I remember, when I was a kid, my parents and other people from their generation, would tell me about it. How the sirens would begin to blair, their teachers would begin to bark, and how they would all launch themselves under their desks to avoid the pretend nuclear attack headed their way. “Duck and Cover” was a popular activity and concept back then, although it’s highly doubtful that it would have been all that useful.
Constant vigilance was called for against a threat that lived outside the country, but which was both very specific and yet all pervasive and vague at the same time. People who lived through those times talk about how very real the fear of nuclear war was, even in the most interior parts of the country. Sometimes, children would become obsessed with what could possibly happen to them, others were mostly oblivious.
By the time I was a child in the eighties, we were still in the Cold War, but the constant threat of an atomic attack seemed mostly over. Our random drills were mostly about fire and tornados. I remember going into the hallway at school and putting our heads down between our legs as the imaginary tornado passed us by. This activity did me no favors as too many viewings of The Wizard of Oz had already led me to an unhealthy obsession with tornados. I had persistent stress dreams about tornados on into my adulthood, sometimes even when the funnel cloud had a consciousness and was coming after me specifically.
The thing that’s interesting about the movement of this fear is that it went from something exterior and specific–and put all its faith in its government to fix the problem–to something random, vague. My generation learned to fear things that were seemingly out of our control altogether.
A few weeks ago, I went to a rally at Georgia’s capitol led by teenagers about our nation’s current gun crisis. Each young person stood up and spoke about their constant anxiety about one of their own turning on them. One girl in particular was most eloquent:
Know which period is my favorite? Fourth. Not because of the subject. Not because of which friends share it with me. But because it’s on the ground floor. You see, in each and every one of my classes, me and all my friends make an escape plan, regardless of whether the school has mapped out our evacuation for us. I like 4th period because I know I can jump out that window the easiest without hurting myself. I sit and stare out it and just imagine how I’ll run to my freedom.
If you’re not aware of this new phenomenon, you should. Our youth these days have active shooter drills. They go through scenarios for playing dead, protecting themselves with their backpacks. Just like kids in the 50s and 60s, one wonders how successful these tactics might actually be.
The locus for fear has moved again. It’s moved inside us. Now we fear ourselves, but still we act like this is something we’re powerless to stop.
What does it mean that we carry this free floating anxiety all the time? I’ve written about the illusion of safety before, and how all our sacred places have now been corrupted by that fear. If we cannot sit in churches, theaters, or school classrooms without worrying about a gunman blasting through the doors, then what is sacred anymore?
But what does it mean for our next generation to walk around fearing each other at all times?
The thing is, in the last few marches and events I’ve attended, they do not actually seem powerless to stop the problem this time. It’s so amazing to watch them say, “Nope. We’re not ascribing to your belief system that this is something we have to put up with.”
And they’re so smart about it. They’re bringing together elected officials and people of all generations. At one rally, as we started to move, music from the 60s and 80s was being remixed to a techno beat, bringing us all together to march with joy in our hearts.
Nope, we will not simply duck and cover anymore.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
~Litany Against Fear, Dune, 1965