Anger and fear are metanarratives throughout The Hunt For Happiness, themes that underlie the actions and words overtly written on the page. Can we find happiness if we are fearful to be ourselves openly in our societies? Certainly not! Likewise, can we be happy if we are perpetually outraged? Certainly not! But there are always things, and people, to fear and there are always things that outrage us.
We live in a society that is increasingly motivated by fear. The use of this motivation is cyclical; we rid ourselves of it, or think we have, yet it comes back. Fear of sickness, fear of migrants, fear of change, fear of lack of change, fear of loss of place, fear of men, fear of women, fear of democrats, fear of republicans, fear of Zika, fear of climate change and on and on. Commerce depends on our fears and plays to them in advertisements. News organizations punctuate fear with urgency, opinions – mostly vapid, conclusions, and conspiracy theories. Fear takes on more than a rational precaution and protective stance: it becomes irrational.
Irrational fear does something else. It allows a group of fearful to be led into vapid solutions, usually easy solutions involving a common enemy against which the crowd, the mob, is encouraged to convert fear, sorrow, grief, and hurt into anger. This method has been used quite skillfully by people since humanity sprang forth. Sometimes, especially in recent times, this practice could be called politics.
Whether the results have been hideous or magnificent is a matter of perspective and reflection. From the perspective of the Hunt for Happiness this type of persuasion is manifest evil. The targets have varied over time, notably Barbarians, Witches, the uncircumcised, Jews (the circumcised), Gnostics, Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Witches pass II, the Roma, people of color, homosexuals, bikers: any sort of distinction that can allow a hate filled motivation to isolate a group can be used to provide a target for the angst and a notion that removal of these elements will somehow cure the ails that never really existed in the first place, or that have no solution (like earthquakes, eclipses, and so on). Much theology, indeed almost all ancient theology, is contrived to prevent the gods from exacting punishment, not to seek their help.
One solution to these problems was put forth in 1933, during the Great Depression, as the world turned to strong figures to lead, often called populists but generally those aspiring to absolute rule. Franklin D. Roosevelt became president of these United States, and in his inaugural address, he made clear his plans to remedy both the impact of the and the causes of financial collapse in the US. He talked about this kind of fear and its dangers “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Indeed, FDR goes on to touch the heart of our quest: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”
You see, he does give the country a target for rage and hostility, but then tells us that those responsible have admitted their error, have abdicated power, and have left the scene. He calls for us to focus our energy on the tasks at hand, on helping ourselves and our fellow humans.
This is wise.