Those of an age remember the days of “duck and cover.” Incoming Russian missiles were imminent. Their missiles in Cuba confirmed it. We kiddos practiced self-defense by hiding under our classroom desks.
The Bomb was new for our parents’ generation. We of an age, though, grew up with it. Like rock ’n roll, it was a reality of life. Part of being a boomer.
It’s been 20 years since Columbine, the day when innocence died for school kids. Practicing lock-down procedures in case of incoming bullets has become regular practice for students. The post-Columbine generation’s version of duck and cover. Along with smart phones and video games, it’s part of their sub-culture as rabbit ears, the Stones, and auto fins were with us oldies but goodies. And the Bomb.
Not ones to pass up making a buck by playing on parents’ fears, clever entrepreneurs have responded. Among back-to-school musts is the bullet-proof backpack, which is strangely the inverse of a bullet-proof vest. One wonders if they are reversible. Unzip here, flip the strap there, and voila!, instant commando-style garb guaranteed to withstand withering fire from any gun-crazed crackpot.
Paranoia. As Buffalo Springfield sings in “For What It’s Worth,” it strikes deep and creeps into your heart when you’re always afraid. And afraid is the quintessential 21st-century American disease. The Bomb, Columbine, and the coup de gras, the September 11th attacks.
Eighteen years later, September 11, 2001 remains etched in memory. The twin towers, Flight 93, and the Pentagon. Conspiracy theorists, a classic oxymoron, argue the attacks were an inside job. President George W. Bush was reading “My Pet Goat,” and then it gets stranger.
Surveying the American social-political landscape, one wonders whether the terrorists have won after all. Nearly two decades later, paranoia steeped in conspiracy runs rampant. Those with a grip shake their heads, tell those without one to get a grip, but wonder if they’re capable of it.
The assault on reason began over two millennia ago. In September 480 BCE, the Greeks fought at Salamis to defeat the Persians. It was their September 11th attack 2,599 years before ours. The Greeks—embodiments of reason, logic, and science—won the battle but lost the war. Theocracy, the political manifestation of theism, prevailed.
Theism and theocracy were dethroned during the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. But now intellectualism has been knocked back on its heels. Science is under assault, and reason has been prostituted to defend the unreasonable, inexplicable, and falsehood. In their stead: Creeping paranoia, fear on steroids.
Viewed from a big-picture perspective, one can connect the dots from the Bomb through Columbine and the September 11th attacks to today’s mass shootings. For the Bomb, we negotiated arms agreements to prevent nuclear holocaust. After 9/11, we responded in ways good and bad. When it comes, though, to military-grade weaponry in the hands of nut cases, we’re stymied. Gripped by fear metastasized into paranoia: They—whoever the They are—are out to get us!
The costs and toll of that fear on the macro—nation—to the micro—children—astounds. Children of an age, some learning to tie their shoes, assuming they’re not secured with Velcro, toting bullet-proof backpacks. Should they also pack heat, you know, in case of incoming mini missiles? One wonders what future psycho- and sociopaths, schizophrenics, and other fear-filled future adults are being incubated in that nursery.
The threat to America lies within more than from our adversaries. During the Great Depression, FDR told Americans they needed to get a grip. “The only thing we have to fear,” he said, “is fear itself.”
Sage wisdom. Time to get a grip.