An epidemic of anxiety

GUESTXCOLUMNHuman anxiety is greatly amplified by our ability to imagine the future, and our place in it, even a future that is physically impossible.”— Joseph LeDoux

The problem is not with #blacklivesmatter

The problem is not with #alllivesmatter

The problem is with me telling you what your silence means.

The problem is with you telling me what my demonstration means.

The problem is with our self-promoting rants on Facebook.

The problem is with our divisive attitudes.

The problem is with ALL OF US.

The REAL problem is that pretty much no one gets the problem, and we are all afraid of what we think the problem is.

Fear is the strongest of all emotions, causing us to behave in inexplicable, sometimes irrational ways. Think about the terror that would overpower you as a child — you would shut your door at night, hide under the blankets or run to your parents whose proximity held an inexplicable security that you would be protected at all costs from monsters, the boogeyman or whatever imaginary character or situation was at the root of your distress.

That fear escalated as we were exposed to the narratives of others — either via books, movies, songs or by overhearing discussions. These stories conjured images in our minds and our imaginations took care of the rest.

That said, the psychological definition of fear states that it is based on the actual presence of danger and dissipates once that danger has passed. Hence, was our immature hesitation to be alone based on fear or some other emotion, like anxiety, which is an ever-present trepidation that occurs whether there is an actual danger or not?

Anxiety is defined as a disorder that occurs when our flight or fight response is switched on, even when there is no logical grounds for fear, causing us to behave in irrational ways in non-threatening or moderately-threatening situations.

2016, in an absence of hindsight, appears to me like the explosion of a long but slowly growing global bubble of anxiety disorder. It is the climax of a long-awaited case of what Malcolm X referred to as “chickens coming home to roost”, yet we are responding to it in the same way that caused the chickens to run amuck in the first place — with ignorance, paranoia and divisiveness.

Politicians and reformers cannot overlook the dangerous ignorance that now pervades the most educated and developed societies, resulting in the irrational polarization of ‘them vs us’. If you are in the Western world, ‘them vs us’ might mean people of colour or ‘blacks vs whites’ or ‘poor vs rich’ or ‘Islamic vs non-Islamic’.

This separatism has snowballed, causing further misunderstanding and distrust and irrational fear.

Everyone with a television or Internet connection is aware of the two unjustified and horrific killings of African American men recently by police officers in the United States, which were followed, days later, by the retaliatory killing of five police officers. Social media and the news have been set ablaze with fiery debate, forcing participants into two camps— #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter.

#blacklivesmatter has its origins in a peaceful movement that was formed prior to the aforementioned tragedies, in response to the disproportionate profiling and killing of black men by US police officers, but has recently been placed in opposition to #alllivesmatter in what has become an aggressively dichotomous paradigm of ‘non-racists vs racists’, with a third group who, for a multitude of reasons, have chosen to remain silent.

The ‘them vs us’ mentality inherent in the developing world is even exemplified in the unpredictable and seemingly illogical responses to democratic processes. Donald Trump’s rise to the helm of the US Republican Party and the victory of Brexit supporters are both examples of the recent triumph of separatist movements which most liberals would consider to be socially, politically and economically illogical.

The developed world is witnessing a trend of erraticism — a lack of predictable order or chaos that has stereotypically been attributed to the developing world. Days prior to the killings in the United States, a bomb tragically killed 250 people in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. This was responded to by proverbial crickets among even the most educated social media users. This is in sharp contrast to the overwhelming response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, which of course received significantly more coverage than the frighteningly similar attack in Turkey.

On a more micro-scale, I was shocked to find a Facebook “friend” whom I have always considered to be open minded posting Islamophobic messages on her page. Never have I witnessed such pride in one’s own prejudice! I personally feel as if we as a developed world have slipped into a neo-Jim Crowism that has to this point been sufficiently hidden under the guise of political correctness and latent anxieties.

What has brought us here? When did our worries grow to epidemic proportions, causing a ferocious anxiety disorder to pervade the mindset of much of the developed world? Since 2001, macro and microeconomic instability, heightened terrorism and the sociological and humanitarian response to the illegal immigrant problem and the refugee crisis in Europe have resulted in the growing polarization between various ideological movements.

The world is under severe strain and those who are the most ignorant and physically and economically vulnerable are having the strongest fight or flight response. This has created a climate that has enabled the willing acceptance of a candidate who has vowed to build a wall to keep Mexicans (the other) out and promises to “make America safe again” by blocking the entry of Muslims (the other).

We have reverted to the childhood mindset of terror, falling prey to the fearmongering of separatist leaders who promise to protect and save us from the dangerous “other”, which may come in the form of a Syrian refugee, a member of the Islamic faith or a black man with a broken tail light.

My question to my fellow-humans is this: Are we as modern, evolved citizens of the earth going to allow polarized ideologies to define us? Are we going to tolerate messages that, under the guise of sovereignty, marginalize social, racial and religious minorities? Are we going to fear having our voices heard because we are intimidated by those who are louder and more aggressive than us?

We can no longer hide behind the curtain of political correctness or strongly labeled movements that polarize individuals into camps, thus preventing dialogue and mutual understanding. We can no longer refrain from voicing opinions that are contrary to the dominant ideologies within our social, demographic or political groups for fear of being ostracized by those with whom we identify most.

Dr. Brian Williams, the black surgeon who tried to save the lives of the police officers who were gunned-down in Dallas, most poignantly summarized this counter ideology in a CNN interview with Don Lemon:

“I don’t know why this has to be us against them. This is all really . . . it has to stop . . . . We are all in this together, we are all connected. All this violence, all this hatred, all these disagreements, it impacts us all, whether you realize it or not. This is not the kind of world we want to leave for our children. Something has to be done.”

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