Stocker: Refusing to give in to fear


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared March 4, 1933 in his first inaugural address.

Less than four years before Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States, the U.S. stock market crashed, putting an end to the “Roaring Twenties” and kicking off the Great Depression. Fascism was on the rise worldwide; Benito Mussolini had ruled in Italy since 1925, and in January 1933, less than two months before Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. With depression at home and chaos abroad, the world in 1933 was a frightening place. And yet, in the midst of the worst economic catastrophe in modern history, and on the eve of the most destructive war in human history, Roosevelt told the American people — frightened, hungry, jobless — they had nothing to fear but fear itself.

Today, the American people are once again afraid. Polls have found that Americans are afraid of mass shootings, terrorism and, sadly, Muslims. A vast majority of Americans believe a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil is likely to occur. Furthermore, a solid two-thirds believe the U.S is on the “wrong track.” Americans are afraid of economic collapse, corporations tracking their information and a whole litany of other things. People in the U.S., including students at universities like Northwestern, are afraid. We have reached a period of heightened perceived conflict and fear, an era of uncertainty few expected in the triumphalist decade and a half following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Despite our fears, the world is now the safest it has ever been. ISIS, although horrific in its methods, does not present an existential threat to the U.S. the way Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did. China, our greatest geopolitical rival, shares many of our economic interests. The Russian Federation, heir to the Soviet and Tsarist legacies, is a shadow of the former state’s might. And the Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, was not nearly as damaging to the U.S. economy as the Great Depression — although the initial collapse was faster and more dramatic, recovery has been swifter. The U.S. is not yet to pre-recession levels of employment, job growth, family income or household wealth, but the worst is over. The U.S. is still the preeminent global superpower — politically, economically, militarily and culturally — but Americans are still afraid.

Fear in and of itself is not a problem. Fear is a natural reaction to perceived threats, a necessity for our early ancestors. We have developed as a civilization since our years as hunter-gatherers, and we now have the capacity to rationally evaluate and handle our emotions.

Fear in the wake of a terrorist attack is understandable. It is natural. Allowing that fear to fester is dangerous. Fear of terrorism quickly becomes fear of Muslims, Arabs, darker-skinned individuals or any individual deemed an “other.” This pernicious fear strikes at the very heart of what it means to be an American, and renders us servants of our emotions.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” It is disturbing how accurately the words of “Star Wars’” Jedi Master Yoda describe the current state of fear in this country and even at this school.

Students at institutions like NU are the future leaders of our generation. It is our duty, therefore, to stand up and say, without equivocation or hesitance, we are not afraid. We must make it clear we are not afraid of terrorism, of economic collapse or of gun violence, because we know approaching these problems rationally is the only way to solve them. Politicians must know they cannot use minority groups — be it Latinos, Muslims, African Americans or LGBTQ individuals — as scapegoats for our economic, social and geopolitical fears.  

In the 21st century, there truly is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear is what the global enemies of civilization, freedom and peace — ISIS, al-Qaeda and North Korea — want us to feel. Terrorists and dictators want to divide us, because our fear, our anger and our hate can spread far more suffering than their meager arsenals and tiny followings ever could. Victory over terrorism, autocracy and hatred does not need a leader; we can all do our part, as students, leaders and humans, by refusing to give in to fear.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.