The Age of Fear

The Age of Fear

August 8, 2010

The Age of Fear


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.