Fight the Fear: Review of The Monarchy of Fear

The 300's of the Dewey Decimal System are devoted to how humans respond to the world. Some of my favorite books end up in the 300's, so making a selection was difficult.

I chose a new book, The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha Nussbaum because it tackles the problem of "doomsdaying."

"Doomsdaying" is my term  for the tendency of human beings to insist that things are getting worse (see "Talking about Politics: The 6 Reasons It Stinks").

I do not perceive myself as a rebel, yet I become a maverick in just about any group I associate with because I persistently refuse to adopt the premise that evil influences are trying to destroy our children, big businesses are trying to tear us down, the world is falling apart, Armageddon is right around the corner, eventually there will be nothing good left, how can you not see it?! 

When I resist, the people with whom I am trying hard not to argue will pull out their "facts" (which usually consist of stating that X number of people have died or caught diseases in the last 24 hours--I consider these types of facts misleading at best), occasionally religious texts (depending on the group), and almost always the latest news story.

I have never been the kind of person who could pull random information out of the air to refute false claims. So I end up simply shaking my head, leading the arguers to assume that I am oh, so, incredibly naive.

But here's the thing: no matter with whom I am arguing--atheists or fundamentalists, liberals or conservatives--the rhetoric is fear-based. The world twenty, thirty, or hundred years ago was a paradise and is now horrible.

The group getting blamed varies. I've heard lovers of doomsdaying blame the left, the right, corporations, 1 percenters, the news, Hollywood, Clinton 1, Clinton 2, the Bushes, Trump, religious people, atheists, etc. etc. etc.  The rhetoric is always the same.

Nussbaum provides a Freudian explanation for this tendency to panic--hey, being born into a scary world is difficult--while Hans Rosling of the delightful Factfulness calls on evolutionary psychology. They both argue (Nussbaum more philosophically; Rosling more jovially) that human beings have this single tendency: its bred into our bones, its part of our internal makeup.

Fear keeps us alive. It also keeps us stupid. Rosling points out that a test about the world's conditions that he gave to Nobel Laureates still resulted in more wrong answers than if he gave the test to chimpanzees. And Nussbaum states:
"On both the left and the right, panic doesn't just exaggerate our dangers, it also makes our moment much more dangerous than it would otherwise be, more likely to lead to genuine disasters. It's like a bad marriage, in which fear, suspicion, and blame displace careful thought about what the real problems are and how to resolve them. Instead, those emotions, taking over, become their own problem and prevent constructive work, hope, listening, and cooperation."
Nussbaum's best analysis is when she delves into the problem of envy. She argues that yes, there is a place for pointing out inequalities in our culture/country/world. But pointing out inequalities constructively with the express desire of righting those wrongs is quite different from destructively trying to tear down people who have more money, more privileges, more stuff.

Rosling makes the same point when he castigates the use of fear to bring about change. It's bad manners. It doesn't work. And it often ends up causing more harm than good.

And they are right! I see the use of fear and "you'd better do what we say or you won't make it to paradise" threats--in any venue--as having a boomerang effect. Sure, the fear and threats work temporarily but the resultant push back almost always results in more of the thing the fear-mongers fear. The Terror after the beginning of the French Revolution didn't result in reform throughout the European World. Instead, places like Britain pushed back on reform movements in their own countries out of fear that what happened in France would happen to them.

You can see their point.

I am personally pleased by the increase in books trying to lower fear or at least understand it. I recently watched the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, which I'll review at a later date. For now, let's just say, a lot of people are getting tired of meanness and fear.

So maybe eventually, I won't feel like so much of a maverick after all.

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