"Be scared. You can't help that. But
don't be afraid."
— William Faulkner, American author,
Many of us still love Halloween just because
as children we were deliciously scared without being really
afraid of spooky things — at the door, in the streets and in
haunted houses. We dressed in fun costumes and collected candy.
But some of us recall in our study of
history, or feel in our bones, how ghosts and goblins walked the
earth as the summer/harvest half of the year turned to winter.
Facing our superstitions helped us deal with the very real fear
of starving or freezing to death in our caves or in our huts at
the edge of the forest. Life used to be much more dangerous than
it has been lately for most of us. Civilization and science have
replaced the unknown.
However, this is in many ways an illusion. We
have tamed the wilderness and created defenses against hostile
creatures, but life is dangerous always, and the ending is
always death. Whistling, we dress as Death and zombies and
vampires, bravely pretending control. But, as Shakespeare wrote,
"something wicked this way comes."
This year, perhaps being "scared" is no
longer so much fun, as a new reality begins to make us "afraid."
Yeats joins Shakespeare in noting that
something bad is coming: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot
hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world; the blood-dimmed
tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is
drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full
of passionate intensity." Is this a description of October 2011,
The bloody corpse of evil dictator Gadhafi
has been buried, but the rebels who killed him announce that the
new government will be bound by Sharia law — which would terrify
me if I had to live anywhere near it. Meanwhile, places where I
have lived, like Greece and Mexico, demonstrate aspects of
anarchy, with riots in Athens and drug cartels killing law
enforcement officers just below our southern border.
Blood-dimmed tides in Africa may not directly affect us here,
but debt-dimmed European economies certainly will.
The innocence of our children is being
ceremoniously drowned. Television, rap music and video games
glorify violence and, as with fashion, sexualize girls at an
early age. Some schools teach graphic details about sex in the
early grades. At home, children watch real violence on the
Parents who attempt to protect their kids
from these influences risk leaving them unprotected from more
Where to start with adults who lack all
conviction, or who are full of passionate intensity about things
they haven't been educated to understand?
Right after Halloween comes Thanksgiving,
which this year comes with its deadline for Congress to deal
with our genuinely frightening national debt. Pete Kasperowicz
of The Hill, a Washington newsletter, reports that people are
finally realizing that cutting $1.5 trillion over the next
decade, as the so-called supercommittee was charged to do, "is
going to be really hard."
Some observers are talking about "gridlock."
Others are already bracing for the automatic cuts required if
priorities aren't set.
A subset of these others, led by Arizona Sen.
John McCain, is threatening to fight automatic defense cuts.
This could mean that nothing at all gets done
and the debt beast continues slouching toward fiscal Armageddon.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has called for a new world economic
order, similar to communism, under a global political authority.
Also meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden has
been predicting more murders and rapes if the president's jobs
bill doesn't pass. Now I think we're moving out of "afraid" to
"pretend scary" again; no one has found evidence that budget
cuts cause more crime. At some point, though, in a major fiscal
crisis driven by overwhelming debt and unfunded liabilities,
it's safe to assume we'll be less safe.
One thing I'm afraid of are the "superbugs" —
bacteria that evolve to be resistant to known antibiotics. Hope
Big Pharma, as it's sometimes disdainfully called, uses profits
from existing drugs to develop new ones. The growing shortage of
doctors willing to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients is
Someone once said that there is so much to be
afraid of, there's no point in worrying about anything.
Certainly we can't spend our lives worrying about disease,
earthquakes or climate change. This fall, physicists in Italy
detected particles traveling faster than light, which I think
cancels time altogether.
When I was growing up, my friends and I were
all terribly afraid of nuclear war, which we were told would
wipe out life on Earth. I just watched a PBS special on wildlife
in the Chernobyl nuclear accident zone, where scientists are
surprised to see wolves, bison, birds and fish, as well as green
things, thriving where men can't live.
Not that men won't move back eventually; I've
seen an aerial view of Hiroshima, which is now a brilliantly lit
modern city. Terrible things have happened; life has gone on.
At Halloween 2011, we should be scared of
ghosts and goblins, vampires and zombies. But facing the many
real problems of our world and in our lives, we must not be
afraid; it doesn't help.