People often confuse the two opposite meanings of words like fear, anxiety, afraid, and scared. This confusion explains the current state of US politics.
The words are sometimes used pejoratively to imply unfounded wariness and sometimes used positively to imply justified wariness.
“Aw, you’re just scared.”
“Damned right I am. I have good reason to be.”
Blurring the two meanings makes it hard to determine where best to invest our wariness. Wariness motivates work to prevent future costs. Ideally, we invest that work by means of triage, ignoring low-priority and unfounded threats and the threats we can’t escape while investing instead in preventing the greatest preventable threats.
Like all investment, wariness is a bet we try to make right but can go wrong. We feared Y2K and it turned out to be nothing. We didn’t fear the 2008 economic meltdown and it turned out to be something.
Anxiety is sometimes used to describe indiscriminate wariness. Like any form of indiscriminate investment, it’s highly counterproductive. Republican supporters these days are anxious by this definition. Their leaders are able to lead them by the nose into any wariness that serves the powerful.
When we confuse the two meanings of these words, we permit a double standard. When I’m wary, I’m proud and brave, courageous enough to face the imminent threats, but when you’re wary, you’re a weeny, a wimp, a scaredy cat, chicken little whining that the sky is falling.
We get a lot of that double standard from the Republicans these days. Violent Policemen, the NRA and Iran warmongers are brave; people who worry about climate change, racismand growing inequality are weenies.
Eyes on the prize: Better bets about where to invest our wariness. Double standard bravado stunts growth on making better bets. Without better bets, we end up with a lot more to be anxious about.