While fear itself is not always the product of irrationality,
once experienced, it tends to lead away from reason, especially if the experience
is extreme in duration or intensity. When people are fearful they tend to be willing
to irrationally surrender their rights.
Thus, fear is a threat to rational liberty. The psychology of fear is an essential
component of those who would have us believe we must increasingly rely on the
elite who manage the apparatus of the central government.
The statement "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a
little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety" has been attributed
to Benjamin Franklin. It is clear:, people seek out safety and security when
they are in a state of fear, and it is the result of this psychological state
that often leads to the surrender of liberty.
As Washington moves towards it summer legislative recess, indications of fear
are apparent. Things seem similar to the days before the war in Iraq. Prior
to the beginning of the war, several government officials began using phrases
like "we don't want the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom
cloud," and they spoke of drone airplanes being sent to our country to
do us great harm.
It is hard to overstate the damage this approach does psychologically, especially
to younger people. Of course, we now know there were no weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq, let alone any capacity to put them to successful use.
To calm fears, Americans accepted the PATRIOT Act and the doctrine of preemptive
war. We tolerated new laws that allow the government to snoop on us, listen
to our phone calls, track our financial dealings, make us strip down at airports,
and even limit the rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury. Like some dysfunctional
episode of the Twilight Zone, we allowed the summit of our imagination
to be linked up with the pit of our fears.
Paranoia can be treated, but the loss of liberty resulting from the social
psychology to which we continue to subject ourselves is not easily reversed.
People who would have previously battled against encroachments on civil liberties
now explain the "necessity" of those "temporary security measures"
Franklin is said to have railed against.
Americans must reflect on their irrational fears if we are to turn the tide
against the steady erosion of our freedoms. Fear is the enemy. The logically
confusing admonition to "fear only fear" does not help; instead, we
must battle against irrational fear and the fearmongers who promote it.
It is incumbent on a great nation to remain confident, if it wishes to remain
free. We need not be ignorant of real threats to our safety, against which we
must remain vigilant. We need only to banish to the ash heap of history the
notion that we ought to be ruled by our fears and those who use them to enhance
their own power.