The Herald Bulletin

April 16, 2013

Primus Mootry: Why Americans are running scared

By Primus Mootry
For The Herald Bulletin

— Americans are running scared. There is a small, but growing group of us called “preppers” who are turning our homes into fortresses or building bunkers in our backyard in preparation for natural disasters, social upheaval, or Armageddon. People are buying assault weapons as fast as they can. Hate groups are proliferating. Our lives are being changed, and in fundamental, scary ways.

There are at least two main reasons why this period of change is so frightening. First, we are powerless to reverse many of the changes we face. Second, through media and information technologies, we are more aware of the threats. To this latter point, ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be fatal. We’re scared.  

Here are a few examples of the fundamental changes I’m talking about, and why they frighten us so. These examples include changes in family structure, school, denominational religious practices (church), work, food consumption, leisure, sexual mores (behaviors that reflect cultural norms and values), and national security.

This list easily could be lengthened to include such threats as climate change, energy production and sustainability challenges, widening income gaps, political and governmental dysfunction, the immigration impasse, the emergence of new, untreatable illnesses, and other stuff. But I’m not trying to write a book here, and you are not inclined to read one this morning. So here goes:

Family — for the first time in hundreds of years, no matter what size, the nuclear family (a married mom, dad, and their children) is no longer the norm in American society. A 2010 Time magazine article on the subject said “today, the nuclear family has been largely nuked.” As the basic unit of “community,” when families fracture, so too must the nature of community.

School — I have often written about the plight of America’s public schools. For the purposes of this article, however, I simply note that the disappearance of neighborhood public schools is directly related to changes in definitions of “family” and “community.” Neighborhood schools are not needed where, as noted in the Time article I mentioned, “the modern family is all over the place.”

Religion — a recent Huffington Post article reported some interesting findings about Americans and religion. In a nutshell, “the number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is the highest it has been since the 1930s.” Specifically, a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 don’t identify with [any organized] religion” at all.

Work — I’ll just say, if you are waiting for the equivalent of General Motors to come to Anderson, good luck with that. What you and I both know is that technology and globalization have changed Anderson’s — and the nation’s — places of work and worker qualifications forever.

Food — we know this, too. Our food and water supplies are either contaminated or dwindling.  Although there may be corrective actions, taking such actions inevitably stirs resistance from some organized interest group. (That’s how pizza got defined by the government as a vegetable.) So, mostly, we shut up, eat our Fatburgers, and buy our water in bottles.

Leisure — changes in the workforce, including increasing numbers of unemployed adults and teens, means more and more Americans will have “leisure” time on their hands. This is no small thing.  American cities should be as concerned about this as they are (pretend to be?) about schools and work. Idle people can do idiotic things.

Sexual mores — the current public discourse about DOMA, same-sex marriage, and related issues, is interesting, and useless. I believe all 50 of our states will cave in to the reality that same-sex relationships deserve the same respect and protections as heterosexual ones. It’s just a matter of time.

National security — North Korea threatening the United States is like an ant crawling up an elephant’s leg with rape in its mind. Still, the mention of nukes scares us, as well it should.  For the first time in the history of mankind, men, with their own devices of war, can wipe out all mankind.

Finally, as some might think, this is not just so much whining. The threats are real, urgent and, one way or another, interconnected. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.

The issue is whether or not we, at the local level, have the courage to change whatever we can, hang on to hope, and give ourselves and our children a better shot at a brighter future.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.