American Panic: A History Of Who Scares Us And Why, by Mark Stein
I wonder if this book was revised in the contemporary period the extent to which Donald Trump would be worthy of being added to these panics. The author shows himself to be a fine student of politics and panic, but one wonders the extent to which he holds Americans as being prone to being panicky, and this book itself provides at least some means by which various people have been viewed as harbingers of societal threat and doom and how the panic has harmed ordinary and perhaps mostly harmless (but not always) lives before the panics subside. Some panics appear to relate especially to political fears within the country itself, and it is rather telling that the author does not point to the paranoid political style of discourse that has been present in American society since colonial times as being a major influence in our tendency to have periodic panics such as the contemporary period and our political concerns. The author does have some insights, but is perhaps not quite well enough read on the subject to be as much an expert as he wants to be, even if some of his conclusions are a bit hopeful.
This book is about 250 pages long and it is divided into twelve chapters that deal with different subjects of panic throughout the course of American history. The author begins with acknowledgements and an introduction that tries to shine a light of reason on the issue of panics. After that there is a discussion about the panic towards native Americans (1), which is followed by the periodic panic we have over blacks (2), related as it is to internal politics. After that there is the discussion of the secrecy that led to the panic over Freemasonry (3), the concern about loyalties that led to concerns over Catholics (4), the fears of Asians (5), as well as the concerns about Jews (6) that have never, at least not yet, reached the level of European anti-Semitism. The author talks about Communist fears (7), anti-Capitalism (8), fears about women’s suffrage (9), homosexuality (10), illegal immigration (11), and Sharia law (12), before commenting a belief that panics are not necessarily all bad and that it is unlikely that they will vanish any time soon in a conclusion, despite the author’s own hopes. After that there are notes and an index to close the book out.
If we consider the body politic to be like a body, it is totally unsurprising why panic should sometimes be a case. Like individual people, societies live in a dangerous world having to deal with internal and external enemies, and being possessed of parts of the body that are good at giving warnings and other parts of the body that are there to adjudicate whether or not the warnings are reasonable enough to raise the adrenal glands to action to summon our flight, fight, or freeze response. The author appears to recognize, at least by the end of the book, that it is important that there be at least some ability for societies to be called to action in the face of threat and danger, but also appears to be highly doubtful about the nature of some of those threats and dangers. I am inclined to think not too differently from the author, in that it is impossible to stereotype those who are panicked or the personal and psychological reasons that lead them to panic and to encourage panic in others or to profit from the panic of others. Human beings and situations are sufficiently complicated that they need to be examined in full, and if panic has a reasonable role in a dangerous world, why then would the author need to go all Pogo on us by saying that the enemy is us? It is not panic as a whole that is wrong, only the fact that when we are panicked we are not often wise, and that can be a very serious problem indeed.