Greetings from London Heathrow, where I’m about to catch a connecting flight to Vienna. I want to post something brief about The Second Mountain, the new book by David Brooks. I read it on the flight from New Orleans to Philly, finishing the final pages as the plane landed. There’s so much to be said about the book, which really moved me (I actually thought after I finished it: “I’ve got to change my life”), but I want to throw something out there to inspire what I hope will be a thoughtful thread. I don’t know when I’ll be online again and able to post comments; I have a close connection in London to catch a flight to Vienna, but eventually I’ll get to them.
Before I get to the question, I want to say how moved I was by David speaking openly about his Christian faith (which he admits in the book is “radically incomplete”; according to the Washington Post article about it, he has not been baptized, and waffles on whether or not Jesus was the Messiah). In the book (and the Post piece), Brooks also talks openly about how he met his wife, Anne, in the wake of the collapse of his first marriage. David and Anne are friends of mine, so I haven’t talked here about their personal life. But David does do so in his book. Anne was his research assistant in the past. They fell in love after his marriage to his first wife ended. Anne is a very strong Christian. David says in his book that most people who know her describe her as “incandescent” — and yes, I would say the same thing about her. I can tell you that I am completely confident that nothing improper happened between them before his divorce, and until their marriage. Let the reader understand.
I bring this up here because there has been, and continues to be, lots of vicious gossip about them. I despise it because no one wants to see people they care about being trashed in public, but I despise it even more because it is not true. I bring it up here as a warning: I will not publish any comments critical of them. I do it out of loyalty to my friends, but — again — also because it pains me personally to watch people who do not know what happened take personal pleasure in tearing down people who do not deserve it, and who are suffering because of lies that gossips love to spread. So don’t even start on this topic. If I believed that they had done wrong, I would not attack them, but I would keep a respectful silence. I am certain that they did not do wrong, and my conscience won’t let me stay quiet while they are being gutted.
OK, so here’s the question. David quotes in the book a friend who asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
The question struck me, personally, in a political way. The only reason I have any regard for Donald Trump and his presidency is because I am so afraid of the Left, and what they will do to social and religious conservatives once they are back fully in power. I don’t actually believe Trump will do anything to stop this, or could do much to stop it; I think at best he can slow it down. Nevertheless, my politics are driven entirely by fear of the Left, specifically on matters of religious liberty and social policy.
If not for that, I would be a lot more open to liberal policies. Even if I weren’t, I would vote Democratic just because I think Trump is such a disaster as president. But that’s not the world we live in. The thing is, conservatives are right to be afraid of the Left in power! You are living in delusion if you aren’t. Take a look at this short clip featuring Bret Weinstein, the left-wing atheist biology professor who was driven out of his job teaching at Evergreen State because he stood up to the woke mob:
— Mike Nayna (@MikeNayna) April 28, 2019
What I can’t decide is whether or not the particular fears I have are appropriate to the threat, or whether they distort my view of politics. The question in Brooks’s book made me realize that as opposed to the pre-Trump years, my view of politics is entirely driven by fear. I hate that, but when I try to talk myself out of it, I have to ignore far too much for the sake of acquiring inner peace. That I can’t do.
You can talk about that if you like, but I’m much more interested in how you yourself would answer the question:
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Be anonymous for this one if you have to. You don’t have to talk about politics at all.
UPDATE: Ah, waiting by the gate to board the Vienna flight, I see that Brooks writes today about the politics of fear. Excerpt:
We get to the point where the fear itself begins to take control. Fear generates fear. Everybody feels besieged — power is somehow elsewhere, with the malevolent forces who are somewhere out there, who will stop at nothing.
Fear puts a dark filter over everything. The fearful person is unable to hear good news, while any possible threat looms large. We are in the middle of one of the longest economic booms in our history, with wages finally rising again for the middle class. But nobody feels that because of the sense that it’s all about to come crashing down.
Fear runs ahead of the facts and inflames the imagination. Ninety percent of the time we’re not afraid of what’s happening to us, but of some catastrophic thing our imagination tells us might happen.
I get that … but I also see that the things that I’m most afraid of are actually happening. They really are going after Christian schools and businesses. They really are trying to ruin people by intimidating them into silence, and making them terrified for their jobs if they say the wrong thing to the wrong person. More broadly, the Christian faith really is withering away in our civilization. This has been measured. I think there must be a difference between healthy fear — meaning respect for actual dangers — and unhealthy fear, which is paralyzing, and destructive.
I read recently Hannah Arendt’s The Origins Of Totalitarianism to prepare for my next book. I kept thinking about it as I read Brooks’s book. Arendt says a precursor for totalitarianism is radical loneliness, atomization, and loss of traditional groups and ways of understanding one’s place in society. OK, plane is boarding. See you in Vienna, or actually, Bratislava.