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Articles published in the Richland County Bar Association's Richbar News

Fear of the Beast

March 19, 2014Richbar News Articles

“Being the parent of a young teenage son is not easy, but you can do it” my right brain says.  Meanwhile, my left brain is calculating the cost of military boarding schools in French Guiana.   

But whenever I get ready to throw in the parenting towel, I’m reminded of some of the benefits of being a father to a teenage boy.  Like having someone to help move heavy furniture.  Or having someone who wants to go with me see “Need for Speed: Most Wanted” and not complain that it’s juvenile (when that — and the fact that Nicholas Sparks didn’t write it — is the entire point).  Or not having to go to Gymboree ever, ever, ever again.

Another benefit to having teenagers is that their English teachers start assigning novels that are actually good.  Well, good for the most part.  There’s still Jane Austen.  When I had to read Jane Austen in high school my thought process went like this:  interesting setting, OK, some dialogue.  More dialogue…talking…talking….talki——Oh my God they’re still just talking….. Somebody just DO something!    A note to any English teachers reading this: Jane Austen is absolutely unreadable for any male under the age of 120.  We’d rather be forced to watch a triple feature of “Beaches,” “The Piano,” and “Terms of Endearment” while planning a bridal shower during the Super Bowl.  My proudest academic achievement is graduating from college with a degree in English and an emphasis in English Literature, and still managing to avoid ever having to finish anything by Jane Austen.

But then there are all the great books.  Moby Dick.  Last of the Mohicans. Catcher in the Rye.  And of course, Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

You remember Lord of the Flies, right?  It’s World War II.  A planeload of English schoolboys being flown to safety crash lands on a deserted tropical island.  With all the adults dead, the boys have to fend for themselves.  Things start out pretty well.   Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, discover a conch shell on the beach and use it as a horn to summon the other boys.  The boys elect Ralph as the leader, and Ralph puts another boy, Jack, in charge a group of boys to hunt for food for the others.  Meanwhile, Ralph, Piggy and another boy named Simon work to build shelters.

But soon enough, things start to fall apart. A rivalry develops between Ralph and Jack as Jack grows obsessed with hunting and becomes increasingly savage.  Paranoia starts to take root as well, and when the silhouette of a dead pilot’s parachute is seen against a mountainside, the boys are terrified that it is the shadow of the Beast of the Island stalking them.  Their fear enables yet more savagery, as more boys flock to Jack and his tribe of hunters for protection.  Even Ralph, the cool-headed leader, eventually succumbs to the hysteria.

Amidst the hysteria is another boy, Simon.  Unlike Jack or Ralph, Simon is not strong.  He’s timid and prone to fainting and nosebleeds.  But he’s compassionate and wise.  And as things are breaking apart, Simon goes searching for the Beast and finds nothing.  On his journey, he learns what all of the others have missed — that the Beast is something that the boys created. More than that, Simon understands that the boys’ fear of the Beast has turned them into beasts themselves.   

They had become their own worst enemy.  Tragically, when Simon returns to the campfire — covered and in blood and dirt –  to tell the other boys that the beast is “only us,”  they take him for the Beast and stab him to death with their spears.

Last week, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden addressed the South x Southwest conference in Austin, Texas via live-stream video from Russia.  Having previously revealed the U.S. Government’s massive surveillance of its own citizens, Snowden called for public accountability for such programs.  He also said that we as citizens should exercise our right to encrypt our communications to protect our privacy from government surveillance (which, by the way, reportedly extends to law firms’ communications with their clients, see, NY Times Article).   Michael Daly, writing for the Daily Beast, reacted immediately to Snowden’s appearance.  He wrote that he considered Snowden’s presence in Russia as an endorsement of Russia’s Ukraine policy.  Daly admonished Snowden to “come home from Russia and face the music” so that he could be arrested and prosecuted properly.  Other opinions ran the usual “hero / traitor” gambit, with everything in between.

So what is Snowden?  Hero?  Traitor? Or Both?  All whistleblowers betray someone or something.  What you think of Snowden likely depends on what you think the “real” America is.  Is it simply a regime?  Or is it a people with a set of inalienable principles?   How we treat Snowden when he finally returns to the campfire of America likely depends on how we answer this question.

And, of course, it depends on our level of paranoia.  There are, no doubt, beasts in this world.  Some are real (war, famine, poverty) and some are not.  The most terrifying ones mix reality and paranoid fiction.  Which is why Fox News can make “Obamacare” as frightening to some as terrorism.

As countries go, America is like a teenager.  We’re susceptible to the same magnified fears, drama, and overreaction that plagues teenagers generally.  But, as I’ve witnessed with my own son, teenagers can be compassionate, altruistic, idealistic and selfless.   The part that keeps me awake at night as a parent is that all of these qualities seem to co-exist at once.  And the fact that which will win out in the end remains yet to be determined.  In the meantime, all we can do is our best.

Being a teenage country is not easy.  But we can do it.

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