Are we in a State of Fear, or Resignation?

In short order we’ve witnessed two events–one a calamity and the other a near calamity–that have our collective attention raised.  But do they also have our fear response raised?  

The oil rig disaster in the Gulf reminds us that there is not a perfectly failsafe technology.  The best minds of the oil kingdom devised a multilayer system to stop exactly this sort of spill from happening—and yet, it’s happening. 

The CEO of BP, taking interviews from disaster central in Louisiana, freely admits that they have no idea why the system failed or what to do about it. It’s the nightmare scenario millions of dollars were spent to prevent only to have what could be the worst oil disaster in U.S. history to show for it.    

The Times Square car bomb (even if it couldn’t explode) reminds us that security measures equipped to thoroughly prevent terrorism simply do not exist, and never will. Terrorism, whether from internal or external villains, is too amorphous and adaptable to be prevented by measures that will never be exhaustive enough.  Eventually, a properly rigged car bomb will be placed in a car parked on a city street and not be noticed, and lives will be lost.

I’m sure most of us acknowledge how destructive the oil spill is and hate to think about the terrible outcomes we’re just beginning to see.  And it’s a safe bet that the thought of a bomb blowing up Times Square horrifies most of us. 

But I would contend that neither event is making us more afraid than we were before.  In the last 15 years, we’ve seen terrorists from within and abroad carry out unprecedented murder and destruction.  We’ve also seen the worst natural disaster in U.S. history demolish a region and leave its inhabitants living in third world conditions.  To round things out, we’re experiencing the worst economic disaster in a century and all of the pain it is causing.

I think we’ve collectively moved from a state of fear to a state of resignation, and I can’t help but believe this is a good thing.  That’s not to say we aren’t afraid—of course we are. Only someone with a full emotional lobotomy wouldn’t feel fear about worst possible outcomes. 

But I don’t think fear is the prevailing emotion guiding our reactions. We’re less prone to panic now.  We’re more likely to accept that not all contingencies can be planned for, no matter how grand the plan or smart the planners. We’re more in touch with limitations, and less tied to expectations of how things “should be.” 

I’m tempted to call this a movement into maturity, but I’m skeptical of applying human developmental terms so broadly. Maybe it’s just as well to say that we’ve opened our eyes and learned to accept more than we ever wanted to.

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3 thoughts on “Are we in a State of Fear, or Resignation?

  1. I was one of the lucky 23,000,000 who on Easter Sunday felt the 7.2 earthquake in SoCal – thank you Mexico, though it wasn’t far across your border and earthquakes, unlike immigrants, do not fear deportation. Resigned to disaster? Do you think the coal miners who died recently had a death wish? Drilling an oil well underwater three miles into the bottom of the sea – sounds like a disaster could, would, will happen. There have been over 100 murders in Los Angeles since the beginning of the year. I don’t think any of those victims were resigned to die. I can’t be afraid of the “Big One” anymore than New Yorkers can be afraid of terrorism. Tom Medlicott

  2. Perhaps we could reflect that all our lives are almost totally chance (150,000,000 sperm, one egg)and luck. They are meaningless, pointless, purposeless (other than survival to reproduce) and short.

    They have value only as we assign it. Let’s assign a little more and enjoy them.

  3. I’m not sure I’d call it a state of resignation as much as I would a willingness to acknowledge reality. Last time I looked, life wasn’t risk free. We came within inches of a bad car accident on a sunny afternoon Sunday driving back from New York. We did nothing wrong, just as those standing around in Times Square did nothing wrong. We breathed deeply and went on with their lives just as I’d presume they did. I’m not a fatalist. It’s possible to be vigilant just as it’s possible to drive with two hands on the wheel, concentrating instead of talking on a cell phone. Whatever we call it, I hope you’re right. I’ve watched the Right feed on American fear for a decade or more now. It works, time and time again. At the same time, when we talk about enormous deficits and the threat of terrorism, we never seem to make a connection between the numbers of our soldiers waging wars overseas for nearly a decade and the growing animosity of people in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to us. I know this will be dismissed as hopelessly naive by many but perhaps the best way to guard against terrorism is to stop exporting the fight around the world.

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