The maelstrom of anger and fear


Do you know anyone today who, for any reason or reasons, is angry or frightened or anxious about the future? Are you? And if you are, why?

Perhaps, for some, that’s a silly question.

If any of us could talk to the governor or someone in Congress or the president, what would we say?

Would we ask them to fix the mess around us and the mess in this country?

Would we demand that they do what is right, whatever that might entail?

How would your demand dovetail into the demands of millions of other people, many with diverging viewpoints and perspectives?

How many of us today have reached the point where, by default, we look to someone else to supply the answers and the action we believe are needed?

Some believe we are witnessing the devolution of society, and I am one of them for a litany of reasons, though unlike some, I believe that devolution began long ago. So much for our human ascendence as evolutionarily-tuned biological life forms. Of course, I think much of our downward-spiraling status comes from worshipping the creature more than the creator. But that’s just me.

We live in a world where increasing anger and fear abound. It is no coincidence that two of the easiest ways to control an individual or a nation, is through anger or fear, or both.

What ever happened to personal responsibility, where we torch (figuratively or literally) but we don’t talk; where we prey on others (in person or on social media) but we don’t pray?

It appears that, in an ever-increasing fashion, society is caught in the maelstrom of downward-spiraling tornadic emotions like anger and fear, through which those with the loudest voice and causing the greatest damage garner the attention, even the admiration, of the masses who follow in blind obedience and in lock-step. History is replete with examples.

Today, and fueled by national news, social media, some politicians and their corporate masters who most often attempt to hide their deeds with stealth, the stakes are high.

But whatever happened to America, presumably, being a Christian nation? Saying it and living it are two different things.

Subjected to the effects of the maelstrom, including among Christians, whatever happened to forgiveness, to not judging and to redemption?

Whatever happened to the ethic, the Christian worldview, that admonishes us to treat people like we would like to the treated? For all the others, they can, if they choose, rely on something called the ethical treatment of others — maybe along the lines of something like Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” or some other maxim.

There is a question in the Old Testament that asked — “Why do the heathen rage?” The answer is simple. It’s our nature… the very nature we are supposed to overcome if, for example, we are to get to the point where we are willing to talk rather than torch.

So where is all this going? Where are we going? One thing is certain — the impulse among some to respond to real or perceived differences while pairing that response with verbal assault or with physical violence, is a recipe for disaster that many of us don’t want, but may be reluctantly dragged into.

For years, society has spoken of the cost of the addiction to alcohol and drugs. Yet there is an addiction far more devastating. It is the addiction to anger that leads to rage, that leads to destroying property and life as with impunity, as if it is a right, as if there is no consequence.

But there is a consequence. And as we were reminded millennia ago, those who sew the wind will reap the whirlwind.

Here’s the thing — I do not have the “right” to yell fire in a crowded theater because people could get hurt. So what gives mainstream media and individuals using social media that right? I do not have the “right” to loot, destroy, taunt, persecute or kill someone because they have a different viewpoint. If I assume and project that alleged “right” onto others to their detriment, then what does that say about me?

Every word a person ever speaks and every action ever made first began as a thought in their mind. And those thoughts have a point of genesis.

Did those thoughts arise in our consciousness awareness from a perspective of treating others the way we want to be treated, or do they come from a diametrically-opposed perspective?

Treating others equitably comes from mutual respect and consideration — one that is selfless. Treating others unfairly and condemningly comes from quite another place — one that is selfish. Yet both come from the human mind.

That selfish place (inside our thoughts/consciousness, let’s call it “self”) intends to rule and control a person’s life and the lives of others through both overt and covert control. Its machinations are things like anger, fear, pride and greed, among others.

“Ira furor brevis est” — Anger is a short insanity (Horace, Epistles, Book 1). Best we all avoid the insanity, lest it become even more pronounced, more devastating.

It is no wonder that the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal said — “The self is hateful.” (Pensees, 1670)

And it’s no wonder that Einstein said, “The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which one has attained liberation from the self” (“Ideas and Opinions,” 1954).

The antidote for self (and for civilization) and its endless machinations of destruction is a selfless, empathetic outlook that is lived in word and deed, and thought. Isn’t that part of what Christ was saying? You know, the Golden Rule?

As has become ever clearer in today’s world, in the absence of empathy, we risk it all as we sink, downward-spiraling, and all others be damned, into the maelstrom of anger and fear.

[Ben Nelms has been writing for The Citizen for more than 15 years.]


  1. This is a little silly, if we are all honest. It seems like you aren’t actually listening to WHY people could be angry and that’s kind of the whole point. You are looking at a screaming mass of people tied to a railroad track and telling them to calm down while ignoring the train heading their way at 125 miles per hour.
    People are angry because their lives and the lives of their loved ones are on the line and, made obvious through your “everyone needs to calm down” post, no one even close to power is listening to them. Furthermore, it seems like you are overstating the current struggles by saying we are in a “downward spiral” and “we are witnessing the devolution of society” to unintentionally or otherwise belittle the genuine issues being raised. I hate to assume intent but what you’ve done in this article is try to lull those on the sidelines, untouched by the current crises of the moment, back to sleep.

    I’ve personally seen you out covering the the march through Fayetteville in protest of the police killing people of color and I’m sorry to assume but it appears that you lived some of your life before or during the Civil Rights movement so if the best you can come up with in our current times is “Why are people so crazy?” then you need to try again.

  2. Ben, a very timely article, and spot on. Social media has enabled the anonymous, near-ubiquitous broadcasting of hate. Very little thoughtful mediation occurs before we respond to the hatred in kind.

    I am hoping that a level of civility returns after the election is over.

  3. Ben, your column “The maelstrom of anger and fear” is one of the best, if not the best column I’ve read in The Citizen. Your points were well stated and on point. You masterfully included quotes, scriptures and examples to highlight your opinions which I Totally agree with. I would also add this quote from Wayne Dyer: “When you feel peaceful and successful, you want to extend and export that peace and love. The violence, hatred, prejudice, and judgment in our world suggest that we have miles to go to reach a world of inner and outer peace.”