Thrill and Fear in the American Psyche
Thrill and fear are intimately connected. And in many ways our desperate thrill seeking is a defense against the constant pressure and fear we are fed by a media that is in our lives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
By going to horror movies, by subscribing to the Fear Channel, by watching real assassinations of American citizens on the internet we have found ways to manage our terror at arms length, to convince ourselves that we can control the insanity. It is delusional.
Fear That Won’t Stop: What That Means to a Country at War.
Soldiers stand at the front line in many ways. They hold off the advancing hordes with their bodies, but they are also caches for the nightmares we dare not deal with ourselves. Technically they are supposed to be more prepared for the exigencies of battle and are carefully trained to be “stress hardy.”
In many cases, this is true. Well prepared and emotionally healthy individuals can generally tolerate trauma without long-term adverse sequelae.
However, what we’re now seeing is an inordinate percentage of our men and women returning from the front with incapacitating PTSD, which in real terms is a syndrome of chronically acute fear.
We usually don’t see the words “chronic” and “acute” together to modify one state, but in this case the fact that we do points to the pathology – an overwhelming fear that simply will not go away.
What is happening to them individually, however, is also happening on another level to all of us but for different reasons.
When fear is relentless, several things happen to: We lose judgment, we become insensible, our adrenal gland is either unresponsive or overly so. We are stuck in arousal and can’t determine when it becomes truly safe. Which in turn means that either we’re hypervigilant or not nearly vigilant enough.
For a country at war, these symptoms do not bode well.
Characteristics of A Healthy Militia
What does a soldier need to perform well?
If it were this person’s army, I would want them neither terrified nor inured, neither overly excited (read: murderous) nor dull. I would decidedly NOT want to see soldiers whose eyes were glazed over and whose expressions revealed minds that had gone dark.
Rather, I would look to enjoin people who were adaptable, clear-thinking, and quick. I would seek only those who were motivated by honor and courage and I would rule out those who were benumbed with fearlessness or thrill-seeking.
I would know that some fear would be good. All soldiers and their commanders are sometimes afraid. But they do what must be done, because it must be, not because it’s an antidote to feeling or another ride in their own personal amusement park. No rational general wants an army of psychopaths or zombies.
When I think of a true army, I think of Tolkien’s band of warriors, all courageous and committed, all honest and honorable, at times afraid but not fearful, emboldened by their belief in their mission but not mad or indiscriminate, merciful not meek, compassionate but never yielding, and always emotionally present for themselves and for one another.
The requirements are the same for civilians. We need to be alert, to think clearly, to see threats where threats exist and respond appropriately rather than imagining threats that don’t exist. We cannot do this if we are force-fed a daily diet of consumer-driven viral fear by the media.
The irony in this culture of idol-smashers and rebels is that what is most necessary in crisis is for us to have an authority to follow, to have bonafide leadership, people whom we can count on to say what is TRUE, not confuse us with politically advantageous spin. Part of that authority now is the media. We don’t meet the commanders and, in fact, we rarely hear from them except in orchestrated press conferences. There are no more midnight criers, their capes flapping in the icy wind as they ride through town. Whether it’s tragic or comic, our new leaders, our new midnight criers are our newscasters. Whether they like it or not, there is a certain responsibility that comes with that position.