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We Are Americans - and We Have Normalcy Bias

March 30, 2015

We are Americans. That sums up our proud nation. Yes, most nations are proud. But we can do anything. We can say we are going to put a man on the moon within 10 years, have no way of knowing how we are going to do it, then get it done, anyway. We can build anything needed- build it bigger, stronger, faster.

Because we are Americans, “it” can’t happen here. A Pearl Harbor or 9/11 happens once every 70 years or so, then we defeat our enemies and move on. No one can defeat us; nothing can stop us; as today is, it will always be. So we think.

Normalcy bias- that is part of the hubris that Americans feel tugging on our hearts and minds. “It” can’t happen here because, well, because we’re Americans. 

After Germany recovered from the economic collapse that followed WWI, a little man with an evil heart tried to seize power. The move was comical in size and scope, but it began a chain of events that saw its coronation ten years hence, which then began a twelve-year Reich. 

Initially, the timing was off for the rise of evil. By the time the band of fascist thugs became strong enough on the streets, the economy was doing too well for the people to blindly follow a man with tyrannical and murderous views. A fat wallet, or at least food on the table, makes the heart content. 

When the time was right for treachery, time marked by economic struggle, the table was set perfectly:  Darwin had a theory that replaced God; Haeckel’s teachings of racial superiority resonated with many; the German elite believed, fervently so for many, that if only the strong should survive, then it was best for the human race to not allow the weak and inferior to reproduce- or to exist at all. No food on the table made a strong master welcome. 

And they were ready to believe anything, anyone. 

Their hearts were prepared for what was to come, for he was them, just taking beliefs to logical conclusions and magnified by charm and power. Only when magnified did many see the nastiness of their own beliefs, reflected back to them by the face of evil. 

The German people were not a nation of idiots:  some gave in to base instincts, some just wanted somebody to fix problems, and others believed that what they had witnessed after WWI was as bad as things could get. It could be argued that the first and second groups were inadvertent accomplices, but the last group- those who believed that their lives could not get any worse than the dark post-war years- was simply wrong. No one wants to believe that things will get worse. 

We Americans have not encountered the bad unless such experiences took place in other countries. Our normalcy bias tells us that because we have avoided 1975 Vietnam or 2001 Argentina, or even decades of what the average Soviet citizen endured, we will always avoid such economic and political disasters. In 1983 we came within a fraction of a full nuclear attack by the Soviets due to a false alert, but that’s just proof that it can’t happen here. Isn’t it? 

Even though we are Americans, we are not immune from the Laws of Economics. “It” can happen here, including economic collapse, an EMP attack, or sundry other ills that could in turn plunge our economy, and thus the world’s, into chaos. Should that happen, we have a sufficiently needy segment of our population that would desire, even fight, to be coddled from cradle to grave and rocked to sleep every night by a caring master. 

When a vacuum exists, it is always filled. And what fills is not always as benign as what vacated. 

Americans live in the greatest nation in the history of Mankind. Yes, we have our flaws (ask President Obama for a list- he’ll tell you), but we also have a blind side. That blind side- our own hubris about our nation’s historical greatness- may cause most of our citizens to be caught off guard if a tyrant comes promising security and peace in exchange for total surrender to him and his designs.

Like an underground river roaring beneath a great city, our feckless and reckless spending is sweeping away our economy’s foundation and its ability to support the nation in the long term. History has taught us that simply rebuilding the economy may not be the only challenge in such times. Those who would profit from the collapse of our capitalist system will be waiting to woo ill-informed and ill-educated people. 

The ingredients needed to stop a tyrant are to have: the rule of law; a moral society; a means to a sound economy; and an educated citizenry- educated about how to have the first three ingredients. We are Americans; we can do that. We can stop a tyrant. But do not let hubris stop us from seeing what we are doing to our economy now. Hindsight does not lend itself to prevention. 

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Brian W. Peterson has been a columnist for a mid-size California newspaper, is a veteran of political campaigns, and was a member of the publicly elected Republican Central Committee of Los Angeles County. His psychological thriller Dead Dreams and sci-fi adventure Children of the Sun are currently available through Amazon.com. You can follow Brian on Twitter @cybrpete.

Visit Brian W. Peterson's website at https://www.writtenbybwp.com/