Things are pretty messed up. Impending ecological cataclysm aside, that millions are fleeing their homeland to come to the country with the most mass shootings in the world should be evidence enough. So I’m about to say something that will probably sound offensive. You hear a lot about how fear is driving the bigoted, xenophobic rhetoric of one of the candidates for the highest job in the country. How fear is fueling the sky-rocketing gun sales. How fear is behind the militarization of the police, the scapegoating and subsequent locking away of those experiencing what is commonly called mental illness, the rash of anti-poverty laws throughout the country. But I’d like to submit that fear is not our greatest problem: Comfort is.
We have been so comfortable as a nation for so long that human beings fleeing their home countries with literally only what they can carry is scary to us (and I do say us; Donald Trump would not be where he is without like-minded supporters). We have been comfortable so long that we, corporately, are threatened enough by the poor and those struggling with mental distress to drastically alter the structure of our legal and physical worlds. We are making it easier to commit or forcibly drug those in mental or emotional distress while making it harder to distribute food to those living outside. We call obedience and compliance “treatment” and increasingly accept it as standard operating procedure. And we evidently are so historically chauvinistic that we believe our unprecedented collective comfort is worth sacrificing young people in perpetual warfare.
We are so comfortable that we are actually threatened enough by our most vulnerable to listen to and be swayed by fascist, authoritarian hate speech from a presidential hopeful. If you ever wondered how you might have responded if you were in Mussolini’s Italy, now is the time you will find out.
We are too comfortable to stand up when young black men are murdered by the police. Or when those officers then evade justice. Or when the police fatally shoot more suicidal people than white mass murderers. Or when 3,772 people (including more than 400 children) sleep outside every night in King County. Or when one in five women in this country is a victim of sexual assault.
But the problem of comfort is even worse than that. It’s not just that we’re comfortable; it’s that we expect to be comfortable. We have not mustered a drop of political will against the 31 states that have closed their doors to Syrian refugees and are very comfortable with the argument that we may be letting terrorists in among the millions of now homeless families and children without regard for their safety. We continue to give Trump air time and attention, and it’s because Trump is a symptom, not the disease. We continue to shop twice as much as we vote, with 140 million people shopping on Black Friday according to the National Retail Federation, compared to 77 million who voted in 2015’s midterms. We continue to ignore human beings who live on the streets because we’re afraid they’ll use our money the wrong way. While 2015 has seen more than one mass shootings a day at the time of this writing, we are quite comfortable continuing to grouse and bicker about whether or not we should control our guns because individual “rights” are more important than individual lives. And we continue to behave as if fear is the most powerful force in the universe. But there are two forces more powerful than fear: comfort, because it leads to apathy, and love, because it requires action.
It is well past time for the latter because, in the words of Maya Angelou, “Hate: It has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet.” And that’s going to require us to get pretty uncomfortable — that is, if we want anything like the security some of our politicians promise will only come about by souping up our military and arming ourselves to the toenails.