Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Rationality of Fear

As regular readers of this page know, I've had a few run-ins with a number of bloggers on the hard-left.

One exchange of note was with the ultra-liberal Ms. Libby over at The Impolitic.
I had criticized Ms. Libby for her attacks on Peggy Noonan.

Noonan had made the case in one of her Wall Street Journal essays that we might consider legislation establishing English as the national language - in light of our super high rates of immigration and language diversity - and I defended her position against Ms. Libby's dismissive multicultural rants against Noonan's refusal to "condescend" to the immigrants.

In response, Ms. Libby attacked me for my "irrational fears":

I think you're afraid of just about everything and your answer to every fear seems to be commit wanton acts of violence against those who make you tremble.
I don't think I'm calling on the emotion of fear when defending American culture, but here's my response to Ms. Libby:

It's not fear but a respect for tradition and reason that animates me...[yet]....

Fear is a basic human impulse, a necessary instinct. I'd be scared if planes were plowing into the New York office towers where I worked. I'd be scared if I was getting off the Madrid underground as it was exploding into a fiery ruin of death and destruction. But hey, it's easier to brush off legimate argumentation as "fear mongering" than actually engage it persuasively.
I was reminded of this exchange this week after reading Dr. Sanity's post on the psychology of fear. Dr. Sanity notes that fear is a reasonable response to dangerous environmental change, and as an emotion it is moderated by human reason.

Dr. Sanity compares
the mature analysis of the current terrorist threat by Vice Admiral John Reed to the left-wing "fear-mongering" argument of the radical left. Where Vice Admiral Reed - who chairs the National Counterterrorism Center - suggests that it's perfectly reasonable for the U.S. to worry about and prepare for a terrorist attack, hard-line leftists condemn those who would mount vigorous policies of defense.

Dr. Sanity quotes Glenn Greenwald's prototypical example of a fear-mongering diatribe against the Bush administration:

Bush opponents must finally overcome the one weapon which has protected George Bush again and again: fear. Fear of terrorism is what the Administration has successfully inflamed and exploited for four years in order to justify its most extreme and even illegal actions undertaken in the name of fighting terrorism.
Dr. Sanity responds with a devasting critique of this line of logic from radical Bush-haters:

This blogger is essentially arguing that-- instead of using a healthy and appropriate psychological defense called anticipation against terrorism and the Islamofascists (who most certainly want to kill us and destroy our society)--we should instead switch to a psychotic one, denial; and maintain that the only thing we have to fear is...President Bush. The latter is a defense mechanism called displacement that I have already discussed in an earlier post.

In fact, there is a strong element of paranoia here too. And a noticeable touch of both projection (ask yourself who is really desperate about getting and keeping power) and hysteria--though he thinks he can use it to describe normal people justifiably afraid of irrational fanatics not amenable to reason. The implication is that the only purpose such "fears" (deemed "inappropriate" by Greenwald's) are being manipulated must be to "justify illegal actions."

The basic tenor of his fear is easy to deduce: while we are fighting this illusory enemy, Bushitler has been amassing power and will soon set himself up as a dictator and destroy our freedom. I will let you decide who we have to fear more--the President of the United States or the religious fanatics of Islam who want to obtain nuclear weapons and have issued a religious fatwa justifying using them? Who do we have to fear more: those who are trying to prevent another 9/11 or those who would like nothing better than to do something even worse in our country?

Anticipation is the realistic anticipation of or planning for future discomfort. This defense mechanism includes goal-directed and even overly careful planning or worrying--depending on the situation. Anticipating realistic events such as death or illness or separation and loss; and then consciously utilizing personal insight and self awareness to mitigate the worse effects, if possible is the height of maturity and healthy psychological functioning.
Read Dr. Sanity's whole post. I enjoy reading her blog immenseley. I like her powerful ability to pick apart left-wing irrationalism with cool reason and science. I particularly like this entry because it affirmed that I was essentially correct in my layman's analysis of the importance of fear in our responses to threat.

Of course, deep psychological analysis such as this is anathema to those on the hard-left, like Ms. Libby at The Impolitic. Bush-haters are masterful at weaving all kinds of attacks on the administration's terror policy, denunciations that are generally supreme cases of the most utter denial of the fundamental challenges facing American national security today.

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