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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Growing Culture of Confrontation

A few days ago, I read an interesting and insightful essay entitled "Culture of Fear - Dealing with Cultural Panic Attacks," by Ronald Bailey. In the essay, he talks of Sociologist Frank Furedi's identified trends fueling the West's aversion to risk. One excerpt:
First, Furedi argued that there has been a shift in moral reaction to harm. People no longer believe in natural disasters or acts of God. Today, people suspect that someone is behind a disaster—an irresponsible corporation or a cowardly bureaucrat. Indeed, accidents don't happen anymore; they have been redefined as preventable injuries.

Furedi argued that many of us now assume that every negative experience has some inner meaning. For example, when a teenager dies in a car crash, grieving parents regularly tell television reporters, "There is lesson to be learned from Johnny's death." The lesson usually is not that bad things randomly happen to good people, but that our roads don't have enough guard rails, or that we should enact laws to prevent teenagers from driving with friends and so forth.

Furedi sees this kind of thinking as a return to pre-modern days of higher superstition, where every event has a deeper meaning. In the medieval era, the hand of God or the malevolent influence of Satan explained why people suffered misfortunes. Today the malevolent hand of government or corporate America is to blame for every catastrophe.

A second factor that Furedi sees contributing to our culture of risk aversion is that the nature of harms is represented in increasingly dramatic fashion. People are no longer expected to rise above adversity or encouraged to get on with their lives after they experience a hard knock. They are instead victims who are "scarred for life" and perpetually "haunted" by their misfortunes. Even the timescale of disaster has expanded. Anything that happens now produces consequences that you can never predict. Thus you have to be very careful about what you do today and worry about what might happen decades down the road. Treating people as permanent victims and constantly speculating about possible future harms is a recipe for social and economic paralysis.

It's really an excellent essay and seems to ring true in most regards. Certainly, a strong case for a safety-centric, risk-averse culture in America can be made coming from a number of different directions. I'll leave it to Bailey and Furedi to present that argument.

Culture of Confrontation

A perspective just as true, though seemingly at odds with the development of a risk-averse society, is one in which confrontation, animosity, and even violence is increasingly celebrated and treated as the basis for popular entertainment programs, not to mention news coverage, evolving political and business ethics, dwindling acceptable standards of juvenile behavior, and on and on.

Destructive criticism, confrontation, and exploding clashes between friends and foes all around the world are becoming the norm.

Civility and decency is increasingly viewed as being archaic and symptomatic of a weak character--a vulnerability. But I just refuse to understand or accept that. Not that I shrink away from a just fight, but for God's sake--what virtues do we fancy ourselves representing or carrying forward for our children's and our nation's future?

I'm not going into any more detail on this disintegration of values, as I am sure you know exactly what I'm talking about, and you need no further reminder from me on the sorry state of our collective identity these days. The trend is definitely downward, so it's hard to be optimistic that we can turn the corner on this anytime soon.

Consider It in Your Planning

The best way I can frame this without just letting my frustration all hang out ... try to use your understanding of the new reality in your planning and preparing.

Confrontational dynamics pervading our lives at all levels require mental and spiritual strength in the healthy individual today--that much should be clear. Keep that faith and balance in knowing that there IS a better way.

Yet, looking to the future, one must consider the possibility that we are headed for some dramatic outbreak of unrest and perhaps anarchy. It's happening within and between cultures all over the world today. The potential for it here in America seems to be simmering just below the surface, waiting to erupt unbidden if our enemies don't succeed in importing their own brand of societal disruption first.

What that means is you need to personally have some means of dealing with an increasingly violent and malevolent environment. If chaos breaks out for whatever reason in your neck of the woods, what will you do? Will you try to escape? Will you hunker down? Are you adequately armed to provide your household with some reasonable defense and/or deterrent from assault?

Think supplies and defensive strategies. Can you dig in and hold out for a length of time until the cavalry arrives? Do you have food, water, ammunition? Medications, first aid, trustworthy community bonds and support? How about such things as sandbags, body armor, and an adequately fortified shelter structure?

This IS the stuff of extremist dreams and nightmares for most others. But pay attention ... reality itself might be taking an extreme, sharp turn in the near future.

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