Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Fear

Time to get a little personal today, because I am not made of stone. I have spent every day since July 6th in a perpetual state of anxiety over the fate of the world. I have been getting what the great Hunter S Thompson referred to as "the fear." It started on the 6th when I watched the video of Alton Sterling's killing at the hands of the Baton Rouge police. Two years ago after watching Tamir Rice get killed by the Cleveland police I resolved never to watch one of those videos again, because the images from Rice's death have been haunting my idle thoughts ever since. In Alton Sterling's case I suddenly felt some kind of duty to bear witness, and it was much more horrifying than I could have imagined. I soon learned of Philando Castile's murder, which was just as horrifying. I spent a good half hour that day sobbing in front of my computer, feeling helpless. Every day since has been full of some kind of horror.

Having the summer off, I am stewing in the misery. I am on Twitter all day, and if an hour goes by when I am not, I wonder what new horror awaits me. On Thursday I checked in on the news before leaving for an evening session at the gym. Once I got there the slaughter in Nice was plastered all over the televisions. That night I finally cracked a bit. The recent events were already building on things that had been shaking me, from the mass murder in Orlando to Brexit to the continuing prospect of a Trump presidency. I am fairly skeptical about the power of prayer; I tend to think that the unseen force that animates the universe cares little or not at all for the fate of humanity. (If it did it would have a lot to answer for.) But Thursday night I walked out of the gym slathered in sweat, walked across a baking parking lot, got into my car, and fervently prayed. In that moment I again felt completely helpless.

Of course, things only got worse. That night the president's televised roundtable on police violence was terribly framed, and only served to make everyone mad at him and to confirm them in their opinions. I knew watching it that nothing was going to change. The next day the attempted coup in Turkey led to hundreds of dead and the possibility of an authoritarian crackdown by Erdogan. Today after an hour away from Twitter I learned of the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge.

It is not just that horror seems to pile on top of horror, it is that there is no end in sight. Every terror attack gives more and more power to the forces of bigotry. In Europe and America the reactionaries are using the violence for their own ends, just as much as the radicals are. The likes of Le Pen, Fortyn, Gingrich, Boris Johnson, and Trump exult in the blood of the innocents, calling for eradication, deportation, and "law and order." All the while restricting access to firearms is off of America's political table, making more mass shootings an inevitability. The murder of police officers is making attempts to hold police accountable even more difficult. That will mean more killings by edgy police, and then probably more killings in return. Even if Trump loses, the politics in this country are so divided that nothing will change for better. Nothing. Things will only get worse. Trump has introduced white supremacist nationalism into the American mainstream, and as whites get more resentful in a nation that's less white, their anger will only get more powerful. Calls to deport or strip basic rights from Muslims have also been normalized by Trump. And if Trump wins...well, my mind cannot bear to contemplate such a catastrophe.

American politics will only get more uglier and more violent. Europe will only get more xenophobic. Erdogan will only get more authoritarian. Russia and China will only get more nationalistic. The mass shootings will only get bigger and more common. The center will not hold. Time for a beer.


EnonZ said...

If you are at all familiar with the literature on fear and risk assessment, you know that we tend to focus on the wrong things. I try to keep a certain emotional distance from news of murder and not obsess with the details like the way we stare with fascination at a horrific auto crash. Cain slays Abel is not really news, at least not really important news.

On the day 84 were murdered in Nice, globally about 800 women died of complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Some 3500 died of trauma from auto crashes (very few of these are actually "accidents" - that's a category error - they were caused by human error, inattention, intoxication and aggression). WHO statistics.

I can't really do much about the occasional murder. And despite all the media frenzy, murders by extremists of all stripes are truly occasional. Except to the people involved, they are statistically trivial in the larger scheme of things.

I can do something about other bad things in the world. Give a book to a poor child. Send a contribution to MSF. Support girls' education. Stand up and talk to the city council. Support safe streets initiatives. Always vote. Teach gun safety. Commit random acts of kindness.

Concentrate on more important things that you can actually do something about. You might feel better.

Terry said...

I am so sorry to learn you are suffering like this. It comes to me daily but I fend it off the best I can. I know intellectually that there are far more good people than bad ones and that the bad ones get 99% of the newsfeed. I sign online petitions for progressive causes, and I support a small handful of organizations monthly but my finances are very slim and there seems so little I can do. What's in my power is to try to remember to be kind always, to tell the people I care about that I care about them, and to show that in as many ways as I can. Also to show kindness and acceptance to strangers as they appear however briefly; a smile in the super market, waving a driver into a long traffic light queue, little things hoping others will pass it on and create an ever-widening circle of kindness and regard, eventually to transform our society into something good. I believe it is true that love is the most powerful thing in the world, far more powerful than the evil that seems to be taking us over these days. Love gives me courage and hope and joy in our fellow humans, and compassion, even for those whose motives and actions and attitudes I can't understand.

I believe the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. I have learned a lot from your posts and I hope you can find your way out of the hole. All is not lost. It's really hard right now, but not lost.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thanks for your words, folks. I chalk a lot of this up to not teaching in the summer, and thus not having the feeling that I am doing something constructive on a daily basis. Instead I'm watching my kids and squeezing in time for writing on a couple of projects, and that only leaves me stressed. I woke up this morning wanting to teach, which makes me some kind of education junky.