that has always been a tough slog, the world over.

    But the fact that it is possible is the hope upon which we hang.”

    yes indeed…

    JackieG talked about this earlier today…

    it is OUR hands what we do….

    We will not let the darkness take over our country..cause we will fight…

  39. 91 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:44 pm

  40. 92 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:45 pm

  41. 93 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:49 pm

  42. November 19, 2015 at 6:50 pm

  43. 95 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:50 pm

  44. 96 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:52 pm

  45. 97 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:53 pm

  46. 98 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:54 pm

  47. 99 Lynn
    November 19, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    300 million plus weapons are in private hands in this country

    The proud owners of said weapons are loudly willing to take on the military force of the USA.

    And a few pathetic refugees send them in a tizzy.

  48. 100 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    • 101 Vicki
      November 19, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      Kal Penn’s comments are on point.
      The bad news is that the drum beats demanding war are unlikely to cease.
      Why are 1/2 the American political media still in Paris?

      • November 19, 2015 at 7:37 pm

        they sucking up as much rhetoric for ratings as possible,,,,why is MSNBC still using the term…TERROR IN Paris….why is Chris Mathews beating the war drum and promoting anti refugee BS….but the good news is that there is push back going on,,,

  49. November 19, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    LOVE our POTUS.

  50. 104 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 7:05 pm

  51. November 19, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    We have not learned a damned thing in 95 years. Why?

  52. 110 globalcitizenlinda
    November 19, 2015 at 7:07 pm

  53. November 19, 2015 at 7:12 pm

  54. 116 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    This is awesome! I know a couple of veterans who could use this right now!

  55. November 19, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    BRACE Yourself …not for the video…but the scramble to say that it was justified…

  56. November 19, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    The President truly does have a “S” on his chest

  57. 121 globalcitizenlinda
    November 19, 2015 at 7:24 pm

  58. November 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Jared Fogle (Subway Pervert) sentenced to 15 years, 8 months. Not nearly enough for this filthy predator!

  59. 123 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 7:33 pm

  60. 124 Lynn
    November 19, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    We lost Abraham, Martin, John and Bobby.

    It’s on us. We got Barack Hussein Obama…2 of the proudest votes I’ve ever cast

    Keep on TODers.

  61. 125 Dudette
    November 19, 2015 at 7:38 pm

  62. November 19, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    I heard that France says that it will continue to accept Syria refugees. What does that say about France and what does it say about the country that claims to be a christian country? These racists ass Republicans and 47 Democrats ought to be ashame of themselves.

  63. November 19, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Hey, PRETTYFOOT, could you use two free tickets to see James LLoyd at South tonight? 9:30 pm show.

  64. November 19, 2015 at 7:57 pm

  65. November 19, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    They wanna party like it’s 1948.

    They don’t want to accept the responsibility for if they roll upon the ‘wrong one’…

    and your teeth turn into Chicklets on the floor…

    The question should be…..

    Why the phuck do you think YOU SHOULD say something offensive to minorities.

  66. 133 Nena20409
    November 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Excellent Piece, LL.
    Thank you, LL.

Comments are currently closed.







Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.



RSS Obama White House.gov

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS WH Tumblr

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Steve Benen

  • Most GOP voters don't think criminal charges should disqualify Trump from running
  • Lessons from around the globe in 'Teachers' book
  • How AR-15 bullets impact the human body
  • Sheryl Crow: Moms and dads in Tennessee want sensible legislation
  • 'Stay curious, be creative' and more leadership traits



Blog Stats

  • 43,346,953 hits
November 2015

%d bloggers like this: