A Culture of Fear

I generally take Tuesdays off. I might log into my classroom to answer any questions that students have posted, but beyond that I don’t touch it. On my days off I generally do a fair amount of reading. Grading papers all day, every day is not conducive to reading (either scholarly or otherwise), and so on days when I am working I generally have to do what reading I intend to actually complete before I start working. However, on Tuesdays, I can read all day if I want to (every so often I actually do). As part of my reading today I found this article. While I agree with the post as a whole (though I do keep a facebook album of my nephew’s baby pictures, I’ll probably take it down (or at least make it unviewable) when they turn five or so. However, there is one specific point that she makes in the middle of her article that I think is particularly important to keep in mind.

We live in a culture that promotes fear. Every day we are told by various news outlets that crime rates are rising exponentially. Friends, churches, various celebrities, and recognized national speakers all warn us that we are in danger, or our children are in danger, or our homes are in danger. Commercials actually play a big part in this now. Security companies sell their services by warning us that, without their protection, our homes will be broken into (of course, I could just buy an ADT sticker, put it in my front window, and achieve much the same effect as actually hiring the company). Drug companies warn us that if we don’t take their new phramaceutical miracle we will inevitably die of a heart attack (of course, the warning that their drug might actually cause said heart attack is rushed to the point of being unintelligable). Facebook news feeds  and twitter are commonly filled with claims and articles (many of them easily falsifiable) that both infuriate and terrify us, such as the ‘scandal‘ a week or two ago concerning Costco’s ‘attack on Christianity‘ and the outrage from fearful Christians, which then sparked outrage in response from equally fearful liberals. Of course, when someone actually bothered to ask Caleb Kaltenbach (the pastor in question) what he thought, his response wasn’t directed at Costco. All of that hubub over a labeling error… it boggles the mind. Whether our response is to be outraged or to quail in the corner, the response is inspired by our fear of what the reported situation means.

However, much of this fear is utterly without any realistic foundation. Jennifer Doverspike (author of the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post) isn’t technically correct that our children are ‘safer than they’ve ever been’. Children in the mid-1950s enjoyed one of the lowest violent crime rates in US history, and they probably were a little bit safer (at least from criminals), but the intent of her message is perfectly accurate. We are fairly safe, our children are fairly safe. In the last 100 years the homicide rate (the near-universally recognized best indicator for violent crime rates) has remained fairly steady. At it’s lowest (the mid to late ’50s) the homicide rate was four murders per 100,000 citizens. At it’s highest (the early ’80s) it was a markedly increased 10 murders per 100,000 citizens. That’s right, in 1980, the most dangerous year in the past century, you had a 0.0001 chance of being murdered. Personally, I can see how that would terrify everyone. Really, I mean, the idea that I might be selected out of a crowd of 100,000 people is utterly terrifying. If you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic.

Since the early ’80s violent crime rates have actually fallen drastically. They stayed high through the ’80s and early ’90s, then dropped in the mid ’90s, only to rise again. Then, in the early 2000s violent crime rates plummeted to a mere 6 murders per 100,000 citizens. Needless to say, this isn’t something that any of us should be overly terrified about. Now, obviously, local crime rates differ. At the moment, if you live in inner city Chicago, IL then you certainly have more reason to be cautious than people who live in Wake Forest, NC. However, in general our culture pushes us to an utter and abstract terror of everything that is not even remotely justified. Doverspike’s points about how we have let this fear affect our children are well founded (and, as I said above, I agree that we need to treat their online lives with a little less fear and a little more respect).

Instead of being sucked into a culture of fear, we should be exploring the nation we live in. (Oh, and by the way, I have actually lived in close proximity to drug dealers for an extended period of time. Sometimes they wanted to shoot each other, but I never found one who wanted to shoot me. This isn’t to say that drug dealers aren’t dangerous, but they don’t generally go around willy-nilly shooting potential clientele.) We should be exploring our neighborhoods, getting to know our neighbors, meeting people at local venues, and enjoying our lives. If we weren’t so busy being scared and then mad and then scared again, we might actually succeed in both finding meaning in life and sharing our faith with friends who don’t know much about it, rather than trying to ram it down the throats of strangers.

So, my point? Isn’t it obvious? Plato set out four virtues: Courage, Wisdom, Justice, and Temperance. As a culture we encourage none of these. Personally, I think it’s time to man-up.

Simple Complaining

I am moderately overweight (30-40ish lbs).  I’m actually smaller now than I have been in a long time. I’ve been fat since I was 10 years old. It took a diet (caused by poverty, not choice) of one can of green beans a day and some pretty intense exercise to drop fifty pounds and I’ve managed to keep most of it off (I’ve gained back about 10 pounds). This month I’m doing a planned semi-extreme diet (not as extreme as a can of green beans a day) to hopefully drop another 10-20 pounds. Here’s the thing though, I gain weight if I eat much over 1500 calories a day for any extended amount of time. At about 1500 calories a day I can maintain my weight, at 1000 or less calories a day I might (key word here) actually start to lose weight. It’s definitely a losing battle and sometimes I wonder: what’s the fucking point?

It’s not that I don’t want to look good. I’ve even at a point now where I have several forms of exercise (martial arts, lifting [sometimes], elliptical machines, and yoga) that I actually enjoy. However, 1000 calories a day and 2 hrs working out a day is hard to maintain on a busy schedule. Of course, this is also when thoughts like ‘there’s no point, no one will love me anyway’ start to worm their way into my consciousness and wiggle around inside my head. Little thoughts like that can cause huge problems for my battle against my weight, my health in general, and my emotional life at large. Nonetheless, they are there. The fears, the worries, the negative self-esteem, all present and accounted for.

That being said, I’ve talked about self-esteem in general before, and I view negative self-esteem the same way. Just like positive self-esteem, negative self-esteem is a bad thing, not because it builds a poor self image, but because it isn’t based on anything real or true. Self-esteem is, at its core, an over-focusing on ourselves, and an under-focusing on others. Whether that self-esteem is negative or positive doesn’t actually matter, both are equally bad. Both equally over-focus the mind on the self, and both are built on lies that we tell ourselves, not on actual experience that reflects who we really are. Self-esteem is fragile precisely because it is fragile and selfish. The fact that it doesn’t have any basis in reality makes it much harder to disprove (no, seriously, try to actually prove that Unicorns or Dragons don’t exist sometime). The experiential evidence of life doesn’t matter, but at the same time, anything (whether experiential or equally as unreal as self-esteem itself) that throws our self-esteem into doubt is immediately counted as a threat and attacked.

I fall into this the same as anyone else. I fight back against the idea that there might be a point to trying. I argue that I’m worthless, stupid, pointless, and undesirable. I make a point of convincing myself about these things precisely so that I can convince other people. Honestly, I’m doing a lot better about this than I have in the past, but its something that I still struggle with. My ‘self-esteem’ isn’t based on any kind of reality. Honestly, a lot of it is based on the fact that women keep rejecting me. However, the fact that I’ve had a lot of rejection doesn’t actually say anything about my value as a person. The only thing that it might provide real evidence for is the claim that I’m undesirable. It certainly says nothing about my worth, intelligence, or purpose. Not only is my self-esteem unrealistic, but it is entirely self-involved. I can get so busy throwing myself an idiotic pity party that I forget to consider what’s around me and miss opportunities to actually be a worthwhile person.

Like I said, I’m getting better about this. It’s still a work in progress, and still far from completion, but I am getting better, and I hope to keep getting better. So, right now my answer to the question: what’s the fucking point? Is: I want to.