Fear, Paranoia, and Society

Fear and paranoia are being increasingly entrenched in this country, and the effects are quite concerning.

We’ve become a nation rife with insecurity, uncertainty, and distrust, all at a time when unity and cooperation are needed more than ever. It seems that not a single public debate ensues without incivility, name calling, hyperbolic accusations, and exploitative political framing. There’s no maturity or common sense anymore – the other side, i.e. anyone who thinks differently, is just wrong and evil, period. Invoking treason and unpatriotic behavior is once again in vogue.

And therein lies the troubling part. Not only do we feel that our ideological and political opponents are misguided or mistaken — we truly believe they are a threat to our lives, our families, and this country. We frame differences between one another to be existential threats. We convey even the most mundane debates in biblical proportions. If you disagree, it’s because you’re completely moronic and malicious. We not only disagree but distrust each other, and in the process we isolate ourselves from one another and continue to entrench ourselves in our own biased, ever discriminating view points.

Every segment of society has partaken in this dangerous farce. The mainstream media regurgitates and even encourages it; politicians opportunistically exploit it; and we the people, always trying to blame either of the previous two guilty parties, are directly involved.

We’re throwing around words like Nazi, socialist, and fascist and names like Stalin and Hitler and so on with reckless abandon, not even considering what we’re implying when we do so (or maybe worse still, knowing full well). Throughout our history we fought these forces, and we’re taught of their evil. What kind of message are we conveying when we’re calling our fellow Americans something so terrible? Ask yourselves the implication of portraying our government and our political opponents as life-threatening?

At the very least, such a sentiment paralyzes us from working together and progressing; at worse, it’s extremely dangerous and could lead to violence. Now I’m not saying we’re leading into a full-blown civil war. Despite all the extreme rhetoric being thrown around, there has been little in the way of violence as of yet. But where will this country be a decade from now if this continues?

How will ever band together against so many daunting problems – issues that are truly existential threats and require utmost unity and cooperation – if we’re busying dividing ourselves more and more over the most petty of differences? We’re recovering from two disastrous wars that have sapped prestige, global influence, and trillions of dollars. We’re dealing with astronomical debt, an unsustainable social security system, crumbling infrastructure, poor public education, stagnating middle-class growth – the list grows! Yet in the midst of all these daunting challenges, we revert to blaming some sort of “other” – this idea, that political party, that social group, etc – rather than except that WE THE PEOPLE are ALL responsible.

We supported these wars we now regret. We elect the politicians we hate. We watch and bolster the media we claim to distrust. We vote for more goodies from the government without wanting to pay for them. We perpetuated a system that relies on debt, rather than taxes, to pay for everything – even as individuals we succumb to the credit addiction.

Yet all we can do is project our own responsibility and accountability on to others, and to accuse them of bringing this country down. True, the public isn’t all responsible – there are nefarious politicians, banks, corporations, and fellow citizens with dishonest aims. But what good is it pointing the finger at everyone, or making straw men arguments based on the villainy of the few?

Our political system was built on compromise. It was created in the midst of massive division and disagreement. Everything in this country is supposed to work only through cooperation and putting aside our differences, sacrificing our full objectives so as to bring everyone at the table. We cannot progress as a nation if we continue to hate each other, to find reasons to distrust and ignore. We need to remember that we’re all citizens here. We share the same country, the same economy, resources, and political system. We’re interdependent on one another unlike at anytime before.

I urge all my readers to open up to your opponents and what they have to say. Lend them an ear, ask them what they believe and why, make it clear to them that no matter how much you disagree you respect them. There will always be terrible, bigoted, and just plain insane people out there – every group imaginable has them. But we cannot blanket any society as diverse as ours under once stereotype.

Even if you’re unsuccessful at seeing eye to eye, or being treated fairly in turn, at least you can tell yourselves you tried. True patriotism is doing the right thing after all.

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