Imagine the boogeyman. Can you see him clearly? Do you remember exactly what it was that he was going to do to you? To be honest, my childhood fears were nebulous at best. As a very small child I remember being frightened by shadows. I was lucky that I lived in a safe and loving home where the only threats to me were shadows. But sometimes life is scary anyway.
America is the country where everyone is coming to get you. The reason that Americans have so many existential threats is very simple. Everyone hates our freedoms and they’re coming to take them away! Just kidding. In the absence of a real existential threat people will look extremely hard for a new threat no matter how ridiculous. Most threats are little more than scary labels and menacing overtones about what might happen, some day, down the road, by some people, somewhere.
Take a personal favorite. Sharia Law. For those who may be unaware, Sharia Law is an ethical and legal framework in the Muslim world. How seriously it’s taken and how it’s precepts are integrated into muslim societies depends on the specific region that we’re talking about. In conservative tribal regions, it’s given the force of political and military might and interpreted by exceedingly atavistic judges. Forcing women to wear a Hijab and never leave the house without a male family member as escort would be one example of this. In more liberal or western style areas of the world, people might see Sharia Law as more metaphorical or as simply good advice for how to live a good life or as an archaic part of their cultural heritage and traditions. There might even be a fair number of Muslims that would sit down with professed Jews and eat a bacon cheeseburger at lunch over a beer without the smallest twinge of conscience. What Sharia Law means varies from person to person and region to region. A better question though is, what does it mean to stupid Americans? For them it’s wrapped up in racist, anti-immigrant, islamophobia. They honestly believe that there is a concerted effort for America-hating Muslims to come to this country, out-breed the rest of us, and impose strict the same strict islamic restrictions seen in some places around the world. Are these people worried about fundamentalist christians taking over? Not even a little. Even though there are vastly more fundamentalist christians that muslims of any variety. Even though there are, in fact, any number of fundamentalist Christian havens in the country or fundamentalist groups working toward the removal of the separation between church and state which an entire subset of conservative christians see somewhat unfavorably anyway. Even though Sharia Law would be blatantly unconstitutional they’re still terrified that some day it will somehow be implemented. They’re even worried it’s being implemented now on a small scale. There are christians worried about Halal foods being put on the market shelves. It might not even be labeled as such (shocking!) because you know, even if you eat halal food unknowingly you might catch Muslim cooties. They worry about Muslims in this country because Muslims are so connected to terrorism and the conflict within the middle east in a way that they do not associate with Christians. Hence, Sharia Law paranoia.
A second major existential threat feared by stupid people is Marxism/socialism/communism/naziism/ and a whole host of 1930’s -isms that haven’t been relevant in decades. To be fair, communism did represent an existential threat at the height of the Cold War with the USSR in the 60s and 70s. They had that whole, Mutual Assured Destruction thing going. It was a silly bunch of decades that made enough of a mess around the world that we’re still trying to clean it up. It’s a major source of fear even though most people lack a coherent definition of Marxism or Socialism. This is probably what breeds the fear of Marxism/socialism in the first place. To be clear, Marxism as a social theory tried to explain how different economic classes come into conflict with each other, particularly over the means of production. Which, in the 1860s, there was a lot of that. Marxism as an economic theory is a specific branch of Socialism that was never implemented. Marx believed that workers should be the owners of any business that produces goods or services (actually employee owned businesses aren’t so far fetched and there are any number of successful modern examples). You can see how seriously later communists took his ideas. Even though Marxism got subsumed by Stalinism and other forms of Socialism, people still associate Marxism with the same dire existential threat of the USSR. It’s not enough that communism was defeated in the USSR, and dying in other places around the world, people are worried about socialism right here in the United States. It has no rational explanation. There are no political leaders espousing particularly socialist philosophies, the movement isn’t gaining ground among the general population beyond a small fringe minority, and there are no viable legal mechanisms for the large scale transfer of ownership to either the government or to employees of large businesses, and no military or civilian support for a violent revolution and coup against the government. But stupid people are still afraid that the Marxists are going to get you, someday, somehow, and they’re going to cheat because nothing so awesome as American Capitalism could be brought down any other way.
Then there’s the “Homosexual Agenda”. This is a favorite among christian conservatives. This one is hard for me to explain since the threat is vague enough that I’m not sure how it’s defined. It has to do with something about how tolerating gays will lead to the destruction of every family in the country (with the possible exception of a few fundamentalist christian ones), which, in turn, will destroy the country and bring about the wrath of God. As a friend of mine once stated. The gay agenda is a three step plan. Step 1. Legalize gay marriage. Step 2. ??? Step 3. Take over the world. Perhaps like the threats of Sharia Law and Socialism it represents real fear precisely because it’s so vague. Fortunately the fear about gay rights is quickly fading. A bastion of bigotry and intolerance may never fade away completely, but I doubt that it’ll have the same
You and everyone around you is stupid because of your emotions. These fears have nothing to do with the higher reasoning that individuals are capable. It’s a knee-jerk emotional reaction to an over excited imagination. These are just three of the fears that some people have. In the minds of stupid people, these fears represent clear and immediate threats to the things they value most. Their families, their property, and their religion. You can not argue with these people, you can not debate with them because you can never take away their irrational fears. They’re emotions are short-circuiting their braines. This is about the little barbarian in all of us that responds not to “civilized impulses” but the fear and cowardice of any wild animal. Our brains respond to fear. And fear is exceedingly powerful. Someone once said, that “Fear is the mind killer” and it’s as true as anything I know.
And to be fair to Humanity, paranoid, delusional human beings aren’t the norm. Most are just regular Joes going about their day. But Fear permeates so much of the national discussion. It sets policy for us at every level of government. If you don’t believe me, then answer me this question: Why does the US make up 40% of the world’s total defense spending? If you include US allies that total raises to almost 2/3 of total global spending and represents a fifth of total government spending each year. This doesn’t even include revenue for intelligence agencies and other paramilitary organizations. These are not the actions of a ‘sane’ population. These are the actions of a population that considers itself very much under threat, even if it’s not sure from whom.