What we fear
On semantics, fear, and Ukraine
The very idea of war should be abhorrent to any reasonable person. Any differences we have with other people on this planet should be well within the bounds of what can be resolved among reasonable people dealing rationally with one another. But reasonable people are not always in control.
■ There is nothing objectively reasonable about what Vladimir Putin has decided to do to Ukraine. The Russian military has been used to menace the people of Ukraine for nearly a decade. Fear has been the weapon of choice.
■ Real fear is essentially a universal evil. Not "fear" as we use it to describe the surprise that comes from going through a haunted house or the heightened emotional state that comes from watching a horror film, but real fear -- the intentional infliction of dreadful anxiety as a weapon.
■ Too many people want to make every struggle against things they dislike into the moral equivalent of war. The problem with this mode of thinking is that fear and discomfort are two different things. It is much more than a mere semantic distinction: The intentional infliction of fear is virtually always an act on the wrong side of the moral ledger, while discomfort can happen for all kinds of reasons.
■ People can endure a lot of discomfort. Many even emerge better for the experience. And reconciling ourselves with the impossibility of erasing all discomfort from human life would go a long way towards helping us to clarify the conversations and debates we have about the world and how to pursue "right" ends. Struggle is often the price of things worth having, and we shouldn't try to eliminate all discomfort, nor should we consider anyone evil if they choose not to share our vision of which discomforts ought to be mitigated.
■ But it shouldn't be hard to achieve consensus around the need to combat real, existential fear. The weapon of fear is evil whether it is the fear used by a police state, a regime pursuing ethnic repression, or a theocratic fascist terror group. And so also is it evil when it's used to try to disrupt a neighbor's march toward democracy.