Fear of Terrorism and a Muddling of Judgment

12/15/2015 12:51 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2016

On December 10, 2015, the New York Times and CBS announced their findings that Americans currently have a fear of terrorism as high as what was present right after 9/11. This poll makes me hope -- cautiously -- that focusing on this fact might open us up more to study and to stop some of the destructive effects of that fear.

Fear is not to be dismissed glibly but rather appreciated as a warning of danger to come as well as a form of protection that is both human and sane. On the other hand it can blur our thinking, and make us vulnerable not only to the things and people who might be threatening us, but to the people and emotions that rile us up to make adrenaline fueled decisions that will affect our lives and the lives of others.

It is not the easiest for Americans to look at our mistakes, and it can be hard even to focus on the alternative. The alternative, here, would be help ourselves and each other, get in touch with our urge to cooperate, to learn, to study--to learn from our mistakes and from other historical complexities. For one, there is another danger that it seems worthy to fear: people--politicians and pundits especially--can put the danger before us with minute-by-minute details that raise the level of anxiety. Some of the people attracted to our political extremists, are very terrified into fighting confusion at all costs and declaring victory over any and every problem, human and otherwise. It's a kind of bullying, where the victims become bullies themselves, and say you "can't be an American" if you're scared, if you negotiate out of weakness, if you care enough about others to help them, and now if you are an immigrant from selected countries.

In essence one of the biggest dangers confronting us, is that we can become seduced by the rhetoric of those who frighten us further, as we have seen happen in lots of dictatorships and even in our own country. The public, the bulk of the public--in the months after 9/11, took in the "appearance" (stated by John McCain on Letterman as early as October, 2011) that the then anthrax threat might have been conceived in none other than Iraq. Under the radar still by and large is the fact that the anthrax phenomenon was blamed on the FBI agent Bruce Ivins who committed suicide in 2008 a day before he was to be indicted. The country was propelled to feel terrified by Iraqi possession of distribution of anthrax, and then came what many of us know as the famous invention, "weapons of mass destruction."

Whatever your views are our prolonged war in Iraq, there have been admissions by prestigious news media and by politicians that the information was not true. Members of the press were intimidated by the threats of government officials that if they went after real evidence, they would be responsible for widespread American casualties. That's how terrorizing can sometimes work: take a fear, any fear, and capitalize on it, and make the person/people think there is only one way and one leader who can take on all the bad guys and get rid of them. The greater the fear, the greater can be the lapse of judgment on the part of the leaders and the rest of the country. If anyone thinks that emotions don't account for so much of the way we vote, and even decide, now might be a time to take this in so we not only rush to action and taking sides, but we pause to acknowledge our fears. That can lead to an acknowledgement of confusion, which can also lead to the decision to look at facts, to discuss even with others from different backgrounds.

Just recently I let myself escape one politically correct bubble, that tends to be employed more by liberals, and that has to do with a knee jerk reaction to any statements that Islam can be used by extremists because of some of the practices and tenets within the religion. I did some reading, and listening, and am learning more about a movement within Islam that is headed towards something of a religious reformation. I am questioning the moral rules that any kind of prejudice is bad, when I know we all have it in some form, and that sometimes prejudice--and particularly the awareness of prejudice--can make us cautious enough to consider things carefully rather than rush into a hasty acceptance or rejection of a tactic or proposal.

I have always felt that most Americans--of whatever political persuasion-- don't like to be played the fool. And yet it seems fair to say that we are being manipulated to fight amongst ourselves and to rush to judgment, assuming that our side is right, no matter what the facts are. A nation that prided itself on scientific virtues and innovations has so many people now who mistrust facts of any different shade than is in their own concepts. A propos of "facts", we come to hear and see them according to who is bringing them, rather than taking the time and space to look deeper.

I hope we don't have to go down that slope of hatred and divisiveness for much longer. And I hope that we can possibly get out from under the manipulation to rush, not only into judgment, but into vilifying anyone who asks us to question and take the time for examination, and that rarely spoken word (by adults in politics to be sure), "cooperation. Not to be too Pollyanna about the political atmosphere in our country but I hope more people are willing to dignify fear, confusion, contradiction, and--yes-- cooperation as much as anything.