The Power of Fear

I heard Dwayne Betts interviewed on NPR and found the interview interesting enough to purchase his book, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.

I was somewhat disappointed in the book, but found a quote in it that resonated with things I hear about Americans today.  News of terrorism, and wars and gun control often make Americans fearful – not only of enemies but of big government, immigrants, and just about everything or everyone else.

Fear becomes a sign of our times.

Presidential elections, and this is the year for it in America, also bring out lots of fears in people – and candidates constantly stoke those fears because apparently fear translates into votes. “If anyone else but me wins the presidency, be afraid!”  Of course, we might have reason to be afraid if these candidates win as well, but that is just more fear.

In any case, Betts writes about his experience of going to prison at age 16, for committing a carjacking.   He says of his experience of the courts, the police and the prisons:

“Fear was a commodity everyone traded in. In three months I’d learned that everyone from lawyers to the judges to the other kids around me thought their power rested in getting someone to fear you.”  (Kindle Location 144-146)

Sounds a bit like our presidential candidates as well – some of them want others to fear them, all of them want us to fear all the other candidates.

I don’t think fear is a great reason to vote for anyone.  Better that we rely on wisdom than fear.  Perhaps if we used wisdom more in our choice of candidates we could get the candidates to change their tactics and to tell us more about their policies rather than trying to create all manners of ghoulish caricatures and character assassinations of their opponents.

Both Betts in his book and our political candidates remind me of a Chinese proverb, which could be written by any Orthodox desert father:

“When you see a good man,

think of emulating him;

when you see a bad man,

examine  your own heart.”

Five Man Electrical Band sang for us:

“Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs.
. . .
Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?”

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