Fear as an Organizing Principle

The Nick Temple Files are set during an era of existential fear. The proliferation of nuclear weapons made the near instantaneous destruction of mankind technologically possible. For more than 40 years presumably rational policy makers had to base their recommendations and decisions on an irrational foundation, i.e., that one or more of the world's governments would willingly trigger a thermonuclear war that would destroy the earth. While that era, also known as the Cold War, ended without anyone actually pulling the trigger, the concept of fear as a central rationale for the actions of polities large and small survives. A brief review of any day's headlines confirms this simple truth. We scapegoat the poor for the trap of poverty; we revile those whose gender identities challenge outdated norms; we claim one path to eternal paradise while calling for the marginalization or even destruction of others; we hoard wealth as a hedge against all manner of imagined harms; we spy on ourselves to root out nonconformity and, more insidiously, coerce conformity; and we build higher and better walls to preserve our claims to real estate at the expense of our ideals. And that's just for starters! The strange, almost counterintuitive paradox of technological advancement accompanied by increasingly atavistic fears feels like some inescapable phenomenon as if the need for fear increases as the means of eliminating fear (knowledge, understanding, and wealth to name a few of those means) are increasingly available. Moreover, fear as a central political principle can't be dismissed as mere cynicism, although it is certainly a highly effective tool of the cynic. The willingness of the governed to embrace fear seems to have deeper roots than the ambition of a few. Those roots seem so deep that even if some sort of utopian vision were within our grasp, we would reject it in favor of another round, another cycle, another century or more of the greed, suspicion, and violence that are the handmaidens of fear.