The USA is running a high fear temperature. So many videos of people yelling at each other and the yellers don’t look brave. Everyone looks like they’ve had hyperactive triplets deprive them of a few years’ sleep and some oxygen to the brain.
There’s this dude and he’s sitting in an outdoor café with his buddies sipping on his cappuccino. All pretty normal stuff so far, right? The waiter approaches the group and asks them to socially distance. And the dude, the dude.. lads, he draws a gun on the waiter. And not just a normal gun, no, he pops out a big fat shotgun!
I saw this on twitter last night. First of all, even if it’s the law, unless you are in the army or a war zone, why would you walk around with a shotgun on you? It’s a fairly ungainly awkward weapon, so it’s not hanging on you for the convenience of it, for the way it so easily slips onto your shoulder like a soft silky camisole top. What do you think is going to happen that you need to look so readily threatening? Secondly, why would you draw it on someone for such a minor thing? Obviously this dude is a dash distressed and quite close to the sanity border. And yes, he was white and the waiter was black.
And I keep wondering why; why are all these people soooo scared? This is a fabulous country – there should be more felicity. Standards of living are high. Most people own a car, can earn a living wage, have cable tv, running water, education, electricity etc. We’re not talking about a developing world country where people survive on nothing, have no basic sanitation, live in fear of religious persecution or civil war or famine. How did we end up here, with everyone on the edge? And why is it always the white dudes brandishing their weapons like they’re the overweight reincarnation of Rambo, except they’re in a nice quiet suburban housing estate with a couple of yellow finches fluttering by, rather than a dogfight in a dangerous jungle? The look in their eyes, you’d swear they were living in a bag of spiders – but they’re not; well, not physically anyway.
In 2019, (for those of us who are struggling to remember timelines, that was before the murder hornets, before the pandemic and before the protests, that was when unemployment was low and life was calmer), according to the annual “Stress in America” survey, the four most stressful factors were healthcare, mass shootings, the 2020 presidential election (which has turned out to be a good gut feeling by folks here), and discrimination.
In more detail, around 7 in 10 adults (69%) said that health care was a significant source of stress — nearly equal to the 71% who said mass shootings are a significant source of stress. The majority of people of colour (63%) said that discrimination had hindered them from leading a full and productive life, with a similar proportion of LGBT adults (64%) expressing the same sentiment.
These things that caused worry – health, violence and discrimination – these are the basic breezeblocks of a happy healthy life. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that if we don’t feel physically safe, we can’t achieve true happiness and self- actualisation. In fact, it stops us enjoying love, belonging, as well as respect and esteem. Instead we muddle through our time with a constant sharp edge to it, and this was pre-2020 madness.
I wondered, how do the rest of the globe wander through life? GfK Verein researched the concerns of European citizens in 2012 (which bizarrely included Russia). The biggest burdens for these guys were unemployment and economic stability. The Dutch listed crime as their third most worrying concern, for most others it was further down the list. However, this info, while interesting, is from 2012 and the world is almost unrecognisable since then.
So lets look at more recent data. In 2019 – the same year as the US study above – a survey carried out by the Institute for Conflict Research asked people in Ireland what worried them the most. It turns out that 88% of people in the Republic and 79% in Northern Ireland are concerned about the lack of affordable housing in the country. 90% of those surveyed in Northern Ireland aired their worries about the lack of jobs, compared to 65% in the Republic. Meanwhile, 53% of those in the Republic felt good about the future of the country, opposed to just 20% in the North. As a comparison, in the same year, the Express newspaper wrote that out of the top five British concerns, one was house prices and the other four related to Brexit.
What this says to me is that in all these other developed Western countries, the bother of mass shootings, basic healthcare and discrimination is not at the same level as the US. Citizens do want better healthcare, but it’s not their number one stress, or number two (except for the Dutch). People do suffer discrimination and violence, but as a nation, it’s not thwarting them. When your top three stressors are issues which relate to your personal physical security, it’s going to get under your skin. It can be terrifying. And this was during peaceful times.
So now we add in all the crazy from 2020, the fact that people are out of jobs and told to stay at home and wait the pandemic out, the very fact there is now a pandemic – which is another threat to safety – and the reaction blows out of proportion; because they were barely holding it together during peaceful times. It’s just one straw too many on the anxiety levels of America.
We could have a long discussion about why.. the government stoking fear, the fact that the law which ensured news stations had to provide balanced news was abolished in the 1980’s, so now any person with a deep voice and a look of authority can talk absolute nonsense/conspiracy theory on tv and is taken seriously… There are loads of reasons, but first I think America needs to realise that their level of fear, worry, stress, trouble and phobia needs addressing; and that the areas in which they feel this burden are very different to other developed countries. Once the States realise this, then perhaps a productive conversation could be had about providing a little bit more tranquility and peace of mind for the population.