First published in Real Change on Jan. 6, 2016.
Things are pretty messed up. The impending ecological cataclysm aside, that millions are fleeing their homeland to come to the country with the most mass shootings in the world (and clearly zero political will power to address that) should be evidence enough. So I’m about to say something that will probably sound offensive. You hear a lot about how fear is driving the bigoted buffonery of one of the candidates for the highest job in the land and his equally dangerous but less obviously so competitors (don’t you miss the days when Sarah Palin was the scariest Republican candidate?). How fear is fueling the sky-rocketing gun sales. How fear is behind the militarization of the police, the scapegoating and subsequent locking away of those experiencing what is commonly called mental illness and on and on. But I’d like to submit that fear is not our greatest problem. Comfortableness is.
We have been so comfortable as a nation for so long that human beings escaping their own country with literally only what they can carry is scary to us (and I do say us; that Donald Trump has any supporters at all is not an embarrassment to this country, it’s an indictment of it). We have been comfortable so long that we, corporately, are threatened enough by the poor and those struggling with mental distress that we are legalizing criminalizing them, locking them up or (force) drugging them as a matter of standard operating procedure if they fail to comply with their “treatment” and designing our cities with no place for the weary to rest. And we evidently are so historically chauvinistic that we believe our unprecedented collective comfort is worth sacrificing young men (and now young women, which people are celebrating for its “gender equality” rather than despairing over, among other things, the fact that such as a thing as “combat jobs” exists at all, let alone the right to kill now being open to all gedners) in perpetual warfare to “protect” and “fight for.” We are so comfortable that we are actually threatened enough by our most vulnerable to listen to and be swayed by fascist, authoritarian hate speech from a presidential hopeful. If you ever wondered how you might have responded if you were in Mussolini’s Italy, now is the time you will find out.
We are too comfortable to get up when young black man after young black man gets murdered by the police. Or when those officers then get let off. Or when the police fatally shoot more suicidal people than white mass murderers. Or when 3,772 people (including over 400 children) sleep outside every night in King County. Or when one in five women is a victim of sexual assault. But the problem of comfort is even worse than that. It’s not just that we’re comfortable; it’s that we expect to be comfortable. We have not mustered a drop of political will against the 31 states that have closed their doors to Syrian refugees (remember that whole crisis?). We continue to give Donald Trump air time and attention. We continue to shop more than vote, now by nearly a factor of two as of this past Black Friday. We continue to ignore human beings who live on the streets because we’re afraid they’ll use “our” money “the wrong way.” Not that arms legislation is the holy-grail everyone thinks it is (we’ve got a lot of other stuff to address if we want to decrease gun violence, like researching deaths on gun violence to begin), but we continue to grouse and bicker about whether or not we should control our guns because individual “rights” are more important than individual “lives.” And we continue to behave as if fear is the most powerful force in the universe. But there are two more powerful forces than fear: comfortableness (because it leads to apathy) and love (because it is action).