Tuesday, October 7, 2014
So, for example, we fear crime and criminals and therefore we incarcerate more and more people.
When one examines the statistics, it is hard to escape the conclusion that our primary motivation in imprisoning so many people is a desire to lock them safely away from us. In an April 3, 2014 article at Mic.com, Laura Dimon shared some very troubling statistics. For instance, while the United States has 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. Also, there are 2.4 million incarcerated persons in the U.S.; that’s a 500% increase over the last thirty years. Furthermore, one in every 108 American adults was in jail or prison in 2012 and one in every 28 American children has an incarcerated parent. Moreover, according to Statista.com, as of June 2014, the U.S. ranked behind only the Seychelles (which has a total population of only around 90,000) in having the largest number of prisoners per 100,000 population; our rate of 707 prisoners per 100,000 populations puts us far ahead of Cuba (510), Russia (471), and El Salvador (424).
Why do we have so many prisoners? Could it be because we are so afraid?
Also, we fear terror and terrorists and so we engage in continuous wars.
We have been at war in South Asia and/or the Middle East ever since Al Qaeda’s attacks on our country in 2001; now, just when it seemed that we were close to extricating most of our forces from that area, we find ourselves ramping up our efforts again. Those who believe that we should not have gone into Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks are few and far between since the Taliban had given aid and comfort to Al Qaeda; our subsequent efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan have been, to say the least, problematic, and likely will remain so. Whether we should have gone into Iraq is more up for debate; I will always be troubled by the fact that we went in under false pretenses.
Regardless, it is what it is and we are where we are and it is clear that the destabilization of Iraq, the events of the Arab Spring (especially in the ongoing impact of those events in Syria), and the bloodthirsty fervor of the ISIS militants have combined to create a terribly volatile and dangerous situation. Perhaps we and our allies have little choice but to intervene. Still, does anyone else feel like we’re starting to live in the perpetual state of war imagined by George Orwell in 1984? And does anyone doubt that if our primary response to the threat of terrorism continues to be a military one then we will likely be at war for generations?
Why are we always at war? Could it be because we are so afraid?
Finally, we fear each other and so we arm ourselves.
According to the Brady Campaign,
--On average, 32 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 140 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
--Every day on average, 51 people kill themselves with a firearm, and 45 people are shot or killed in an accident with a gun.
--The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
--A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
The last statistic is most pertinent to my point. Writing in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2011, Dr. David Hemenway concluded that
for most contemporary Americans, the scientific studies suggest that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. There are no credible studies that indicate otherwise. The evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes, and it appears that a gun in the home may more likely be used to threaten intimates than to protect against intruders. On the potential benefit side, there is no good evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in.
Why do so many of us arm ourselves? Could it be because we are so afraid?
Ironically, our fearful reactions give us more to fear and our efforts to feel safe make us less safe. Our incarceration of such a high percentage of our citizenry makes it more likely that those imprisoned will become hardened criminals and makes it more likely that the criminalization of a large segment of our population will continue in generations to come. Our perpetual waging of war makes is more likely that the conditions that lead to war will continue and worsen and thus lead to more war. Our arming of ourselves to protect ourselves against others actually makes it more likely that we or someone else in our home will be killed or wounded by our own guns.
It seems clear that the main thing we have to fear is fear itself; it seems clear that we need to rein in our fear so that we will stop taking actions based on fear that serve only to give us more to fear.
Apparently, such fear leads to insanity, if insanity is indeed, as is so often said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we are going to stop the insanity, we need to stop the fear …
(Please note: a future post will propose an alternative mindset and some alternative actions.)