A year ago we were exhorted to close our borders against Ebola. Some State Governors went ahead and did so, taking action, they said, when President Obama would not.
Then a friend posted this appalling and spurious image. What we should really fear, she thought, is Islam. One in three conservative Republicans already believed President Obama to be a Muslim.
Although fear trumps facts, that particular lie did not have legs. Islam does not allow such behavior and Ayatollah Khomeini, who died a quarter of a century ago, is not the “current leader of Iran.”
Fear is a helpful survival instinct — we’re safer taking automatic fight-or-flight action with intellect engaging only later. But there’s a downside. Because it closes our mind, instilling fear is a powerful way to control us.
Knowing that, politicians are now instilling fear of a much more potent terror, ISIS. They say it is the true face of a religion that commands its followers to kill all others. And some Americans think they know exactly what to do about that nightmare.
Mainstream media eagerly participates in the fear-mongering. Ten days after the recent San Bernardino massacre, the New York Times claimed one of the attackers had years ago publicly committed to terrorism.
The allegation is false, said FBI Director Comey, and the Times provided no evidence, but presidential candidates claimed it as a catastrophic Obama administration failure.
Voters want someone to blame for their struggles, politicians want us to have an enemy because they will get more power if we are fearful, and mainstream media amplifies our fears so we will consume more. Our emotions are being manipulated. We are being misdirected.
As I wrote a year ago, while we cannot eliminate infectious disease, a health care system that encourages all with symptoms to get treatment right away would minimize the spread of disease.
And while San Bernardino was horrific and likely was inspired by ISIS publicity, the odds of being killed by terrorists in America are extremely small. Depending on how you define them, there have been 40 mass shootings since 9/11/2001 but only a few were terrorist attacks.
We cannot anticipate all future mass shootings or other kinds of massacres. We could not have anticipated Timothy McVeigh killing 168 people with a homemade bomb in Oklahama City twenty years ago, or the drivers who mass murder pedestrians.
We could eliminate many mass shootings, however, including San Bernardino and the massacre in my home town, by removing assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines from our society.
And we could go further. We could start eliminating the future equivalent of this year’s 355 shootings in which four or more were injured or killed, and this year’s 33,000 individual deaths and 80,000 hospitalizations from gunshots.
Police work will not end hatred of blacks, Muslims, our government, fellow workers, shooters’ families or others, desire for fame, other people’s money or ending one’s own life, or just plain foolishness.
But we could start eliminating the easy way to kill by removing not only assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines from our society, but all hand guns. We could even restrict rifles and shotguns.
I do not expect our society will make that choice. I expect our freedom to own a wide range of weapons will continue to outweigh its costs. We will choose to continue having mass shootings.
Perhaps we will get a universal health care system one day because our present approach costs far too much. But our freedom to own guns does not seem something about which we can make conscious choices.
Beset by all these nightmares and more, is there anything we can do as individuals? As this wise Christian leader wrote when we faced immediate nuclear extinction, we can pull ourselves together and meet our fate doing sensible and human things.
Let’s stop being terrorized by politicians and media people. Let’s summon the courage to live in the happily generous American way.
Things we do out of fearfulness with which we’ve been infected frustrate and sadden people like this Muslim family that we would not allow to come on holiday and enrage those in other countries like our own “Overpasses for America” people. That rage is why some want to kill us.
So let’s each of us do the deeply human thing. Let’s learn how to help each other overcome fear.