Daniel Bruch column: Afraid of the light


It was Plato (BC 427-BC 347) who said that "we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when people are afraid of the light."

There have been numerous periods throughout human history when people in public and powerful positions have used fear to inflict their will or ideology upon their fellow-citizens. We are living through a period of history now where in many parts of the world, including the United States of America, the specter of fear seems prevalent in our public and private discussions — the fear of terrorists, of government, of elected officials, of Muslims, of Mexicans, of Republicans, of Democrats, of protesters ... and the list goes on and on.

It is true that we are living in a time of significant economic and cultural insecurity. Economically, an exceedingly small minority owns more wealth than a very huge majority, and such income inequality continues to grow. According to Forbes and others, for example, the 1/10 of 1 percent (0.1 percent) together possess over a quarter of all wealth (28 percent), which is more wealth than the combined holdings of 310 million Americans (95 percent of all of us). Culturally, we are in a state of flux as mass migrations of peoples cross borders due to war or famine as they simply seek a peaceful and productive life elsewhere.

According to the World Bank, for example, 215 million people in 2012, or 3.05 percent of the world population, were living in a country other than their country of origin. Almost all were seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

While the causes of these economic and cultural insecurities are complex, they are the primary root causes of fear. It is therefore important that we seek to find and implement radical (meaning getting to the root of the problem) solutions to replacing fear with "light."

Part of the answer for those of us in the USA may be to again study, reflect upon, and then draw upon the power of our historic and Constitutional ideals. Continuing to take the risks of developing and supporting new and sustainable technology, a more equitable prosperity, and a more just manner in which we conduct business and commerce will do more than xenophobia (fear of the stranger) to banish people's insecurities. In addition, one way to overcome resentment is through just and equitable economic growth - not putting up walls. One way to defeat Islamist terrorism is to enlist the help of Muslims - not to treat them as hostile enemies. Over 50 years ago, shortly before his assassination, Robert Kennedy said that "ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant (person) is diversity." You, I, and surely the political parties and elected officials we support need to make that case loudly and convincingly.

But here is the most personal part of all — the choice ultimately falls to us as voters, and most of us do not subscribe to the rule of fear. But the voter turnout for primaries and caucuses and elections in America is troubling. According to Pew research, in 2016 only 64 percent of voting-age citizens registered and then only 55.7 percent of them voted in this past presidential election year. On a list of 30 of the world's most developed nations, the USA is in 23rd place in voter turnout. I hope you will forgive me for saying "that is shameful!"

The way to beat the rule of fear begins at the ballot box. The moderate, positive, inclusive, and optimistic majority has a responsibility to show up and put a cross next to candidates who stand for openness and tolerance as an antidote to fear. As we are closing out an old year and about to begin a new year, it is good to be reminded by President Theodore Roosevelt that "in any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing." Change is difficult, not changing can be disastrous. Fear is disabling, enlightenment can be compelling.