Why do they want us to think our world is on fire?

Senator Ted Cruz.  Photo:  "Ted Cruz by Gage Skidmore 4" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4.jpg#/media/File:Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4.jpg

Senator Ted Cruz. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

America’s first official 2016 presidential contender, Texas Republican Ted Cruz, went viral a couple of weeks ago with a video where he told audiences, “The whole world’s on fire.  The world is on fire, yes.  Your world is on fire.”

That video caught my eye same time that another clip was spreading fast on Facebook.  It turns out Hollywood is preparing to release yet another end-times movie, this one a blockbuster treatment of a nation-destroying earthquake originating on the San Andreas fault in California.

“We will get hit again,” a wild-eyed actor promises.  “And it’s going to be a bigger monster.”

I’ve thought a lot and written a fair bit about this phenomenon before.  Humans tend to be drawn to narratives about threat, disaster, and apocalypse.  Whether it’s zombies or ebola plagues or Obamacare, there’s something in our reptiles brains that sparks in exciting ways when we’re confronted with the idea of primal threats to life and limb.

But I think it’s important for Americans living in an increasingly saturated media world to be aware of this gloomy zeitgeist.  Whether it’s our friends sharing Facebook messages about the deadly, imminent peril of terrorism or politicians hoping to link their fortunes to our fears, the end-times are in vogue right now.

I think it’s also worth paying attention to the fact that, increasingly, a constant sense of overwhelming menace is big business for a lot of people.  It’s unclear whether Senator Cruz will ever be president of the United States, but there’s no doubt but that the constant, pulse-pounding, the fuse-on-the-bomb-is-lit rhetoric has pushed him very close to the pinnacle of American politics.

He’s not alone.  Republicans who’ve struggled to articulate clear policy ideas that might provide an alternative to Barack Obama’s leadership instead default to what amounts to a breathless invitation to panic.  How can we possibly talk about ideas or policies or practical alternatives when the sky is falling?  How can you ask us to talk about the fine details of Social Security when we’re trying to save the world?

Hollywood can hardly go wrong with a film about an asteroid or a Biblical flood or an ice age or zombies or the sun going supernova

It is, sadly, mostly a waste of time to cite facts showing that most of this fear-baiting is utter nonsense.  By every metric, the world is a safer, less war-like more stable place than at any time in history.  Fewer people are dying in military conflicts.  Fewer people are dying in plagues.  Fewer people are dying of hunger, thirst or dire poverty.

We have institutions capable of dealing with most of the threats we confront, including the truly dire ones.  Ebola was really scary.  But using modern science and by devoting global resources to the problem, it was contained.  Roughly 10,000 people have died from the epidemic so far.  That’s half as many people as die every year in the US after catching the flu.

The truth is that even those threats anchored in scientific fact — yes, the San Andreas fault is real and so is climate change — aren’t going to produce the kind of devastating end-times that sometimes worm their way into our imaginations.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we continue to enjoy an astonishingly high standard of living.  We’ve bounced back from a terrifying recession.  Things aren’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.  But neither are we being stalked by the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

It’s not just conservatives or mindless Hollywood types trafficking in fear

But we can’t just single out jingoistic souls like Senator Cruz for trying to keep us all hiding under our beds.  This zeitgeist is more powerful, more pervasive than that.

the roadSome of our most interesting writers and thinkers have devoted themselves in recent years to visions of global horror.  Margaret Atwood’s novelistic treatments of a post-climate change world make Cruz’s rhetoric look downright tame.  Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” draw their narrative power in large measure from the idea that everything’s gone to hell in a hand basket.

So why do so many people, from so many different political and cultural persuasions, want you to think your world is on fire?

Part of it is simple greed.  That stuff sells.  But I think it’s also a lack of imagination and rigor.  It’s easier to make spittle fly about the end-times than it is to actually govern or balance a budget.  And artists who can’t figure out anything new to say about our complex, muddled, modern world find it much less troublesome to imagine a world thrown back into a state of primitive, dog-eat-dog turmoil.

Yes, McCarthy’s “The Road” offers a wrenching portrait of a father trying to keep his son alive.  But does it say anything about what it means to actually be a father in the modern world?  Not really.  For the vast majority of us, the challenge these days isn’t keeping our children alive.  It’s finding ways to help them connect and be good people.  That is a much harder story to tell.

So those two videos — Ted Cruz’s sermon and the trailer for “San Andreas” — got me thinking about all this.  But I want to add one more video to the conversation, the one that actually convinced me to wrestle with all this doom-saying one more time.

It’s all still here!

A new Netflix sitcom called “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” actually grapples with America’s apocalypse fixation.  It tells the story of a young woman who’s been living in a bunker her whole life, convinced that the world has ended.  She emerges to find that the world is still chugging along just fine, and it’s actually still pretty darn great.

“It’s all still here!” Kimmy gushes.  And she sets off to explore all the complicated, messy, weird, hard and beautiful things that are out there.  I know it’s naive to pin my hopes on one screwball comedy, but the message here strikes me as kind of weirdly, happily subversive.  “Life beats you up.  You can either curl up in a ball and die or you can stand up and say ‘We’re different and you can’t break us.'”

Cheesy, I know.  But if I have to choose between a world on fire and a world where people refuse to live in bunkers — mental and otherwise — I’m with Kimmy.

65 Comments on “Why do they want us to think our world is on fire?”

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  1. Two Cents says:

    isn’t cruz a Canadian? electing him, now that’s apocalyptic……

  2. Mr. Kent says:

    Because it works. When your platform has not changed since 1980, even though the world around you has, and all you can offer is the same old same old- Cut taxes for the wealthiest and it will trickle down to everyone else, deregulate Wall Street and the Banks so they can have free reign ( even though markets are at record highs and those 401Ks are doing swimmingly well), eliminate the consumer Protection Agency ( even though it is popular and it works), and defund the EPA so no regulation could be enforced regardless, repeal Obamacare ( even though the CBA has shown it will save hundreds of billions over the next decade and millions more are now covered, and you have no viable replacement for the ensuing chaos), increase military spending ( defense contractor pay back for campaign money) and tell the lie that offset domestic spending will lower the deficit somehow ( even though the GOP eliminates the AFCA but ADDED IN the billions in savings it will produce( Honest! Stuff you cannot make up, Price admitted as much), and always, always, promise to bomb Iran,N. Korea and all parts of the world that you disagree with as your foreign policy, and it becomes clear that you need one more weapon in your arsenal-FEAR.

    Scare the hell out of them . Because it works.

  3. Fear and hatred has been a political tactic for millenia around the world.

  4. Mr. Kent says:

    Brian (MOFYC)-

    True, and I would add in it is the driving force behind organized religion. The difference now, as I see it, is that information and divergent thoughts are readily accessible to so many in so many countries. Even in tightly controlled States. It, fear and hatred, should be harder to sell now. It does not speak well of man that it has the sway that it once did. Even when that fear is based on lies that are proven to be lies – ” Obamacare will be the biggest job killer….There will be death panels..” it does not seem to matter.
    It is so much easier to hate and be negative and live in a state of paranoia and be guided by those emotions. That provides clarity for the individual. It just makes everything so simple. Compromise is now a dirty word. DOA is the new password to political success. Statesmanship is for losers. Call your opponent a Socialist, Communist, Marxist, Muslim, Liberal, not like “us,” Weak, Naive, Un-American and the crowd will cheer and no explanation is ever necessary.

  5. Brian Mann says:

    I think one of the interesting elements of the “Kimmy Schmidt” sitcom is that it gets at the fear that modernism has introduced to so many American subcultures.

    A lot of folks just believed that things like secularism, multiculturalism, urbanism, and the rise of tolerance as a core moral virtue would produce chaos and social disintegration.

    I actually grew up in that culture. I can remember my grandparents’ fear of America unraveling — this was in the early 1970s. But of course none of that happened.

    As Kimmy discovers when she climbs out of the bunker, things are all chugging along more or less as they always have, with some good and some bad.

    The weird part is that this ‘world on fire’ narrative seems to have really taken off, not just among conservatives. From the “Hunger Games” to the “Walking Dead,” we just seem hooked on this stuff.

    I don’t get it.

    –Brian, NCPR

  6. Pete Klein says:

    First, thanks for the smiles I had watching the trailer for the earthquake movie. I’ve always regarded all disaster movies as comical. Ditto for most monster and horror movies.
    As to the “End Times” nonsense, I subscribe to the Prophet T.S. Elliot who wrote, “This is the way the world will end, not with a bang but a whimper.”
    In all probability, the last human will die a very long time before the Earth comes to an end. Other animals and plants will go on for many years after the death of the last human. What will cause us to die off? My bet is with something, possibly a disease, that results from over population and/or screwing up our immune systems by trying to live too long.
    We suffer from the same problem we have always had. We think this planet, this solar system and the entire Universe is all about us and only us. We started down this dead-end road when we moved from being hunter/gatherers to farming. If you want a Biblical reference point, farming was when we left of our own accord the Garden of Eden.

  7. hermit thrush says:

    i kind of object to the title of this post. what do you mean, why do they want us to think our world is on fire? isn’t it obviously because they themselves think it’s on fire?

  8. Brian Mann says:

    HT –

    No, I absolutely don’t think they believe the world is on fire. Ted Cruz is a smart guy. He can read a balance sheet. He knows world history. He knows that the problems facing America are no more incendiary than in 1815 or 1915.

    Similarly, the people making Hollywood movies and writing “Station 11” type apocalypse novels aren’t sitting around gnawing their fingernails.

    Obviously I could be wrong. But the premise of my essay is that doom is a product and a very popular one.

    –Brian, NCPR

  9. Mervel says:

    I agree Brian.

    Everything is a crisis! Its not just the right wingers either, every time I read Salon they are talking about America’s eminent demise and rise of some sort of plutocratic dictatorship that is run by the 1%er’s crushing democracy, right around the corner.

    The anxiety in the world is not from the world it is from inside of us and imposed on the world according to Merton and I kind of agree.

  10. Paul says:

    “Ebola was really scary.”

    It was in west africa. It wasn’t here unless you were buying into the same fear mongering that that you seem to be (and rightly so) criticizing here. Almost no one here was ever in any danger with the exception of being scared to death by CNN.

    Brian, I was thinking the same thing kind of thing when I recently heard some adirondack environmentalists saying that we had “lost the park” when they were criticizing the APA’s approval of the resort project in Tupper Lake. The other one is how anti-GMO activists have used it as they ignore all the science behind the subject since it doesn’t support their incorrect assumptions. Same goes for climate change deniers who ignore science and claim that dealing with the man made parts of it will cause some kind of economic apocalypse.

    This is why you need to get well educated and ignore half (or more) of what is in the press.

  11. Two Cents says:

    ……”Similarly, the people making Hollywood movies and writing “Station 11″ type apocalypse novels aren’t sitting around gnawing their fingernails. ”

    of course not. they have other distractions, mainly jobs and money and agendas.

  12. hermit thrush says:

    brian, i definitely agree that hollywood types are just selling a product. but i definitely don’t agree about the political component of it. of course none of us can ever know what someone else really thinks, but from what i’ve seen of ted cruz and tea party types generally, they mean what they say. i think they believe the problems we’re facing now are every bit as incendiary as those from 100 or 200 years ago.

  13. Mr. Kent says:

    hermit thrush says:

    I don’t see it that way. I do not think the Dooms Day Crowd believes what they say, they are ideologues, not idiots. They are Machiavellian by nature. The end justifies the means. The lesser evil vs. the greater good.
    They do believe in their ideology without question, and the only way to enact all of it is to gain total control. They do not believe in Government except where it can be used to further their dogma. Plutocrats at heart. That is exposed in their latest budget proposal. Reduce spending for domestic and other social programs, education, regulatory agencies while at the same time they want to increase military spending and reduce revenue by lowering taxes on the wealthiest. That is by definition the ideals of a plutocrat.

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Well, BM, I guess I’m not going to send you an advance copy of the new zombie novel I’m writing.

    I think we should separate out the use of fear as a device used in works of art (using the term very inclusively), fear used as a manipulative tool, and genuine fear (be it based in reality or not) that drives people’s desire to effect change – and I would divide the last into two distinct types: selfish fear and charitable fear.

    Fear used in art serves many purposes from teaching lessons to social commentary to simple titillation. A good zombie movie uses all of those and looks to add profit as well. Zombies are a great representation of the age old idea that “others” in society are simply mindless entities causing mayhem and destruction not just wantonly but absolutely mindlessly. Also, in a society that is essentially safe many people, especially teens and young adults, enjoy the thrill of fear. And some “fear” is ritualized satire of itself – movies like “Snakes On A Plane” or “Sharknado.”

    Genuine fear is easy to understand, whether it is rational or not people are afraid of the unknown, or of imagined danger, or of products of their own ignorance.

    Fear used as a manipulative tool – setting aside the use by true psychopaths – is primarily political/religious and it is hard to distinguish religion from politics in this use because it is used as a means of social control either way. The test of this use of fear is whether the use is selfish or charitable, and to some extent that may be in the eye of the beholder. Is it possible that Ted Cruz or someone of his ilk really is afraid for the safety of others? I suppose it isn’t impossible. Or is he just another type of wayward religious zealot feeding his ego and filling his pockets from the fearful congregation he creates? You might guess at what I think.

  15. The Original Larry says:

    Well, Mr. Kent, it certainly looks as if fear is working on you. None of this is especially serious, whether you’re talking about disaster movies or the candidacy of Ted Cruz. Sure, there is always some appeal for those who are living on the edge of reality but I don’t think the rest of us have anything to worry about, for real. I agree with the comment I read in today’s Times that said Ronald Reagan would have wept when he read about Ted Cruz’s candidacy…once he stopped laughing.

  16. Elaine says:

    Well OK. But the notion of Ted Cruz as President of the United States and Leader of the Free World kinda scares me.

  17. bill shaver says:

    same thing going in in Canada…fear & hate mongering there via the current pm and company….really stupid aproach to fixing problems….

  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Maybe Ted Cruz is the One, who unites the US and Canada in the waning days before the apocalypse.

  19. bill shaver says:

    well they both lived in alberta…red neck capital of canada……not surprised….they both got to go….we are at the precipice….oh lord help us now…..

  20. Mr. Kent says:

    The Original Larry says-

    Sorry Buck, but Cruz scares no one because he is not going anywhere. Just another clown in the car. The same money, only more of it, and the same power brokers that gave us GWB and the neo cons have already lined up behind Jeb. It is a done deal.
    Ronald Reagan would have been booted out of the republican party that exists today. I doubt he would have any part of the GOP we now see. He was just words, nothing more. He said Government ” was the problem” and then he went on to double it’s size during his eight years and triple the deficit. He sold weapons to our antagonist Iran then used the money to fund a secret war. When he was caught he claimed ignorance, which means he was either totally incompetent or a liar or both. Tip saved him from impeachment on that one.
    How sad is it that the only republican president any republican ever mentions is Reagan? It is as if Nixon Ford and Bush I and II never existed. Even more sad is that those that mention him seem to have no clue as to his administrative style. He was symbolism without substance.
    It is fair to say in Reagan’s defense that it is quite possible, even likely, that the early indications of Alzheimer’s disease may well have begun during his last few years in office as he approached his 80s. Perhaps that is why Nancy was so protective of him during those last few years.

  21. upndown says:

    So, the sounds coming out of politicians mouths sound to me like the teachers’ voices in the Peanuts animations – “Waah,wah wah wah whah” – but there are deeper truths. The climate is moving into a volatile state that we can not accurately predict or quantify. The sixth mass extinction is well underway; iconic megafauna are on their way out, as are many aquatic species. Persistent droughts, the Pacific garbage patch, ocean acidification – the world we leave our children will not be the same as the one we inherited.

    I do understand that growing prosperity has improved the lives of many. Hopefully, that will remain the case for decades to come. For me, feeling of looming apocalypse comes from a recognition of these other more difficult issues, and I wonder if it is the same for the Ted Cruz’s of the world who certainly know what is happening even if they deny it in public.

  22. Two Cents says:

    Lincoln was the last president that I call republican.
    Reagan was no Lincoln (neither is Obama) . Reagan was roy rogers, and thought he was will rogers.
    Nixon was no Lincoln, but if it wasn’t for Watergate(and who knows what else) actually tried.
    Eisenhower? what was he? his problem were the dulles brothers running everything like crazy Calvinists.
    cruz is a tea party, which is neither republican nor good ole fashion sam adams / paul revere tea party-like.
    as a matter of fact, in my opinion, second to global warming, tea party has the worst name selection in recent history.
    they would both do better if they had better names :)

    ps. mr kent-
    Reagan was oblivious to iran contra– because bush was running it !! along with a small list of cronies that re-surfaced in his son’s administration.

  23. Mr. Kent says:

    Two Cents –

    You could be right about not knowing because Bush was running the operation, which would make him incompetent I suppose.
    It makes sense about Bush running the show. The first thing he did when he became president was grant full pardons to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and five other officials from the Reagan administration right before special prosecutor Walsh was to bring them to testify.
    Imagine Obama doing any of the things near the level of what republican presidents have consistently done?

    Peter King has described Cruz best when he yesterday he called him a “carnival barker.”

  24. mary says:

    I love the book “The Road” and I love Margaret Atwood’s Trilogy on the future. Currently, I am reading “Station Eleven” as story about the end of civilization due to a swine flu. I probably will see this movie about a major earthquake and likely it will be a bit corny or maybe predictable. But the special effects look great.

    I don’t think my choice of movies/books has anything at all to my political views. So why look for parallels? I don’t know if the end of the world is coming and I don’t worry about that as political issue in the next election….

    Having been out to California recently, visiting in Silicon Valley, I do harbor some doubts about the clustering of most of our large technology companies in one area — it just defies common sense.

    I work in the tech industry and I believe that most of the disaster recovery plans are a bunch of baloney.

  25. Paul says:

    I don’t think we need another Harvard law graduate at the helm. Eight years is enough. Come to think of it I don’t want another Yale law graduate at the helm either so, no to Ted and no to Hillary.

  26. The Original Larry says:

    Oh Mr. Kent, you never disappoint, do you? The fact is that Reagan came of political age in the Republican Party that nominated Nixon and then Goldwater, both arch conservatives. He wasn’t “booted out” of the Republican Party then and I doubt he would be now. So, repeating that tripe about him doesn’t make it true, no matter how many times you do it. Same thing with the Alzheimer’s story, which is the Liberal equivalent of the Obama birth nonsense. Reagan’s political genius, and the reason people keep talking about him, was his ability to build an effective coalition in the Republican Party and bring it back from the dead, after losses in ’60 & ’64 and the overwhelmingly negative response to the deeply flawed presidency of Nixon, to say nothing of the “Reagan Democrat” phenomenon. So yeah, I guess you’re going to continue to hear about him. One last thing: don’t use the phrase “The Original Larry says” and then follow it with one of your rants. Quoting someone requires an accurate restatement of their words.

  27. Jon Sklaroff says:


    You should check out “Battle Royale,” it should be on Netflix, the Hunger Games totally ripped it off. Just sayin’


  28. Mr. Kent says:

    Original Larry

    You can deny facts and history all you want but that does not make your revised edition true.
    Fact: The size of government doubled under Reagan
    Fact: The deficit tripled
    Fact: Six officials from his administration were indicted by special prosecutor and scheduled to stand trial in the the selling of arms to Iran for money that was used to fund an undeclared and secret war. Among those his Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. HWB granted full pardons to all of them before the trial was to begin as he was deeply implicated and perhaps the mastermind of it all while Reagan either feigned ignorance or was asleep at the wheel. Or both.

    Thank you for not arguing the facts as I presented them. That would be foolish as there is nothing subjective about them.
    Now, if Reagan and his end results are yours or the Republican party’s idea of conservatism, then we have a real story here. A whole new definition of the intended results of an ideology.

    Kudos on your new world view. Interesting indeed. Make government bigger. increase debt and you are a republican party leader. Actually you are correct Sir, because that is exactly what every Republican President has done. Every one of them.

  29. Mr. Kent says:

    Original Larry-
    THE reason every republican candidate for anything calls themselves a ” Reagan Republican” is because most of them, like Cruz, have nothing of their own to stand on and say “This is what I did and this is who I am.” What possibly could be a guy like Cruz’s claim to fame at this point? ” I kick up dust?”
    Remember now, unless you are around 50 years old, Reagan is just a story passed on that you read or were told about so anyone under that age can be sold anything. It was 35 years ago that he was first elected. To the forty year old you could just as well call yourself a Lincoln republican or a Hoover Republican, anything but a Bush Republican. Those scars are too deep and too fresh.
    The other main reason is because the Republican Brand Name has become so distasteful to the general public that few want to just call themselves a ” Republican” anymore. Thus they cloud it with cutesy names and titles like ” Conservative,” and “Tea Party” and blahblahblah. It sells better to some, but the substance is the same.
    When the Republican Party can put someone up who does not need to call himself a ” Reagan Republican,” then you have someone at least worth listening to.

  30. Mr. Kent says:

    Hey larry-

    You gonna tell me next that Reagan did not grant amnesty to millions of illegals? You gonna tell me that would not get him booted out of the Republican party today? Or are Cruz and the other ” Republicans” really just trying to trick everybody and as soon as they get elected will use that same executive privilege and grant amnesty to to all them ” Aliens” because they really are ” Reagan Republicans?”

  31. bill shaver says:

    ted cruz= nacar 500 and a wreck in the 1st turn….as is the whole party….nothing but a NASCAR race.

  32. bill shaver says:

    The GOP NASCAR 500….leading the pack TED CRUZ! followed by Paul Ryan, & Mark Rubio, & Jeb Bush & bringing up the rear Donald Trump….last as usual….

  33. America has always required groups to demonize. In the late 18th century, The Other was Scotsmen. Over the years, The Other has been Irish, Italians, Asians, hippies, communists. Today, it’s gays, Muslims and Latinos. Blacks have always been a target of fearmongering. Pretty much any group that demands equal treatment has been and is going to be demonized. Those in positions of privilege don’t like to share that privilege.

    America is not unique in that regard. But perhaps that’s the most subversive, politically incorrect statement of all: America is not unique.

  34. Oh, I forgot Catholics. There was strong mistrust of Catholics in America until fairly recently.

  35. Walker says:

    Paul says “The other one is how anti-GMO activists have used it [what?] as they ignore all the science behind the subject since it doesn’t support their incorrect assumptions.”

    See Mark Bittman’s column in today’s New York Times (here).

    “The issues surrounding G.M.O.s — genetically modified organisms — have never been simple. They became more complicated last week when the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup, probably causes cancer in humans.”

    Glyphosate is, of course, the whole point of Monsanto’s GMOs.

  36. bill shaver says:

    true about glyphospate…..its the whole thing with GMO’S and some thgink they can drink it without any harm….that again…just like 2-4d…….sad…

  37. Mervel says:

    At some level they believe it in my opinion. This is just a replay of the Domino theory. I think the proponents of the Domino theory really believed it, it is likely they had some inherently flawed views of the world itself and our role in it. I mean if you believe in your heart that we are the only world empire, that we are and should be the worlds police, then yes for heavens sake the world IS on fire. I mean we have terrorism in Africa in several countries that are essentially lawless, we have the Islamic state controlling major territory in Iraq and Syria. Plus just the general insanity of the world, not including these small groups of Islamic terrorists. So if we believe that the US is responsible for making sure Nigeria is secure that Egypt is secure that Iran does what we want that Russia does what we want, yeah man that is a heavy load and it must seem to Cruz and other neo-cons that the world is on fire.

  38. Mervel says:

    I think the Republican non tea party types are hitting their stride though. I mean King’s comments were great, the “carnival barker” plus you have Lindsey Graham saying, Ted Cruz with Nuke’s? Hmmmm.

  39. bill shaver says:

    do all youself a favor & vote for Hillary Clinton in comming election, shes the one to lead along with Elizabeth Warren or even B.Sanders…They will push through the issue for medicare for all….amongst other progressive reforms we all need!

  40. Kathy says:

    The connection between Cruz’s statement and the culture’s hunger for Hollywood’s apocalyptic productions makes no sense to me. It is a

    The truth is there are real concerns of danger. To state, “By every metric, the world is a safer, less war-like more stable place than at any time in history”, makes me want to ask what planet you live on.

  41. Brian Mann says:

    Kathy –

    Not to be pointed, but I live on the planet where people actually go and look up the facts. There are fewer (and smaller) wars, fewer deaths from violence, lower incidents of starvation and extreme poverty and disease. In the US, we have the lowest crime rates since the 1950s, we’re living longer, we have more material prosperity, and are achieving higher educational attainment. I could go on, but you get the point.

    This is my point. People watch the nightly news — particularly more tabloid-driven broadcasts like Fox — and they come away thinking the world is on fire. But those programs are focusing in more and more narrowly on the tiny parts of the world that are, in fact, on fire.

    A great metaphor for all this is the German pilot who crashed a plane with 150 people on board. Tragic. Horrific. Dramatic. But not AT ALL typical or representative of what actually happens in modern aviation. In modern aviation, we’ve worked out a system whereby hundreds of millions of people zip around in the sky safely and conveniently and fairly cheaply.

    But that’s not the part of the picture that gets framed in the news every night. The part you see is the part that is on fire. But that’s just not an accurate portrayal of the world as it exists. And it’s important to point out that this is a big change. Over much of history, the world really has been on fire. Whole continents engulfed in violence and bloodshed, for centuries at a time.

    Now, since roughly 1970, we’ve seen a dramatic, sharp decrease in all of the things that used to make the planet a horror. Interesting, right? But that’s a story that just doesn’t get talked about. And I think a guy like Ted Cruz is smart enough to know that. He’s smart enough to know that the world isn’t as scary a place as he’s portraying it to be. So what’s he up to?

    –Brian, NCPR

  42. Kathy says:

    Brian, those “tiny parts of the world that are, in fact, on fire” attacked America on 9/11.

    ABC News (not FNC) reported on February 23, 2015:

    ” … it [ISIS] now terrorizes large swaths of Syria and Iraq, has become the target of the largest U.S. military operation in Iraq in years and, with the public, cold-blooded execution of multiple Westerners, dominates headlines the world over”.

    ” … the group has repeatedly called on its followers in Western nations to conduct deadly attacks at home”.

    Yeah, I think this is pretty horrific stuff.

  43. Brian Mann says:

    Right. So think about it for a moment. The Middle East has had radically brutal sectarian violence literally from the beginning of known history. The Iran-Iraq war, for example, offered years of savage death and violence on a scale that ISIS simply can’t touch.

    It’s believed that in the Syrian civil war, roughly 220,000 people have died so far. To put that in context, roughly twice as many men died during a few months of World War 2 during the invasion of Normandy alone — in that one theater. And at that time the whole world was on fire.

    But if you pull back the lens from Syria and the Middle East, you find that the overwhelming majority of the world — including the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world — is at peace. That’s not to say there is zero crime, zero acts of violence — but nothing on the scale of the historic norms that once existed.

    Finally, 9/11. No one will ever view 9/11 as anything other than a terrible national tragedy, a brutal and bitter moment in our history. But again, in the context of history, the thing that makes it extraordinary is not the violence (people have been blowing things up and murdering people as long as we have records of human behavior). The thing that makes it extraordinary is that it seems extraordinary.

    And that’s because we don’t expect that kind of thing to happen anymore. We’ve made a world that, by and large, isn’t on fire. So when one group of crazy people does something bad, it seems really, really extreme.

    –Brian, NCPR

  44. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I really think that is why horror movies are so popular, especially among younger people, because life is so safe we rarely experience real fear. And by real fear I mean real fear.
    There are things we should be very afraid of, like people driving at us at highway speeds while they text their friends: “on collision course with oncoming traffic. Combined speed of 120 mph! lmao!!” But nobody is rally afraid of that, even though it is far more dangerous than ISIS.

  45. Kathy says:

    Yes, the Middle East has always been a hot bed of atrocity and war. There’s nothing new under the sun.

    But the threat is now here.

    Our low crimes, long life, material prosperity, and educational attainments have made us comfortable while the battle has been elsewhere.

    Making the connection between Cruz’s statement and apocalyptic movies suggests that he is one of “those” Christians…”the conservatives or mindless Hollywood types trafficking in fear”… how do you know?

    I think the real issue is Ted Cruz spoke at Liberty University and he is too religious for some. He is clear and unashamed of his Christian convictions and this does not settle well with the secularists or progressives. I would have appreciated an article that dealt with that rather than making the case he is one of those fear-baiting-the-sky-is-falling Christians. But to do so may not be tolerant – the lens the progressives have taught us to look through.

    Fear baiting has no basis in fact.

    It’s a fact that America is hated and the threats are real.

  46. Kathy says:

    KHL, there’s a difference between danger and evil.

  47. Brian Mann says:

    There are people who hate America. Sure. Are we more threatened now than we were by those in the South who wanted to destroy our country in the 1860s. No. More hated and threatened than when European and Asian fascists turned the world upside down in the 1930s and 40s? No. More hated and threatened than when the Soviet Union aimed thousands of nuclear missiles at us in the 1970s and 1980s. Not even close.

    Americans like to think of themselves as threatened underdogs, as the little guy surviving on a tough block. Our military spending outpaces the next dozen nations combined – and most of those nations are our allies. And the number and scale of threats against the US today pale compared to what we experienced in our parents time or in my young adulthood.

    So factually, no, I just don’t buy it. I don’t buy the narrative that we’re ‘on fire’ overseas. And I don’t buy the idea, peddled by Sen. Cruz, that we’re on fire here at home. America is a prosperous, safe, civil society, a democracy, a place of prosperity and open debate.

    Do we, as a people, disagree on a lot of stuff? Sure. That’s healthy. Is our world ‘on fire’? Nope. That’s not an ideological point, it’s a factual observation. And I think it’s perfectly fair, given our circumstances, to ask why a very smart guy like Cruz keeps telling audiences that their world is on fire. What’s he up to?

    –Brian, NCPR

  48. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Kathy, you are exactly correct. Lots of evil in the world but evil is often in the eye of the beholder. Talking about evil rarely solves a problem but can often get into infantile discussions of how much evil can dance on the head of a pin. Danger, on the other hand, is usually quantifiable and we can find practical resolutions to mitigating danger.

    To me this seems like a very good example of why we should keep religion out of matters of state. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the exact same God of Abraham but they find so much evil in each other.

  49. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Autocorrect changed “infinite” to “infantile” and for once Autocorrect may be right.

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