A funeral is a curious phenomenon. In the face of the death of a loved one, friends and relatives gather for a carefully choreographed dance of ritualistic acts. Condolences are given. Music is played. Words are spoken. Food is shared.
Earl Shorris loves democracy. A contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, he has written about Native Americans, Latinos, corporate culture, markets and education, examining all in the light of his ferocious devotion to democracy’s flourishing.
Rarely are cemeteries as peaceful as they seem. My boyhood friends visited them by night to consult with spirits—86-proof spirits, as I recall. Sometimes we’d glimpse young couples having soulful, breathy talks among the tombstones.
What an anomaly: while many Americans were gearing up for Christmas and singing the angels’ song of peace on earth, good will to all, the nation was considering the government practice of torture—or more precisely, how and why videotapes of the government’s harsh interrogation practices had been destroyed.
At a dark moment in American history, Franklin Roosevelt said to the American people: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
President Bush has become what he said he would be, a uniter: both conservatives and liberals are united in thinking that he has taken the country off track. In what seems to be a protracted lame-duck period for the president, pundits are already speculating about the post-Bush era.
I was at a class reunion with several former classmates when one of them, a professor of philosophy, asked an unusual question: “What fears have you conquered over the years and what new ones have you acquired?” Not eager to make our private fears public, each of us waited for someone else to open up the discourse. One person finally listed some familiar fears, including “mice,” “being left out or abandoned” and “the dark.”
Five years into the “war on terror,” are Americans any safer? Thankfully, there has been no major terrorist attack on American soil post-9/11, and that probably is not for terrorists’ lack of effort—as we were reminded by the plot, foiled in mid-August, to blow up passenger planes over the Atlantic Ocean.
The politics of fear has hardly abated since 9/11, or since last fall’s election, which was largely a contest of convincing voters about who could best “kill the terrorists.” A simple spin down the radio dial shows how fear is alive and well.