The role of fear in everyday life

By Ransom Cozzillio
January 23, 2011

In the wake of the tragic Tucson shooting we are already beginning to see an eclectic explosion of panic ripple through the country. This panic will no doubt grow worse and spread further across the public and political spectrum before any sort of sense is truly made of the recent calamity. This, like the event itself, is incredibly unfortunate and untimely for the stability and sanity of this country. At this stage, a collective moment of concerted, cool-headed, rationality is surely needed and will surely be lacking.

At a time in which social and political vitriol is at an all time high in American politics, hard-thought logic regularly gives way to aggressive mud-slinging and knee-jerk hyperbolic calls to action. The backlash from the Tucson shootings will be no different.

Already we have heard blame volleyed at the conservatives, the liberals, the mental health care infrastructure, the gun lobbies and the Second Amendment (just to name a few).  And, while all these may very well be blameworthy, the blame isn’t nearly as important as the panic.

The ulterior motive here is clear. The American public seems to respond most quickly and most compromisingly to fear, and for good reason. The quest for safety is a fantastic motivator, but in the hands of political schemers and partisan agenda hounds it becomes a dangerous thing indeed.

Look, if you will, what fear and panic did to us in the wake of Sept. 11. The American public, in legitimate shock and fright, was herded into; two costly wars, legalized government eavesdropping, an airplane security protocol that strips us both of time and dignity and legal assignation targeting of American citizens. And that’s just to name a few of our most notable concessions in the wake of disaster.

All that surrendered with nary a peep (relatively speaking) from a country built by and upon the idea of political dissention. The scariest question remains, how far are we willing to go? What would we concede for the promise, tenuous though it may be, of even greater safety?

Employees of the Tuscon Safeway that was the site of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others have a moment of silence for the victims -- MCT --

In the immediate aftermath of Jared Lee Loughner’s homicidal rampage we are already being forced to discuss letting safety encroach on our freedoms once again. The gun rights debates have never been hotter in recent memory. While I’m no gun toting, NRA lobbyist, I still see the danger of letting this isolated, albeit terrible, event override years of constitutional legislation.

Not to mention the cries for vastly increased political security details to protect our senators and representatives. An initiative that would put a costly barrier between the American people and their already distant-seeming politicians.

I am not saying that these ideas and reforms should not be examined, far from it. But they should be examined under the light of honest, rational, political and public scrutiny, not at the behest of a single, obsessive, psychopath. No matter how you look at it, this is the first American politician to be the target of such an attack in the age of social media. This track record would be envied by most of the first world, and should put some perspective on the recent tragedy.

Benjamin Franklin once cautioned that: “They who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Well put. The next time calamity threatens our daily existence, let us ensure that the cost of safety does not require an equal sacrifice.

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Ransom Cozzillio

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