Running out the clock on our worst fears

By Dan Mollison

I have some deeply upsetting news to share with you.

Due to global failures in solving the problems posed by nuclear weapons and global warming, on Jan. 17 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward to five minutes to midnight, with midnight indicating the end of the world as we know it. According to the clock we are closer to global holocaust than we have ever been since the Cold War.

Does the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists expect us to take their Doomsday Clock seriously?

We live in a society that is dominated by fear. Our media immerses us in negative messages and perspectives more times each day than we can count. To boost their audiences, news agencies know that they must paint a picture of a world in shambles and focus on everything that is going wrong. Our advertisers know that to sell products, the advertisements we see must remind us that we’re not good enough; that we are lacking what their products have to offer us.

Fear sells, and the media has weaved it into how we think about the world and about each other. Many of us live with a constant undercurrent of fear that never leaves us, even when we experience happiness and joy.

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We consider this normal. But is our fear inevitable?

Let’s look toward what one who has faced his fear has to say. Viktor E. Frankl was an inmate at Auschwitz who survived the Holocaust. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he describes that during his time as a prisoner he was kept perpetually at the point of starvation, beaten and humiliated by guards on a regular basis and had faced death so many times that he became psychologically convinced that his death in the camp was inevitable.

Frankl describes a speech he gave to a group of hungry and irritated inmates after a day in which his whole camp of 2,500 prisoners chose to fast rather than turn in a starving fellow inmate who had stolen some potatoes. After encouraging the inmates to consider the few comforts they did have, Frankl told them that “human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.” He asked the inmates to “not lose hope, but to keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of (their) struggle does not detract from its dignity and its meaning.” And in describing the joy of finally being liberated, Frankl writes that “the crowning experience of all for the homecoming man is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more.”

We can’t know what it would be like for us to live in a world torn apart by nuclear war, but Frankl’s words expose a side to the doomsday scenario that our fear has kept hidden from us.

He teaches us that were our doomsday scenario to occur, we would certainly see suffering but we would also witness unprecedented examples of human survival. We would witness our love for each other conquering our hatred, and humankind working together for the common good.

Nuclear holocaust would force us to unite more strongly than we are capable of now, and it would offer us an opportunity to more clearly define who we are as individuals, as a nation, and as a world.

Fear is self-perpetuating, and as long as we hold it in our minds it will continue to grow and manifest itself.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt told us that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As we embark into an era marked by terrorism and constant change, it is vital that we remember this and face our fears.