Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fear Culture


Ok...I was going to let my second post about gun violence and the Newtown shootings just fade off with the holidays with all the hope for the new year that came with Christmas as passing into 2013, but apparently that is a huge mistake as is made apparent by an article on Pam's House Blend commenting on an earlier Think Progress piece on this week concerning programs for arming teachers in schools....yes, this is really happening and people are signing up for it. In the wake of all that has occurred  how can anyone think this is a good idea?! It sickens the hell out of me and points to a very deep problem we have in this country of being motivated to action by the worst of our emotions....fear. Fear has become such a factor in our thinking that our priorities have become greatly out of whack and it seems that not even a tragedy of the magnitude of Sandy Hook's is enough to wake us up from our collective nightmare. And nightmare it is....What the hell has happened to the American spirit?

We have allowed ourselves to become a nation completely bound by fear. It is the tool most used to great effect by politicians who want to pit conservative against liberal as if those labels mean "more American" and "less American". It is often in our world view when we look to the future and people honestly believe an apocalypse is right around the corner. It's in our news, it's in our entertainment, it's in the very way we think of each other as human beings and Sandy Hook has brought that to light for us in a very visible way. However, in fighting partisan battles over gun control, will the deeper issues that makes tragedies like Sandy Hook possible be overlooked? It has often been said that we are a "gun culture" but I would like to argue that we instead have allowed ourselves to become a "fear culture".


According to the story, and Ohio gun owner groups has begun an "Armed Teachers Training Program" Yes...you read that right. From the article:

In Ohio, the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, along with a group called the Tactical Defense Institute, is crafting a curriculum specifically designed for teachers and school staff. A local Fox affiliate has details on who is signing up– they report that more than one third of the applicants are women, and that “more than half of the applicants work in high schools”:

Who can read that and not shake their head in disbelief. Evidently the people who thought this idea was sound enough to sign up for it, that's who. And while many of us may shake out head in wonder and feel sad that this is our response to Sandy Hook, America is a nation of diverse ideas and I'm sure there are plenty of people who see nothing wrong with this at all......except for some obvious and glaring questions like: In a stressful situation like Sandy Hook in which no one really knows whats happening, what happens if a teacher mistakenly shoots a student running to her room to escape? Who says that teachers are immune too being the perpetrators of such violence? If kids can steal test answers, what stops them from getting their hands on a teachers gun? If a violent student sufficiently scares and armed teacher and they shoot...what then?



There are so many problems with this that I can't even list them all. It seems the only thinking and effort here are being put into the knee jerk fear reaction that someone is going to come and take all the guns away. The concern for the safety of kids is almost secondary. That need to prevent any type of gun regulation...even at the cost of a child's safety only points to a very deep fear in my opinion. And I think it's time we take a long hard look at how fear is being used to manipulate us and robbing us of what we really hold dear.

When I was in my late teens and still living at home with my parents a strange pall overtook our family. No one could see it happen because it happened so slowly and seemed to make so much sense at the time. Fear was beginning to grip the American Consciousness. It was the 90's...Bill Clinton was in office...and my dad began to tune into Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh and those like him waved the flag of patriotism, while simultaneously fanning the flames of fear of old enemies. "Bill Clinton and his wife are both Socialists!" they screamed. "They are trying to dismantle America!"...."They are selling American businesses to Chinese interests! Soon you will be speaking Chinese "...."Soon America is going to look just like Communist Russia! All those Liberals want to control you just like the Communists!"

And so the alarm went out day after day for years. All with the assurances that you were hearing "the truth" from them in way that no other news source would report. In their own way they were branding themselves as freedom fighters and those messages went straight to the hearts of men and women who may have fought in wars in their lifetime. Men and women brought up on Cowboys, and John Wayne, and fierce individualism. Men like my father, who did his best to instill those values in his sons. And so we listened to and slowly drank a poison that closed our eyes to light, joy, common humanity, and the true meaning of being American. We were all simply afraid that the government was being taken over by people with the intent to destroy us...and Rush Limbaugh raked in the dough as the politicians he advocated for also became rich and powerful men.

And then I realized I was gay. That one thing that should have had no relation to the anything I wrote above became the one thing that helped me wake up. Just having a secret I had to hide already put me in a place were I felt separate from my family...who's values I never before had a reason to question. I came out to myself and realized that if I was ever going to survive as a gay man, it would not happen in a home were being gay was still a sin and a sickness. And so I left on my own, met other people and different viewpoints. The end result of which was not only coming to terms with myself but realizing that I had also stepped out from under a very large and very dark cloud. Once I was out of range of the Rush Limbaughs and the fearful mindset that characterized life at my dad's home, I realized that none of the things I had been told were happening as they were being reported. Shadowy people were not taking down the Government. Government was happening as it had since its inception, with disagreements  mistakes, and political squabbles  America was going on...and furthermore....she was working as she was intended to more or less...even with her broken parts.

What I learned during that time in the Clinton era was that there were people with a very vested interest in keeping us afraid. They turned liberal into a word that was synonymous with communist and for a nation that was fresh off the heals of the cold war, this was still a message that could go right to the heart of some people....and it did. Overtime, our politics has only become worse, more fearful, and as a result, more polarized. But if it only stopped there perhaps I could see it as just an issue greedy men fighting for power....but it isn't...it's in us too.

This will sound like a tangent...and perhaps it is...but my husband watches a  of zombie shows. For a while I would watch them with him, but after a time I began to notice a pattern develop. In the midst of the actual breakdown of the world and a whole host of zombies to fight, who did the characters most often do battle with?.....the other living humans. In show after show and movie after movie, the zombies problem took a backseat to fighting against other humans.  It began to make me sad that at the end of the world this is how we would spend our time. It began to be no wonder how a pack of dim witted, slow walking monsters took over the world, we probably killed off half of our own for them. Is this really what humankind does in the face of utter disaster?


I thought of New York on September 11th and the way that New Yorkers pulled together and showed such courage and compassion. I saw the response of the nation to their grief and the outpouring of love and offers to help the recovery. I was in Italy not long after that day and remember vividly a parade down the streets of Rome with hundreds of Italians offering their sympathy and support to us because of the attack. It didn't even happen to them and yet they understood that events like that are a crime against all of humanity. It brought me to tears on the spot and I have never forgotten their kindness.

But here...at the end of the world...be it zombies, or Mayan predictions, or the turn of the millenium, or the book of Revalations(pick your doomsday)...we are told that we need to be deathly afraid of each other most of all.

Adam Lanza's mother was preparing for a doomsday. That is why she bought those guns in the first place. She was preparing for a day when she would have to send her sons out into a collapsed society to fight for food and water....just like the people in the zombie movies. She did not think that her neighbors or fellows would help each other in a time of crisis. Nor did she consider that her son's mental illness was as big a concern as what she feared was going to happen to society. Instead, it was her and her sons against the world. That is fear. That it one of her son's that killed her because of his own mental illness issues is not to be ignored either. But if Adam Lanza had never had access to weapons in the first place would we still be here talking about this today? Personally....I see that fear and worry that is the enemy we must fight against. All the gun control laws in the world will only be so helpful as long as we continue to look at each other as an enemy to be distrusted. Not really American, sometimes not human(like LGBT people are sometimes regarded)...definitely, "not us".


Gun owners...like those in my own family...are afraid that the absence of guns will mean that all the predictions that Rush Limbaugh and Fox news has been pumping out will come true. If you DON'T have an assault rifle is to expect President Obama to send the army to collect you and your family and put you in a FEMA deathcamp(remember those?). All the theories we regard as crazy are held by everyday common Americans and it keeps them up at night. I know that because they are in my family and I have watched as the father that used to laugh at saturday morning cartoons with me as a kid slowly became more fearful and more serious...and then there was no more laughing anymore....all joy for life was extinguished.

Ask any person who suffers from OCD what they know about fear. For us, an idea can get stuck in our heads that becomes so overwhelmingly fearfull that we adopt some pretty irrational methods for coping with it. We pray to counter "bad thoughts", we count to certain "good numbers" so that bad things wont happen, we do and then undo actions over and over all in an effort to make sure the fearfull thing we imagine in our minds never happens...like a friend who had to think only "good thoughts". She believed that if she didn't than something horrible would happen to her niece whom she loved. But when we finally find the courage to get treatment for OCD they teach us one simple fact of the mind....anything we fear, we get more of. So every scary thought we try to nuetralize with a ritual of some kind only makes it certain that the scary thought will happen again...and again...gaining more strength the more we fight to avoid our imagined fears. And so we are taught to turn learn to challenge those fears. Like a ship on the ocean we must turn into the wind or continue to be blown over. Only this way will we eventually habituate to our fears and deprive them of their hold over us.

And so I wonder if it isn't the same with all fear. Fear of the end of days...fear that America is constantly under idealogical attack....fear that America is sliding down some moral slope instead of just changing with time. The more we fear and box with our shadows is to find that we have only been hitting ourselves. So instead of acknowledging the fear that drove Nancy Lanza to by an assault rifle (which we imagine we can do nothing about)....we chose instead to heighten fearful response and arm teachers instead.


People think that the stereotype of the cowboy is what typifies the spirit of America. Guns-a-blazin, hyper masculine, gritty bravado. And the cowboys of those tales lived by their guns. But America is, and has always been more complex than that. The American spirit is found in courage, the ability to face our challenges face first....with or without a weapon in hand. Harriet Tubman characterizes what it means to be an American just as much as the fire fighters who charged heedlessly into the burning twin towers...or the priest that continued to give last rights as the buildings fell on him.

My dad used to watch WWII movies with this sense of awe and wonder. For him, those men embodied what it meant to be a man...and an American. But it was not their rifles that made them strong...some of them were just young men scared out of their minds. It was the belief that what they were doing was right... necessary...that they were defending their homes, families, and fellow soldiers by charging onto beaches loaded with mines and pill boxes. If asked and if there were not better way...I believe many would have gone empty handed. Hell...the principle of Sandy Hook had nothing but her hands and that did not stop her from putting everything out of her mind except stopping Adam Lanza from hurting her students. Or the teacher who hid her students in cabinets and told the shooter they were in the gym. She had to have been terrified, but she did what she had to do, and her class is still here today because of it.

But instead of fighting for each other...or even alongside each other, we swing at shadows cast on the wall by  people who have much to gain by our fear. We put labels on things like "conservative" and "liberal" that really mean "enemy" and we have forgotten who we are. We see Americans of middle eastern decent with much the same eyes as we did Japanese Americans during WWII. No one is angry that the government can wiretap your phone because we just might catch a terrorist. And while conservative battled liberal, each fearing the other only slightly less than terrorists, corporations take advantage and increase their influence on the government.....but that's not as scary to us as letting gay people marry. No, for that we fight the "culture war". The congress votes for funds to continue to defend DOMA( and the denial of the constitutional rights of   gay Americans)...and finds no time to approve relief money for those hard stricken by a hurricane. We shout bloody murder for fear of an impending "fiscal cliff" and then play political games to do anything about it. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.....and it's kicking our ass.


I think it's time we wake up and see the fear we are being sold as patriotism...or in the case of Adam Lanza's mother, as the prudent course of action in the face of danger. We need to take a long hard look at what it means to be an American because I don't think it was ever predicated solely on being "safe". Instead, I was taught that being American meant that if something bad happened we would face it with courage and determination....together, and not preparing to shoot our neighbor for a can of Spam.

Please America, stop being so afraid that you forget who you are...or how strong you can be in the face of the truly terrible. Newtown does not stand alone...all our hearts went out to them and we all grieve...but we can not let it make us into the very thing we fear the most. Please stop letting churches and politicians make you afraid of your neighbors be they gay or of a different race or political view from you. The fear that weaves it way throughout our collective minds is just a shadow that disappears when you turn a light....just like that chair that looks like a monster in the dark, so are many things scary until we get to know them for what they really are.

In closing, Turning on a light does not mean turning teachers into police officers or schools into fortresses...it means helping people like Nancy Lanza understand that crisis does not mean she is alone or that her neighbors are potential enemies. I could go on forever but I need to end this somewhere. I see us as Americans being afraid of so many things, even though we may not acknowledge that is is true. We need to acknowledge that we are more than simply a "rage culture" or a "gun culture" and acknowledge the fear that makes both of those possible. Fear perpetuates ignorance and flans the flames of hatred and distrust among us. It is time to turn or ship into the wind and face our fear or be consumed by it. Nor is courage solely a virtue of the "American Spirit". It is a part of the what is best in all of humanity. but it was everything I have seen is us as Americans at our best and I thing it's high time we remember who we really are.

Until next time dear readers....



11 comments:

  1. I don't want to sound anti-American, but don't you think it has always been like this? Americans always had something or someone to fight against throughout your history. The American Natives, the Japanese, the Russians, the Middle-eastern...
    America has always been a country of warriors, and warriors are made out of fear. Fear of losing their homes, their families, their lives. Rome became the greatest empire of ancient times out fear. The city of Rome was always afraid that the barbarians would come in and destroy the beautiful city and culture that they had built. Since the USA are the true heirs of ancient Rome and Greece nowadays, I would say, no wonder you Americans have that fear. It is inherent on having something good. The better what you have, the greatest the fear of losing it.

    I don't see a place 'to go back' instead a 'new place' to be truly American in the world we now live in.

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  2. "I don't see a place 'to go back' instead a 'new place' to be truly American in the world we now live in."

    I liked the above comment and think that it is true. "Going back" never really works anyway...all we can do is move forward. My point was not really to say that Americans have never been fearful...that would not be true. And great portions of our history as littered with examples of barbarism and greed that are only tangentially related to fear...building the railroads on the backs of Chinese laborers is one example I can think of. But If we hold this idea in our minds of a thing we call our "American spirit"...regardless of whether it is a romantic notion or not...then lets live up to it in the most positive and noble way possible.

    We all carry around this idea of what America is and what it means to be American. For my Dad...and by extention, my brother and myself....that was tought to me through world war 2 movies (and westerns with I hated). Overly romantic?...yes. Unrealistic?...maybe. But for many men my dads age that was THE most influential image of being American.

    Now much has happened to tarnish that image. In short...we got a good look at ourselves and realized that we can be just as selfish mean and barbaric as the next guy. But...

    With that cold awakening there are the examples of people who were courageous. Like the Men who ACTUALLY fought the battles movies stars tried to portray....like Harriet Tubbman who moved escaping slaves along the underground railroad even though it would have meant her death too. Like Buzz Aldrin, Charles Lindburg, Amelia Aerhart, or the Wright Bros....all of them, through courage and innovation pushed boundaries and accomplished amazing things.

    Only one of those examples of courage required a gun....Virtually all of them required looking our fears in the face and moving forward anyway.

    So if "Being American" is not only a matter of citizen ship but an idea that we hold about ourselves...then why not look to the best than allow the worst to eat us alive.

    Fear is human...it is in every culture, in every time and it is a killer.

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  3. Love thy neighbor, come on folks.Life is too precious. Enjoy the beauty that is within all of us avoid any fear that separates us.

    I like this post because there's way too much hatred out there. These posts teach us to love again.

    Remind thy self, to be kind to everyone else, including thyself.

    Happy New Year 2013. The year of the love goal.

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  4. I totally agree that a big part of the problem that we face right now is the fear that seems to be griping the nation, and is leading people to view others as threats and something to be wary of instead of as others in the same boat as them that they have massively more in common with then they have different from each other.I think that part of the problem with what seems to be overly heightened fear right now is the fact that the economy is still in poor rocky shape, which causes people to be in increased states of stress which only makes it that much easier to fall the victim of fear.

    I hope that as a country we can make it threw the growing pains that we are going threw right now and that we can face our fears and move past them and come out the other side for the better.

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  5. hi guys,

    i'm from croatia, a small country in mediterranean europe. usa is very influential to our country, due to many tv shows, movies, books and so on. we are exposed to all important news and we learn about your country and your people through articles and via internet. some stuff that is happening in usa is extremely sick. you have major education problems, you hardly have any foundation to lead a normal life, simply because your country doesn't allow you to lead one, you are scared because you don't know if it's safe to just walk in the streets let alone do something else.i feel that all the nastiest things in the world came from america.

    now, don't get me wrong. i am not a hater, i just want you to know how we (non americans) see you and your country. in my hometown, my family slept throughout whole night with doors unlocked. i could play freely in the streets without concern of being kidnapped or abused, or killed. my mother's biggest worry when i was in school was if i ate that day. i hope you see what i'm trying to say.

    your country is so developed in many ways, you have big freedom to do whatever you want, and i think that's the core problem. you have little or no restraints in your behaviour whatsoever. your moral compass is god knows where and normal families are lost in all that chaos. i think that you can learn a lot from other countries where one's freedom ends where another one's starts.

    i'm really happy to know that there are normal people who are just struggling to raise their children in unsafe environment. and i'm extremely satisfied to see a gay couple with kids. it's still impossible to adopt in croatia if you're gay, but that's just one of the things i hope my country imports from usa. so you see, my country isn't perfect, but i wouldn't be able to live in usa if my life depended on it.

    many kisses and hugs from zagreb, croatia.

    p.s. since english is my second language i apologize for all the tipfelers

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  6. I LOVE your remembrances of the word "liberal" from the '90s and 2000's. If you were a "liberal" back then you were "anti-American".. AND "anti-Christian!"
    People should look up the word "liberal" on the net... " Here is one: "An example of liberal is someone who likes new ideas that will bring progress even if they are not traditional."
    So who would not argue with that???
    Liberal=progressive..our society is changing and changing for the better. I know that is true as a gay man... I can remember Dave when we first met saying back in 1991.."someday gay marriage will happen." ((He is a smartypants!)
    It is happening...not in Ohio but I think it will...
    BUT!! If it doesn't happen soon we have a lot of family in CA... We will head out there and we have you guys.. You are family to us....
    :)
    Jim

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  7. i agree but. . . . people are cowards and sheep. they cling to broken damaged things because it is easier than striving for better. there are persons that stand up and do more. i think too that there are special people that are genuine icons that would otherwise be brought down by the sheer weight of the need in the world and they should be protected, in so doing we uplift ourselves.

    im not down for having gun armed teachers, i think guns are too easy a tool. i do think that it would be a benefit to society for us to actually teach everyone how to defend themselves in situations that are life threatening. be it run away and hide and strike quickly and silently w/o the need for knives or handguns. it is factual that teaching self defense techniques actually reduces the incidence of violence on the part of the trained. dicks are dicks and some people just need killin' so like all things no thing is absolute here.

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  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgbcnlRN158 16:00-17:30 RuPaul on change in last decenia to the fear culture. I immediatly thought of your blog.

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  9. Wow. Once again you completely amaze me. Hahaha I know this is like, completely off topic for the post but this post really inspired me. Here I am, sitting on my bed with my back to the wall and my laptop on my lap... My roommate is on the other side of the room. Last week I came out to my therapist and my life coach, and one of my sisters. One day last week (Sunday night at 2am, or Monday morning) I just realized that I never would be happy if I kept bottling up my feelings and never put myself out there. I realized that honesty was the most important thing.

    But anyways here I am, and I am trying to work up the courage to just tell my roommate! I've been planning to tell each of them this weekend, and then I'm telling my parents next week, but I just couldn't do it! He would be the first "friend" for me to tell. I'm afraid. I know what I'm going to say but i just can't fucking say it! AAAHH! I don't want to be afraid and I don't want to be ruled by my fear any more. Thanks for the article I will probably write back in like a minute ohhhh wish me luck bro

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  10. I ended up not being able to say anything out loud, but I kindof just wrote a note and put it on his desk. Wowowowowwowowowowowowowwtfbbq.

    "Wow, JD I'm really proud of you and I can't be more happy for you. I know it takes a lot of courage and I want you to know that I'm really supportive of you and I'm here for you and I know it's a really hard thing to do."

    One down, and he was so nice about it lol why I am so lucky I'll never know, because I know that everyone else is going to be really nice about it too - I know my family will be fine with it too, I don't think there's any risk that I will be disowned or hurt or lose their love, but... It's still so hard. Anyways I wish more people were like you, and thought about this stuff and about how we can face our fears together and not alone. I feel a bit awkward posting this now, I decided to send you a video message a few days ago when I first saw your videos at the end of this process when I finish coming out to the important people, and stuff... Look forward to it. It'll be funny. And hahaha sorry for using your blog as a random spot for me to talk about this stuff. Somehow knowing you're out there gives me courage. Even though I wasn't/won't get a response for this, it helped to know you would read it and see that by speaking for yourself you are also helping many of us others learn and come to terms with ourselves. Heh I don't know what the fuck I'm writing >.< :) I'm just happy and your blog helped. Thanks.

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