Thursday, November 22, 2007

Freedom from fear

By Carol Gee

"President Franklin D. Roosevelt, wearing his naval cloak, on the deck of an American warship, July 14, 1938."

People have until the end of the year to to see this exhibit, "Freedom From Fear," at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. Edward Rothstein, New York Times exhibit reviewer, made the exhibit sound like something very worthwhile as he described the beginning of the exhibit. To quote:

[the display of] . . . Roosevelt's typed draft of his famous speech to Congress delivered the next day: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941," it begins, "a date which will live in world history. ... "

But the words "world history" are boldly crossed out, while above, in F.D.R.'s distinctive hand is their substitute: "infamy."

Without that slight change, the Japanese attack might have seemed like something out of a textbook, a completed and inevitable event in "world history" — not as something that demanded response in the present, and led, terrifyingly, into an unknown future.

Seeing that draft has the same effect. History starts to seem less like a "rendezvous with destiny" — to use one of Roosevelt's other famous phrases — and more like something contingent, something struggled through, something messy, that could have turned out very differently.

The reason things turned out as they did during the course of the war was in part due to leadership, FDR's leadership of the American people during those very fearful times in the 1940s. Rothstein's well written piece ends with this very interesting paragraph from which he quotes the humble wisdom of another great leader, Winston Churchill:

The day before he died, Roosevelt worked on a speech about the postwar world, reminding the country "that great power involves great responsibility." I like that the exhibition also shows the pulp mystery found on his night stand: "The Punch and Judy Murders" by Carter Dickson. Human beings, not icons, are at work — something that is always humbling. As Churchill somberly put it, "Stupendous issues are unfolding before our eyes, and we are only specks of dust that have settled in the night on the map of the world."

Fast Forward to Fear -- November 8, 2007 brought this catchy headline: "How to profit from a police state" refers to a Jon Markman story, written for MSN Money - (Hat tip to "betmo" for this story). The story begins:

In the midst of a six-year war on terrorism, widening income inequality and a growing fear of immigrants, America has become something of a police state, according to a new study, with as much as 25% of our entire labor force focused on protection rather than production.

The evidence is all around us, from the 47% increase in U.S. workers classified as security guards since 2002 to the sharp advance in the number of men and women under arms in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The author's point is that there is money to be made by investing in the security business, and he is not referring to the securities that are traded on the stock exchange. He terms it "The Age of Nefarious." To quote further:

. . . The study by noted Santa Fe Institute and University of Massachusetts economists Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev, called "Garrison America," suggests that one in four Americans are now engaged in "guard labor," which means they either provide security for people and property or impose work discipline at factories, farms and retailers.

Similar calculations of guard labor for 18 other countries suggest that the United States is pretty much the leader in this category, slightly trailing Greece, a former military dictatorship, but well ahead of Western democracies such as Switzerland, which has just a 10th of its labor force devoted to guard labor.

More good news on the fear front -- Many of the clients with whom I worked before my retirement were unable to deal with their fears. The key for each of us to to correctly ascertain whether our anxiety or fear is rational or irrational. From we see this Halloween headline discussing the scientific progress made in the treatment of debilitating anxiety and panic disorders: "Scientists Note Brain's Reaction to Fear." To quote the author, Seth Borenstein:

Science is getting a grip on people's fears. As Americans revel in all things scary on Halloween, scientists say they now know better what's going on inside our brains when a spook jumps out and scares us. Knowing how fear rules the brain should lead to treatments for a major medical problem: When irrational fears go haywire.

. . . About 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A Harvard Medical School study estimated the annual cost to the U.S. economy in 1999 at roughly $42 billion.

Fear is a basic primal emotion that is key to evolutionary survival. It's one we share with animals. Genetics plays a big role in the development of overwhelming — and needless — fear, psychologists say. But so do traumatic events.

Overcoming irrational fears -- the product of irrational thinking. The author concludes with this, from which I quote:

. . . To help overcome overwhelming fear, psychologist Carbonell, author of the ''Panic Attacks Workbook,'' has his patients distinguish between a real threat and merely a perceived one. They practice fear attacks and their response to them. He even has them fill out questionnaires in the middle of a fear attack, which changes their thinking and causes reduces their anxiety.

That's important because the normal response for dealing with a real threat is either flee or fight, Carbonell said. But if the threat is not real, the best way to deal with fear is just the opposite: ''Wait it out and chill.''

And that is the trick, dear readers. "Wait it out and chill." Some citizens wonder who of all the presidential candidates will be able to best protect the United States. Such anxiety is their prime consideration. In my opinion these folks have become victimized by fear-mongering. Others of us are civil libertarians who have our own fears. We worry about the loss of constitutional protections of privacy in the administration's current pursuit of what is called national security. Are we, too, victims of irrational fears? Should we just wait them out and chill?

Or should we be worried about the recent court decision in San Francisco, that some see as a partial victory for the administration's domestic surveillance programs? The story is headlined, "Court Bars Secret Papers in Eavesdropping Case" -from the New York Times of 11/17/07. To quote:
A federal appeals court said Friday that secrecy laws had forced it to exclude crucial evidence about the government’s wiretapping of an Islamic charity, making it far more difficult for the charity to proceed with its challenge to the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program.

But the court did please critics of the program in finding that the government’s “cascade” of public statements had made the program anything but a secret, defusing one of the administration’s main arguments for throwing all such lawsuits out of court.

The complex ruling was a partial victory for the Bush administration and signaled possible trouble for those trying to prove that the eavesdropping program was illegal and unconstitutional.

The jury is still out on the rationality of public fears in 2007. Leadership is needed. Are you fearful or chilled? Anxious or relaxed? Vigilant or at ease? Think about it.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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