The Age of Fear

I’m taking part in a new series on the Investigation Discovery channel called “Hardcover Mysteries,” where I join Sandra Brown, Linda Fairstein and others in presenting true crimes, and I just spent a couple of days in Los Angeles to help present the show to the Television Critics Association.  Dave Cargill, who produced the series, is from Scotland, and that soft brogue has persuaded stronger people than me to do more unlikely things.  The story we worked on was a sad case of domestic violence in my home town of Lawrence, Kansas.  It will air on October 25; the series as a whole debuts on October 11.

Because I was on Chicago time, I was  out looking for cappuccino by six.  The only other people out that early were Hispanic-looking people watering the lawns and trimming the shrubs of Beverly Hills.  I followed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy, but something told me that many of these servants of the rich and powerful probably did not have green cards.

A gardener trimming hedges on a Beverly Hills estate

Which brings me to the Age of Fear.  I did an event at the Mystery Bookstore in LA while I was there, and someone asked why V I refers to the Age of Fear in Hardball. It’s easy these days to catch the Panic Express, with jobless rates at close to 10 percent for over a year, and the endless war in Iraq/Afghanistan bringing ever more casualties, ever more reprisals, ever more depression.  But we have a 24/7 cable and Internet news cycle that deliberately stokes the engines on the Panic Express, deliberately panders to everyone’s fears, and is turning us into a nation of hysterical xenophobes.

Just one example.  9/11 responders have major health issues, including abnormally high mortality rates, apparently from inhaling the dust at Ground Zero in the months they worked on the site. A recent bill in Congress would have provided funds for their health care. Republicans blocked the bill; one apparently said “people get killed all the time.”  But they are out pounding the drums of fear over plans to build a mosque and community center four blocks from Ground Zero.  “Peace-loving Muslims, refudiate this plan,” one talk-show host demanded, with a quaint disregard for the English language.  Plans for mosques are under attack all over the country now: we don’t want Muslims in our back yards, our front yards, or, apparently, in our country, although several conservatives hastened to assure the country that even though they’re opposed to building mosques, they’re all about religious freedom.

For immigrants, the picture is even more hysterical.  We’re getting the call to repeal the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the one that guarantees us equal protection under the law, regardless or race, creed, or previous condition of servitude, and the one that says anyone born in these United States is a citizen (unless they’re Barack Obama, in which case 27 percent of the country is sure  his Kansas mother was a Space Alien.  As a Kansas woman myself, I kind of resent our citizenship being impugned, but that’s another story.)  I know a Polish immigrant who is sure that Mexicans are destroying her life and that of her daughter–but I have never seen any signs that she wants to be up at six a.m. trimming a hedge on a rich white person’s estate.

Fear is the absolute sure-fire killer of creativity.  We live in very difficult times and we need to feel free if we are going to come up with creative solutions to our economic woes, and to the instability and terrorism at play in many countries and societies these days.  Turning ourselves into an armed fortress where we’re ready to arrest and deport anyone who looks or believes differently than we do is about the most enslaving activity we can indulge in.

I am not immune to the Panic Express, and I could  write about the way it infects me.  But I long for the Freedom Train and its journey to laughter and creativity.

  • I don’t even know what to say except that I think you are exactly right in your observations and I find it incredibly sad.

    Is this how people felt after Pearl Harbor, I wonder? I suppose so. When did “reason” return after that…years? When were the Japanese given the benefit of the doubt? Or isn’t this the same thing at all? Maybe there was a little less panic since the media couldn’t have been so powerful back then.

    I hope the Freedom Train gets here before it’s too late.

  • the cable news networks can claim that they are only giving viewers what they want, but the problem is that fear is truly the “antidote” for empathy. And without empathy, we can go nowhere but backwards — toward what is perceived as the safe good old days.

  • Stine

    The same scenario is taking place in Denmark, where I live. For instance just a few weeks back 23 Rumanian Rom were deported. Nothing indicated that they were doing anything illegal, and being Rumanian makes them a part of the European Union, therefore they are allowed to stay in Denmark, still they were sent back to Rumania, with the note ‘they are probably doing illegal stuff’. And some politicians (who actualy have influence in this country) are demanding, that Denmark stop immigration from ‘non-western countries’. It is embarrassing and so so sad!

  • I recently saw an episode of “Law & Order” that addressed this issue (it was probably a re-run, but I’m accustomed to being out of the loop), and it appears you are correct in your observation. Sadly correct.
    I stopped watching most of the American news networks after some of them so virulently attacked Canadians for not joining in Bush’s war on terrorism. As my mother used to put it “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” Because Canada chose not to jump, we were vilified by some of the American press. I only hope that Canada doesn’t follow the Americans in this, either.
    (and now I’m hesitating to push the “submit comment” button because I don’t want to seem too radical!)

  • Mark

    You are on the money Sara. A great piece of insight into ‘rule by fear’. I would say much more on the subject but there really isn’t the space here.

    Dear Bag Lady, you are not radical by any means, just wise!

  • terry helton

    Howdy,Sara. Greetings from Montana! I’ve just finished reading ‘Hardball and wanted to tell you how much I loved it. As for your comments you’re on the money,honey. I think that allowing a mosque to be constructed near Gound Zero in NY isn’t only a mistake but stupid. Just because the bastards who leveled the World Trade Center were Muslims doesn’t mean that we should demonize an entire religion.

  • Regina Ripley

    Thank you for commenting on immigration. As someone married to a Mexican immigrant I am often shocked at the panic and rabidness and hystoricalness of people’s feelings toward Mexicans. Thank you.

  • Lorraine

    We are in a Federal Election in Australia. Are our esteemed politicians talking about climate change, health care, indigenous health, our involvement in wars, West Papuan genocide by Indonesia, equal pay for equal work or education? Nope, it is asylum seekers – referred to in our press as Illegal Immigrants or Boat People (ummm, UNHCR anyone?), who are getting all the politicians attention. Guys, there are some boats, but you keep mising them.
    And yes, they do the crap jobs for crap pay that we don’t seem to want to.
    I feel like Charlie Brown – aaaargh.

  • Bag Lady, right now Canada is certainly having the last laugh–decent health care, and a thriving economy, banks not sucked into the derivatives whirlpool. Who knows, I may show up at your back door with a hobo stick one of these days! Lorraine–I hadn’t been tracking the Australian election. Will do.

  • Eve Weisberg

    Great posting. I’d love to see a posting on the issue of constructing the Islamic Cultural Center a few blocks away from Ground Zero. This is also an issue where the fearmongers are trying to stir us all up. Looking forward to your next book!


  • Eve Weisberg

    Ooops, I just looked at your posting again, and you actually do address the mosque issue. Was my face red!

  • susannegarnett

    What a joy to read your comments. I have loved your books for so many years. – great you are still writing about things that matter. From the UK we so often look in amazement at the way you folks in the USA will be taken in by the far right hate mongers. I am going to post your comments onto my dearest democrat friend in Califormia, who is in a state of decline over the current mean spirit towards anything progressive in US. The backlash and shock at Obama’s effrontary to go and get elected does seem to have cut deep into the conservative psyche. Dishonest media is far too powerful these days. –


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