Sunday, October 19, 2014

Be Not Afraid

Some years ago I saw a movie; I'm too lazy to look up the name of it, but it starred Albert Brooks.  The premise of the movie is that people who had died were either allowed into heaven or sent back to earth for a do-over depending on how well they had managed to overcome their fears.

I thought at the time that it was a really stupid premise.  Of all the ways to define someone, why would the single most important be how well one faces one's fears?  But over the years, I'm come to realize that most people do in fact allow their major decisions to be fear-based rather than hope-based.

The political parties certainly understand this.  That's why one party scares the voters to death with illegal immigrants, crime and terrorists, and the other tries to frighten them with elderly people dying of poverty in the streets with no health care.  Fear will get you more votes than hope, any day of the week.

There have been two major news stories this week that, while unrelated on the surface, are both about using fear to make policy.

The first is Ebola.  In the United States, you are more likely to get dumped by Brad Pitt than you are to catch Ebola.  Most of the health care workers at the Dallas Hospital who cared for the Liberian Ebola patient did not catch it even without taking precautions.  Most of the people who shared an airplane with an infected nurse traveling between Dallas and Cleveland did not get it.  While I would not advocate exchanging bodily fluids with someone in the final stages of Ebola, it's just not that easy a disease to catch.  Yet for all the fearmongering taking place in the media, one would think we were all going to die of Ebola.

The second was the Vatican announcement earlier in the week that the church would welcome gays and lesbians, which was backtracked a few days later after the scaremongers had been heard from.  I do not understand what the righteous are afraid of -- do they think homosexuality is contagious? -- but they're obviously afraid of something.  In a few years, after the Curia has calmed down, the church will do what the pope tried to do this week, which is welcome gay people.  But for now, the very idea still gives the bishops a very bad case of the vapors.

Hope is a much better policy basis than fear.  Oh, that we as a species could learn that.

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