“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first inaugural address. March 4, 1933.
I always thought that line was poetic and reassuring. “Yes, things are bad, but take heart.” These days, I think it’s more perceptive than that.
Imagine the fear felt by those with power and privilege, hiding behind equipment humans ought to know better than to have even designed, as they are confronted by people with nothing, and whose fears are closer to the bone. That’s a dangerous combination that some real love, courage, and bold changes of direction would do a lot for. I keep hoping and working for that, and it seems in short supply.
We know we can build a much better world than the one we’ve got. I think taking a calm walk together with these fears is the only way to get there.
Charles Bowden, an American journalist making his life in murderous Ciudad Juarez, Mexico puts it well.
“The biggest thing we’re confronting, that’s going to kill us all if we don’t do something about it, is fear. Climate change? Detail. This fuckin’ planet’s been through the wringer several times. Meteors hit it, volcanoes, y’know- now you’re never gonna interview a dinosaur.
But it’s the fear that’s paralyzing. I’ve watched fear grow in my lifetime. I was born in 1945. My childhood was damaged men who’d come back from the war, who came from a class of people who, they were not officers. They were optimistic. They all believed in the future, even though a lot of them still had the shakes from World War II. And I’ve watched fear grow.
When I went into the labor market, left college, basically, in the ‘60’s, my biggest concern was that I’d get a job, and be trapped in a fucking life, instead of being free. Now, I talk to people in their 20’s, and they want to know about their pension plan.
Now we have a society that can’t deal with overpopulation; can’t even say the goddamn word. Can’t deal with climate change. Can’t deal with the fact that resources are limited, and can’t deal with race.
And so unless we deal with fear, we’re nothing.”
It’s like a visceral reincarnation of FDR’s words after they’ve slipped out from in front of the Vaseline-edged camera lens and returned to the wild. You should listen to the whole interview this is quoted from.
The house is on fire. Anything we do, for ourselves or for anyone else, for any reason, for the rest of our lives, is meaningful and important based on how it relates to the house being on fire. Are we helping put it out, or are we pouring gasoline on?
Two Old Men Talk About What’s on the Other Side of Fear
Listening to the talking heads who are paid handsomely to sell us the latest war, I am struck by two old men who lived through a lot, and tried to remind us of something. They’re the only two people I’ve ever heard talk about it.
The two old men are Stephane Hessel and Tony Benn. The thing they so wisely reminded us of is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in the wake of World War II.
Stephane Hessel was a member of the French Resistance in the war, helped draft the Declaration in its aftermath, and wrote “Time for Outrage” around the time the Occupy Movement began. And Tony Benn, well, Tony’s track record speaks for itself. Nobody pulls off deep decency alongside utter Imperialist depravity like the British, and Tony’s one of the very good eggs.
As we seem to be spiraling deeper into this state of war we are constantly being sold, it seems like a good time to look at what people who had just lived through the kind of horror we appear headed toward decided to commit to.
Like Charles Bowden’s interview, I’d heartily recommend reading the entire declaration. The ambitions it holds for compassion and decency are beautiful and important.