Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

People Are Fearful and Stupid

There as a great line in Fear the Walking Dead last Sunday.  The character had grown up in death squad era El Salvador and told a story about them.  He then says the following (I'm paraphrasing):

"My father said, 'Don't hate these men.  People aren't evil. They do evil things because they are afraid.'  And I knew then that my father was a fool, because he thought there was a difference."

Most of the stupid and evil things that Americans do, like supporting Donald Trump or thinking Muslim kids deserve to be arrested for building clocks, is based on being afraid.  And so much of being afraid is tied to ignorance and stupidity.  From a caveman who freaks out during an eclipse to a Roman mariner who feared dragons and the edge of the earth to an elderly housewife who thinks the local mosque is a terrorist training camp, so much of the evil that we do to ourselves is based on being stupid and ignorant.

This is never more true than our discussions of crime.

The simple truth is that crime is falling and has been falling for some time.  As the Vox piece demonstrates it's not just perceptions of crime that is warped.  We think there are more teen pregnancies, when they are actually declining.  We think ISIS is growing when it's actually shrinking.  We think the budget deficit is increasing, when it's getting smaller.

In a climate of mass ignorance, it's no surprise that people like Donald Trump or Ben Carson have some political appeal.  How could they not?  They are feeding our irrational fears, which simply make those fears grow larger and stronger.  Trump in particular is so mind-boggingly vague about his plans that it's comical.  "I'm going to get a better deal." is pretty much his entire answer on foreign policy.  But his supporters don't care about policy, they care that Trump A) validates their fears and B) promises to end them.

He's not a presidential candidate, he's a bedtime story.

Needless to say, as someone whose adult life has been spent trying to learn and teach about how the world actually works, this is all very depressing.  But I'm hopeful that a message of pants-wetting cowardice is not the road to the White House.

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