The United States of Fear

I think I have the way to form a more perfect union in this place we call the USA. It is to recognize that all Americans share a sense of fear. Anxiety is what unites us in the U.S. Consider the following.

Andrew Sullivan writes respectfully about reactionary conservatism and even grants its plausibility:

Certain truths about human beings have never changed. We are tribal creatures in our very DNA; we have an instinctive preference for our own over others, for “in-groups” over “out-groups”; for hunter-gatherers, recognizing strangers as threats was a matter of life and death. We also invent myths and stories to give meaning to our common lives. Among those myths is the nation — stretching from the past into the future, providing meaning to our common lives in a way nothing else can. Strip those narratives away, or transform them too quickly, and humans will become disoriented. Most of us respond to radical changes in our lives, especially changes we haven’t chosen, with more fear than hope. We can numb the pain with legal cannabis or opioids, but it is pain nonetheless.

If we ignore these deeper facts about ourselves, we run the risk of fatal errors. It’s vital to remember that multicultural, multiracial, post-national societies are extremely new for the human species, and keeping them viable and stable is a massive challenge. Globally, social trust is highest in the homogeneous Nordic countries, and in America, Pew has found it higher in rural areas than cities. The political scientist Robert Putnam has found that “people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Not very encouraging about human nature — but something we can’t wish away, either. In fact, the American elite’s dismissal of these truths, its reduction of all resistance to cultural and demographic change as crude “racism” or “xenophobia,” only deepens the sense of siege many other Americans feel.

And is it any wonder that reactionaries are gaining strength? Within the space of 50 years, America has gone from segregation to dizzying multiculturalism; from traditional family structures to widespread divorce, cohabitation, and sexual liberty; from a few respected sources of information to an endless stream of peer-to-peer media; from careers in one company for life to an ever-accelerating need to retrain and regroup; from a patriarchy to (incomplete) gender equality; from homosexuality as a sin to homophobia as a taboo; from Christianity being the common culture to a secularism no society has ever sustained before ours.

Notice too that conservatives are not the only ones who are very, very afraid. It’s also feminist philosophers. But even they can’t claim privilege for their phobia:

I want to explore a much more general issue raised by this whole affair. This has to do with concept of harm, which keeps being raised. The main charge against Tuvel is that the very existence and availability of her paper causes harm to various groups, most specifically to members of the transgender community. This is a puzzling and contentious claim that deserves serious reflection.

The editorial board statement specifically refers to “the harm caused by the fact of the article’s publication.” As the concept of harm is standardly used in legal contexts, this would be a tough claim to defend. It is certainly possible for someone to suffer material or tangible loss, injury, or damage as a consequence of a 15-page article being published in an academic journal. The article might be libelous, for example. But there is no such charge here. The only individual mentioned by name besides Rachel Dolezal is Caitlyn Jenner, and it seems implausible to say that Tuvel has harmed Jenner by “deadnaming” her (i.e., using her birth name), given how public Jenner has been about her personal history.

The authors of the editorial board statement have nothing to say about how they understand harm. This already should give pause for thought. Philosophers, whatever their methodological orientation or training, usually pride themselves on sensitivity to how words and concepts are used. This makes it odd to see no attention being paid to how they are understanding this key concept of harm, which is central to many areas in legal and moral philosophy.

But the statement does clarify what the authors believe has caused the harm: “Perhaps most fundamentally, to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation.”

And here I thought we were supposed to be afraid of Trump. Imagine the harm a POTUS can do. But in the United States of Fear, an academic paper poses a threat capable of generating the kind of fear that many endure with our incautious and vicious president.

The question is whether those with fears can recognize fear as a basis for personal identity. Can we go from the specific to the general and recognize fear is something that every American experiences? If so, then we may finally have a common point of reference for a shared existence. We are united in fear.

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33 thoughts on “The United States of Fear

  1. Seems to be a fear born of an inability to or inexperience in recognizing and dealing with actual threats. Combine that with an inundation of information that’s largely unactionable(encouraging a sense of helplessness) and varying psychological threshold limits of a large and diverse group of people and you’ve got what amounts to a bunch of people wound up about things that are just as likely not to happen much less pose an actual ‘threat’ to them in any meaningful way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In fact the very churn of the information and outside stimulus of info is more likely to cause a problem or people acting out(fomenting unrest) than the actual ‘happening’ of the purported event or potential event.

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  3. There are real threats to our actual lives out there in the world locally and globally. Then there are the threats to our perceived ideas of equality and rights. Science can’t absolutely control the physical threats, so you attempt to construct a society that is civil, but how, based on what criterion, who’s ideas?
    I’d like to ask Mr. Sullivan to parse the myths from the real. Anyways, I think the dizziness( and fear) is caused by the breakdown of a point of reference. What new “unalienable rights” might be added to the Bill of Rights? “The democracy of anything goes” is bound to be at odds with the marginalized( harmed) who say, “No. It doesn’t”.

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  4. Fear makes people unpredictable. There are examples of those believing Hilary’s rhetoric of Trump being tyrannical (plausible if ironic) whose response was to buy an AR15. Which is fine, but hardly the point, I’m sure.

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  5. What reactionary conservatives? The only one I know of is the POTUS and he used to be a NY democrat, the rest are dismal libertarians. I rather vote for a liberal than a libertarian. At least they’re honest about they sort of anarchy they prefer. It’s funny the tiny fringe of American agrarians has been pining away for a paleo-conservative ….and what did we get…we get power personified. After 40 years of the weakness of consensus, thought control, market colonization, globalization of American capital, and immigration anarchy, it’s all exposed by pure power. What is more scary… stupid consensus entrenched in thought control and economic colonialism or pure power? No one in the hinter lands of PA is afraid, it’s business as usual. The black-markets and human trafficking markets are free and booming and everyone is gearing up to grow pot. Sad, how decimated much of PA is after 40 years of virtual consensus in Washington. Yet no scheme of religion nor populist uprising will restore what has been lost in America. it’s been gone so long ago it’s just lost history. Only Wendell Berry gives compelling words to what happened to America. Sadly, i watched the giant bulldozers flatten my Dad’s family farmstead and hometown in SW Iowa to expand the cornfields, and all the farmhouses, all the barns, all the little orchards, and woods where we used to play. All the farms were lost. No one lives there anyone more and all the land is owned by one man who doesn’t live in the county.. The entire giant land has been turned into turned into mammoth industrial farm depots shining bright on the horizon with the all the giant broken windmills…only alcohol and crystal meth reign supreme, The rest made the exodus to the cities. America is no longer about families owning farms, or businesses or hard physical work., it’s about something else entirely.. a sea of worthless images and yap.. It’s so bad that when my PC broke I didn’t replace it, don’t have a cell phone. The only reason I go on line is to look at this blog and check my email and I have to borrow someone else PC to do it. It would be way scary if you stopped blogging and returned to your homegrown NTJ days and people actually had their letters to the editor published. It might be more financially profitable….something old something different.

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  6. “America is no longer about families owning farms, or businesses or hard physical work.”
    Thank goodness!

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  7. There is a very good point made at the end. That is the questioning of whether Trump should be the object of our fear. And as much as I don’t like his election and him as president, he isn’t the greatest threat to our nation. The greatest threat to our nation is a tribalism. The stronger the tribalism, the more we cut ourselves off from others and seek to conquer rather than to collaborate.

    However, we should question, rather than assume to be true, Sullivan’s claim that tribalism is in our DNA. Yes, many of us are tribal, but some aren’t. So this takes us to new-age-old question of whether our genes make us tribal or whether it is a choice. Regardless of the answer, we can be sure of one thing. since the stronger our tribalism, the more we embrace relative morality; too strong a tribalism leads us to sin regardless of whether the fault lies in our genes.

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  8. Jeff, and therein lies the problem. Automation and convenience go hand in hand (as opposed to the slave wages Muether paid his kids to fold and mail the NTJ).

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  9. sdb says: I guess we are a long way from nothing to fear but fear itself.

    sdb, you’d probably be disappointed if I didn’t say – that’s for sure – fear itself fearing of all/any but the Lord, that is
    🙂
    Jesus:
    The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted. Proverbs 29:25

    you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.“It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy and He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Isa 8:12b-13

    What the wicked fears will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. Proverbs 10:24

    How blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Proverbs 28:14

    He does not delight in the strength of the horse;He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His lovingkindness. Psalm 147 :10-11

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  10. D.G.,
    The Left promotes tribalism in terms of ideology, but not in terms of race. Not sure about whether it promotes tribalism in gender, but it hasn’t in terms of sexual orientation.

    But our differences of opinion here revolve around our working definitions of tribalism. As I wrote on other threads on your blog, tribalism isn’t merely belonging to a group. Tribalism occurs and grows when loyalty to a group trumps commitment to principles and morals. I’ll put it another way: Tribalism occurs when loyalty to a group becomes so great that we lose our objectivity in both how we see ourselves and how we see others. The end result of tribalism is that what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom.

    If I remember, you don’t use the working definition of tribalism I use and thus we are going to disagree on where each group promotes tribalism. But still, a great frustration for me is that the Left promotes ideological tribalism. That goes against what Martin Luther King Jr. taught. However, you should be happy with the Left’s tribalism because its tribalism keeps it in the margins of society.

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  11. ” sdb, you’d probably be disappointed if I didn’t say – that’s for sure – fear itself fearing of all/any but the Lord, that is”
    @ali ?

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  12. Curt,

    The Left promotes tribalism in terms of ideology, but not in terms of race. Not sure about whether it promotes tribalism in gender, but it hasn’t in terms of sexual orientation.

    Are you crazy? Even on your idiosyncratic definition of tribalism, this is what the left is all about. Watch the homosexual community smack down any homosexual who suggests that it might be better, all things being equal, for children to have a mother and a father instead of two parents of the same gender. Can’t book the party line because it might not be good for gay rights.

    Then there’s the demand for reparations by some racial groups, as if that would be something simple to administrate or to do without wreaking injustice on people who never had anything to do with slavery.

    Martin Luther King Jr. suggested a colorblind society where people are judged by the content of their character. Make that suggestion on the left today and you’ll be accused of racism.

    The Left is far more tribal than the right.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Curt, you mean if I weren’t tribalist I’d agree with you? Wow.

    But why is tribalism of ideology okay? It too destroys objectivity. It fails in all the ways you charge other tribalists.

    This is silly.

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  14. D.G.,
    Let me restate what I wrote:


    But our differences of opinion here revolve around our working definitions of tribalism.

    If you were precise in what you are asking, I might be able to answer. And if you read my comments correctly, you would see that I reject ideological tribalism. Didn’t write the following:


    But still, a great frustration for me is that the Left promotes ideological tribalism. That goes against what Martin Luther King Jr. taught.

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  15. Robert,
    My definition of tribalism is simply an extension of a sociological definition. For that definition revolves around a high degree of loyalty to a group. And all I have done is to cite what follows from group loyalty as it increases.

    And no, I am not crazy. For the most part, the homosexual community is not a monolith though it shares varying degrees of marginalization. So, though many would disagree, they express that disagreement with varying degrees of intensity. And mere disagreement does not imply tribalism. It is how one disagrees that implies tribalism. If you disagree, please document your claim. I have more than a few friends from the LGBT community and I haven’t seen tribalism in the reactions of most of them.

    Finally, first, you don’t know the Left. My guess is that you confuse it liberals. Second, please document your claims here. The Left’s departure from King has more to do with being revolutionary instead of winning by persuading rather than focusing on the content of one’s character. But we should also note that those who grew up in privileged situations can sometimes appear to have better character than they really do and those who grew up marginalized can appear to have worse character than they really do.

    As for reparations, I see no problem with people demanding them. Where I do see the problem is emotional disconnect many have with our history

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  16. sdb says: ” sdb, you’d probably be disappointed if I didn’t say – that’s for sure – fear itself fearing of all/any but the Lord, that is”
    @ali ?

    oh, disappointed, if I didn’t ‘Bible verse’ some perspective 🙂

    dgh: “Can we go from the specific to the general and recognize fear is something that every (Christian) experiences? If so, then we may finally have a common point of reference for a shared existence. We are united in fear.”

    Psalm 86:11 Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.

    Revelation 15:3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works,O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of thenations! 4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy;For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

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  17. Curt,

    My definition of tribalism is simply an extension of a sociological definition. For that definition revolves around a high degree of loyalty to a group. And all I have done is to cite what follows from group loyalty as it increases.

    And no, I am not crazy. For the most part, the homosexual community is not a monolith though it shares varying degrees of marginalization. So, though many would disagree, they express that disagreement with varying degrees of intensity. And mere disagreement does not imply tribalism. It is how one disagrees that implies tribalism. If you disagree, please document your claim. I have more than a few friends from the LGBT community and I haven’t seen tribalism in the reactions of most of them.

    Finally, first, you don’t know the Left. My guess is that you confuse it liberals. Second, please document your claims here. The Left’s departure from King has more to do with being revolutionary instead of winning by persuading rather than focusing on the content of one’s character. But we should also note that those who grew up in privileged situations can sometimes appear to have better character than they really do and those who grew up marginalized can appear to have worse character than they really do.

    As for reparations, I see no problem with people demanding them. Where I do see the problem is emotional disconnect many have with our history.

    You aren’t paying attention because you are on the Left and pretty much think the Left can do no wrong. That’s evident on this blog nearly every time you comment.

    LGBT tribalism—just look at what they’ve done to people such as Barronelle Stutzman who is now a hateful bigot simply because she wouldn’t sell two men flowers for a “wedding.” That after she sells them flowers for everything else. Where is the LGBT advocacy group standing up for her? You might have the odd dissenter such as Andrew Sullvan, but he isn’t a part of the Left.

    Sure people can have better or worse character than at first glance. But the Left eschews all talk now of a colorblind society as being a racist construct to support white power or some such nonsense like that. And notice how you deflect. Where’s your, “Color of skin shouldn’t matter but only character.”

    Reparations—no problem with demanding them. Of course you don’t see it. But the demand is going to disenfranchise somebody, and at this point, a large number of people who never owned slaves and have never discriminated on the basis of race. How is that not exalting one tribe over another.

    Yes on emotional disconnect. Buy why does it seem that for you, the only people who don’t have an emotional disconnect are Leftists? Did it not ever occur to you that maybe people not on your side are just as concerned about these issues but think there are better ways to solve them? Doesn’t appear to be so. How is that not tribal?

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  18. Back to the the United States of Fear for a moment, are we united (based on the recent election) around “fear” or around saber rattling chutzpa? I mean, why does POTUS (ever since the Reagan administration) need to fly every place in a Boening 747 (a VC-25 in Air Force terminology), a w-a-a-ay oversized aircraft outfitted with several completely unnecessary over-sized offices and furniture to boot in the cabin area. I thought Trump made a commitment last December to cancel the Boeing contract to build another multi-billion 747 AF-1. Yet, he still travels everywhere in that existing bloated elephant. Let him follow through with his promise….

    Why not down-size that jumbo-jet to a reasonable level, say an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker? There’s plenty of room in the cabin of one of those to to add a desk and and a suite of communications and countermeasure gear (much of which is already in the planes) with extra room (40-50 people with mesh seats along the outside bulkhead) for various toadys and sycophants. Plus, one of these could travel completely around the world without the need for refueling.

    And they could add a second KC-135 to replace SAM-28000 as a decoy follow-plane at a minimal extra cost. Oh, and leave both aircraft on the USAF’s active duty roster so they could refuel any accompanying fighter jets in case of a national emergency (think 9/11 where AF-1 had to land 2-3 times while air guard fighter were scrambled all across the country as it travelled).

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  19. “That goes against what Martin Luther King Jr. taught.”

    It’s as if Martin Luther King Jr. was some profound thinker! Hilarious!

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  20. Robert,
    You wrote the following:


    You aren’t paying attention because you are on the Left and pretty much think the Left can do no wrong. That’s evident on this blog nearly every time you comment.

    But two times before that, I wrote the following:


    But still, a great frustration for me is that the Left promotes ideological tribalism. That goes against what Martin Luther King Jr. taught.

    IN addition, I wrote the following:


    The stronger the tribalism, the more we cut ourselves off from others and seek to conquer rather than to collaborate.

    Now if I believe that the Left can pretty much do no wrong, why am I promoting collaboration with others?

    It seems that you have a pigeonholed opposition to the Left not realizing that the Left is not a monolith. There are some Leftist perspective which I think are abhorrent and others I would modify. But again, the Left’s greatest fault is similar to the greatest fault of almost all other ideological groups in America: it is tribalism.

    Finally, check these two messages for consistency:
    Ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from the land and slavery and Jim Crow: Forget about it.

    9/11 : Never forget.

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  21. Joel,
    Are you saying that King was some we can ignore with no loss?

    Yeah, pretty much. You quote King Jr. like Reformed people quote Calvin. It’s bizarre, especially because unlike Calvin, King Jr. was no intellectual heavyweight. I guess you like him because he was a socialist that most Americans think was great?

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Joel,
    So we can ignore what he said about taking a nonviolent approach to addressing social injustice problems like racism? Or we can ignore what he said about materialism, poverty, and economic exploitation? Or we can ignore what he said about war and militarism and how our government is the ‘greatest purveyor’ of violence in the world? And that is all because he was not up to Calvin’s standards? What did Calvin say on those issues?

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  23. This is a silly exercise. Do you ignore Santayana? Do you ignore what he said about metaphysical naturalism? Do you ignore what he said about religion? Can we ignore all that he has written?

    You aren’t making a case for King Jr.’s genius here at all. King Jr. was not a novel or original thinker and the fact that you like to read him doesn’t make you less of a WASP.

    The non-violent approach to politics can be traced back to La Boettie, who actually was an original thinker. Do you ignore him?

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  24. Joel,
    Why pay attention to King and ignore Santayana or La Boettie? See, while you focus on who was an original thinker, I am focusing on the content of King’s writings and speeches. And how that content is as pertinent today as it was when he was alive. Why is that? But the subjects of his writings and speeches are still there from at least an a significant degree to an ominous one. We still have racism. We still have materialism/economic exploitation, and we still have war/militarism. And the last two pairing are important in terms of our future and the future of those who follow us. After all, scientists are the ones warning us of how dangerous our future is becoming because of what is being done to the envirnment and the threats posed by conflict with Russia. In fact, the longer we rely on war and militarism, we increase the probability of being attacked with a WMD because technology is making the proliferation of WMDs inevitable.

    Now if you can the concepts King talked about from others, then fine. Its the concepts he talked about that are important. But if not, then perhaps you are not contributing to the future of others.

    Now while you play your snobbery game of who’s who to read, King’s example is one to emulate. After all, how many people who lived as part of a marginalized group who called for peaceful resolution with and tried to win over those who not only attacked, but committed terrorism against King and his people do you know of? Again, if you learn the lessons he learned from someone else, then fine. But your snobbery is the result of pride and that isn’t part of the fruit of the Spirit.

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  25. D.G.,
    Since I am not sure which note you’re responding to here, The only reference I’ve made about King is about the Left. And from what I’ve seen say at the May Day protest speeches, there is the desire to conquer rather than to persuade. It’s from tribalism and it is wrong. Otherwise, I am not sure about your question.

    And it seems that unofficial stat you are citing is incomplete to draw any conclusions.

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  26. D.G.,
    Doesn’t matter who you invoke. What matters are the concepts you’re invoking

    BTW, I knew I was old before you advised me of it. I’m retired. I have grandchildren. And during the winter, the mall is my gym.

    Would like to read Coates but have other stuff to read now. I am reading about Russia when I can and I am reading A theology Of The Holy Spirit by Frederick Dale Bruner. I am also reading War Against The People By Jeff Halper.

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  27. Curt, right, King or Coates don’t matter, the ideas do. Which is why you should stop invoking King as an appeal to amenable authority. That and no one cares.

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  28. Joel,
    If ideas matter, then the fact that no one cares doesn’t. At least, that is what the OT prophets found out and one doesn’t have to be an OT prophet to speak good ideas.

    One of the most important quotes from King is below:


    The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

    Another one is


    We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

    Now it seems that if ideas count, whether they should be invoked depends on their value. Can you tell me why the ideas from those 2 quotes are not worthy of consideration?

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