My Turn: March out of madness

  • Thursday, March 17, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

In Juneau, indeed all through Southeast Alaska, March is a time of enjoyable basketball madness. Southeast Alaskans gather here to enjoy a time honored celebration of the Gold Medal Invitational Basketball Tournament.

All states celebrate March Madness with the NCAA annual basketball championship tournament, but there is more madness this March than before.

Some historical perspective sheds light on human madness. Not until July 1794 did the terror of the French Revolution end with Maximilien Robespierre’s violent guillotine death. The exploited and fearful French citizenry had tolerated more than enough. Their understandable revolution spread. Anger and revenge spilled over so the revolution erupted into deadly violence.

Fueled by deep hatred, mass rage took over as their fear blinded them to such levels of terror. Now in 2016, our 99 percent of exploited and desperate American citizenry is full of fear. Anger abounds and fear is growing. Some, acting out of fear, are vulnerable to empty campaign slogans of bullying promises. Such fear and despair can open the strong feelings of “the lesser angels of our nature.”

Candidate, and later President, Abraham Lincoln spoke of finding and following those better angels. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker in his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence is Decreasing,” has catalogued a millennia of human violence. He even expresses reasonable hope we are evolving beyond such desperate overreactions. He gives measurable scientific evidence that humans are now living in the longest period of lessened warfare and violence. He clearly warns, in his last chapter, of the danger of human behavior regression and the return to former levels of violence and warfare.

In mid-20th century America, we witnessed a decrease of violence. Millions globally joined hands and together sang, “We Shall Overcome.” This rallying song was tempered with reason and the timely word of “someday.” It did happen despite assassinations and bloody put downs of peaceful protests. The courage and power of non-violence prevailed and civil as well as voting rights became real for millions more American citizens. I recall the power of this song in a small Kenyan village. There, it was my privilege to join a support group of HIV/AIDS patients and workers. We stood, held hands and sang together in celebration of Barack Obama’s 2004 election to the U.S. Senate. His fellow Luo tribe citizens thought he had been elected president. I did not try to correct them, and now their prescience is remarkable. We cried together in joyous celebration and continued our AIDS prevention and treatment work.

I believe we will overcome our fear to solve our 21st century global problems. This will take time, exceedingly hard work and deep resolves of courage. Solving our common problems will take more than what candidates, presidents or legislators do. Rather, solving these problems depends even more on what we — citizens from Alaska to Afghanistan and back to California and Peru — do. Together, we are the force that will make the difference.

We will do this as we listen, learn, vote and continue to guide elected leaders using our rational brains and courageous hearts that have overcome our fear and decreased violence. This is where our better angels reside and how we triumph over fear and death. Together we will march out of our madness.

• George W. Brown is a retired pediatrician living in Douglas.

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