The Only Thing That Will Save Us Now Is Fear Itself

American ThinkerHerbert Meyer

On March 4, 1933, millions of Americans sat beside their radios listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering his first inaugural address, in which he famously declared that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." (Joe Biden thinks he watched the speech on television, but that's the subject for an essay in Current Psychiatry, and this is American Thinker.) FDR gave Americans the confidence and courage to cope with the Great Depression, which is among the reasons he's one of our very greatest presidents.

I hate to say this, but right now the only thing that can save our country is -- fear itself. Our government is bankrupt, its deficit is insurmountable, and at both the federal and state levels, we've run up more debt than can possibly be repaid. This isn't a political thing; it's a numbers thing. Either everything I've ever learned about math and economics is wrong, or we're on the verge of going down. The only possible way to come through safely -- and even so, the odds are against us -- will be to frighten ourselves so badly that we'll be willing to do things that in normal times we simply could not imagine doing.

Let me use a little story to illustrate the effect of fear on human behavior: Every so often my wife and I look at each other and agree that it's time to clear out our closets. We're not big shoppers, but even so, the amount of stuff we accumulate is appalling. Well, we never quite get the job done. It isn't an emergency; there's always room to squeeze in one more pair of shoes or sports jacket, and besides, one day we may actually go to Hawaii, and I'll want that ghastly shirt my mother bought me 35 years ago.

Now imagine that my wife and I actually are en route to Hawaii, and halfway across the Pacific, the pilot tells us over the intercom that there's a bad leak in the fuel tanks: "I hate to say this, ladies and gentleman, but we've done the calculations up here on the flight deck and it looks like we won't make it. As I see it, there's just one chance -- it's a slim chance, but it's all we've got. If we throw everything we possibly can out the hatch -- and I mean everything, every item, every ounce -- we just might lighten the load enough for our remaining fuel to bring us in."

Reader, in thirty seconds we'd be pulling our suitcases out of the overhead bins and taking off our clothes. If we believed our lives depended on lightening the load, there isn't one thing we own -- not one -- that we'd hang onto. (Well, except for my iPad...)

A Word from the Co-Pilot

Now imagine that just as we and the other passengers are stripping off and handing everything to the crew members manning the aft hatch, there's a second announcement from the flight deck: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the co-pilot. I've done my own calculations, and I don't think the fuel leak is all that serious. If we just lighten the load a bit, and gain some altitude, we'll have no trouble making a safe and on-time landing."

What? How is it possible that the pilot and co-pilot can reach such different conclusions with the same data? And whom are we passengers supposed to believe? My guess is that most of us will choose to believe the co-pilot and go back to whatever we were doing -- reading, snoozing, watching a movie -- when the pilot scared us half to death. We won't want to even consider the possibility that the pilot is correct and that the co-pilot is wrong, or perhaps even lying to us.

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