I hesitate to suggest a possible explanation for the increasing nervousness that seems to be surrounding us. Clearly, there are numerous causes. But the fact that people are growing increasingly fearful is clear and it behooves those of us who seek to understand to suggest possible reasons for that fear. As increasing numbers of people in this country turn to people like Trump for answers we must admit that many seek a person or persons who can make them feel safer from the evils that surround them and which are exaggerated at every possible opportunity by those who seek power over them.
But the fear is more widespread than just in this country as we see England withdraw from the European Union and we hear about coups in Turkey and massive killings in France. The world is in turmoil and clear heads are hard to find in the midst of confusion. The trend is decidedly toward isolationism as folks seem convinced they are safer if left alone and rid of people unlike themselves. We see it on a personal level as the trend toward what I have called “inverted consciousness,” the tendency to fixate on the self and personalize all issues, has gradually become commonplace. The social media simply exacerbate the problem. And we now are beginning see it on an international level as countries seek to isolate themselves and turn their attention inward rather than outwards.
A blogging buddy of mine has suggested on his blog that we need to build bridges rather than fences and he is right. Until or unless folks start talking with one another they will continue to fear what they do not understand. And as the human population grows, the planet becomes more crowded, and violence becomes more widespread among frustrated and fearful people, the desire for fences, unfortunately, will become even greater. Fear is the rule of the day and the demagogues who seek public office know this better than anyone. They feed on it and pass it around like porridge, knowing that starving folks will gobble it down. And they offer solutions in the form of platitudes and over simplifications — and downright lies. Their seeming command of answers reassures those who have none and who live with their own sense of powerlessness. “Deliver us from evil.” That is the promise.
The fact is, however, that others cannot solve our problems. We cannot escape the fear except by knowing more and we cannot understand others without opening lines of communication with them. DeTocqueville once said that Americans desire freedom but they would trade it away in a second for equality — they want what others have more than they want the freedom that brings with it the burden of responsibility. The same could be said about security. We talk about freedom and think we have it here in this country. But we vie with our neighbors and we wallow in fear of those who seem to threaten us in one way or another. It appears we will settle for the security offered by those who promise to rid us of our fears, even if in doing so we abandon freedom altogether. That way lies totalitarianism, political control by the few and powerful.
In any event, we must not look to others for solutions. We must seek solutions ourselves. We must come out of ourselves and turn toward others since that is the way toward increased understanding. Others might frighten us (heaven knows Trump frightens me) but we must try to listen to what they have to say and figure out some way to open lines of communication rather than turn away, build fences, and seek safety in our hidey-holes. The answer is not found in social media or self-absorption, and it is not in the lies and empty promises of vapid politicians; rather it lies in seeking to know the truth about the real world, terrifying though it is, and the people who make up the real world, terrifying though they can be at times.