Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. Nelson Mandela
We live in a generalized culture of fear don’t we. Advertising, politics and news coverage, communicate messages that produce fear and the perpetuation of it through these media has become so insidious, ’if it bleeds, it leads’ is a well known maxim for what determines newsworthiness these days. For example: media coverage of crime and violence seems to be on the increase while actual crime rates are falling. Terror groups appear to have a free media platform, with suicide missions receiving extensive coverage which probably explains their popularity among these groups. Fear is the most powerful force in society, we are preoccupied with it: ISIS, Ebola, Gun Violence, Climate Change and these fears only pave the way really, for a more authoritarian society giving governments more reasons to intrude on our lives and rights. What do our poets think though? Charles Simic put it like this:
Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of the wind.
Meaning that fear is contagious, suddenly we’re all afraid and nobody remembers why. To further expand on the theme of Fear we’ll read about issues of xenophobia with Thomas Lux who lists the various acts of violence and retaliation carried out over time by different civilizations. Since the dawn of time one culture has always been pitted against another. The Greeks v Persians, Romans v Phoenicians, the Mongols v Chinese. We fear the ’other’ and in The People of the other Village, Lux highlights this hatred that mankind often exhibits towards itself. He explores the brutal human condition.
The media have a huge role to play in the level of fear in any society. Most of us form our opinions about what’s going on in the world based on what we see or read in the media. Sensationalist media coverage of things like Zika, Cyber Attacks, Terrorism, even Gluten! only serves to keep us in a constant state of fear. Adrienne Rich explores the problems within cultures, the things that keep us afraid. An Atlas Of The Difficult World is basically a mural of the American landscape painted with images of ordinary people, especially women and their experiences. It could be any country’s failures really, its broken promises, poverty and oppression of women. She concludes however, that it’s how one views the world that is important.
We fear what we don’t understand and that fear can lead sometimes to brutality. Our failure to accept people because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation keeps us tied to what we fear, to bigotry and misunderstanding. Mark Doty’s poem deals with homophobia in particular and thinking about it, religion is the worst propagator of this. It’s preposterous, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church States that, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. All major Islamic sects too, forbid homosexuality, which is a crime under Sharia Law and treated as such in most Muslim countries. Charlie Howard’s Descent examines the damage that this kind of intolerance can do to people and communities. In Maine in 1985 a 21 year old gay man named Charlie Howard, was harassed and chased by three teenage boys and despite his pleas that he couldn’t swim, they threw him over the State Street Bridge. He drowned. I cried and cried after reading this poem, the imagery is unapologetic as Doty imagines what the boy must be thinking, it’s stark yet warm because despite the bullying, the hatred and discrimination, this innocent boy bears no grudge. Grace is the order of the day and I think simply that the only way for us to fear less is to try to understand more.
Educating ourselves about what’s going on around us politically, socially and economically is the only defence we have against being frightened to death by media coverage of the next new threat. We can no longer afford to lounge around content in our mediocrity, mindlessly accepting as truth, what we’re being fed by those who maintain control by keeping us stupid and very afraid.
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
Other poets on today’s show Sara Teasdale, Anne Michaels and Randall Jarrell along with music from Ben Howard, The National, Sarah McLachlann, Blue Oyster Cult and more.