There's a difference between being scared and being afraid
by Barbara Anderson


The Salem News
Thursday, October 27, 2011


"Be scared. You can't help that. But don't be afraid."

William Faulkner, American author, 1897-1962

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, or what!?

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 evening news.

Parents who attempt to protect their kids from these influences risk leaving them unprotected from more jaded classmates.

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 frightening, too.

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.


The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.


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