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Location: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

Friday, December 03, 2004

Conversations on Fear

Today, I had the following conversation with a friend and former classmate of mine at the U. last Spring. His last name will go unidentified, because I really only want to demonstrate what I believe is a narrow view of the world of public affairs, even by a good man, a fine writer and publisher. Or is my view narrow? That’s for readers to determine. I rearranged the order which would normally be reversed in a series of emails. The first is a message I forwarded to my “other” list because my friend, William Moyers (son of Bill, for whom I’ve done some writing), who heads up Hazelden Foundation’s policy and external affairs office and is concerned about the stigma of alcoholism still prevailing, while my concern is a larger fear gripping the nation by our collective throats. First the article he passes on, then the series of messages I thought some would like to read. It may get a bit long.

Andy
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Something’s missing in this red land of morality-based politics gone sour.

Fear is now the dominant emotion throughout the culture. And the politicians play it like a violin to get their own.

It will – never fear – it will come back to bite us all.

Andy

From: William Moyers
Subject: An example of stigma

Sadly, stigma still festers in the land of treatment. wcm

Doug Grow: Slamming door on the addicted Doug Grow, Star Tribune

Larry Refsland, preacher and mortgage banker, saw the house in the heart of Bluffton, Minn., and believed a prayer had been answered.

But following a town meeting two weeks ago, he's back on his knees, praying for a clarification.

In recent months, Refsland and his spouse, Patti, formed a company, Rewind Inc., with the hope of setting up a small chain of Christian-based drug and alcohol treatment houses throughout rural Minnesota. The house in Bluffton, a town of 204 people in western Minnesota's Otter Tail County, appeared to be the perfect place to begin building this dream/ministry. The house had been built in the 1970s as a home for nuns. Later, it had become an
assisted-living residence for the elderly. The owner of the property was willing to give Rewind Inc. six months free on the currently vacant property.

"It seemed perfect," Refsland said. "Everything about it seemed perfect."

Then came the town meeting. More than two-thirds of the people of Bluffton showed up and spoke as one: "Not here!"

John Dinsmore, human services director of Otter Tail County who had come to the meeting to serve as moderator, believes there is a need for the sort of facility the Refslands were proposing. As it is, many people in rural counties in Minnesota must go to the Twin Cities to get the help they need.

Still, the people of Bluffton were so opposed to the idea that by meeting's end, Dinsmore could only dryly commend the community for its solidarity.

"Not here!" isn't a phrase unique to tiny Bluffton. It's echoed in neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities, too.

Refsland had proposed to treat people from Otter Tail and neighboring counties who had served jail time and now were seeking chemical-dependency treatment.

He had hoped Rewind would be greeted with open arms for a couple of reasons: First, he's hopelessly optimistic. Second, he thought the people of Bluffton would understand that this would be a facility that often would be serving people they know and love.

County Sheriff Brian Schlueter had underscored that point.

"Most of these people [who would be served by treatment] are our friends and neighbors," Schlueter said at the meeting.

In retrospect, Refsland isn't sure that people in Bluffton really believe that those struggling with addictions are the people who live across the street or on the farm down the road.

"I think in their minds we would be serving the people like they see on the television news programs from the Twin Cities," Refsland said. "I think they thought it would be like the people they see on 'Law and Order.' They couldn't imagine we were talking about their friends and their relatives."

Al Roggenkamp was one of the leaders of the effort to keep a treatment house out of Bluffton.

"We're all for treatment of the people who need it," Roggenkamp said. "It's just that our town is not suitable."

There is no police department in Bluffton, Roggenkamp pointed out. The Sheriff's Office is responsible for maintaining law and order in the sleepy little town and it's headquartered in the county seat, Fergus Falls, more
than 50 miles from Bluffton.

"What would happen in a crisis?" Roggenkamp asked.

Refsland tried to mollify the fears by pointing out that the treatment center would not be a halfway house, with people coming and going at will. He also said that sexual predators and people with violence in their backgrounds would not be allowed. In a last-gasp effort to win over the town, he said it would serve only women, not men.

When Refsland was asked how Bluffton would benefit from the center, he answered from his heart: "Anytime you help people, you benefit."

The Refslands believe that. For years, they've been opening the doors to their home, working with people fighting addictions. They've also been doing what he describes as "a jailhouse ministry."

Like growing numbers of people in the criminal-justice system, the Refslands believe addiction is a national health issue, not a crime issue.

Refsland has a vision of how to help treat the problem. He has a certified staff ready to roll. There's an endless list of potential clients.

And he thought he had the perfect place to begin, until almost an entire town turned out to say "Not here!"

Doug Grow is at dgrow@startribune.com
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From: Al
Date: Fri, 03 Dec 2004 13:01:19 -0600

Andy, Andy, Andy. Sometimes you're so outrageous I'm truly amazed. Amazed that you can tie this story to the recent election. I covered a story very similar to this in Chisholm 20 years ago. The neighbors didn't want a group
home. Now you have to remember that Chisholm votes 80 percent Democrat all the time. Does this mean that Democrats are narrow-minded provincialists? I feel no fear. Do you feel fear? Or are we only fearing fear itself?

Al
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Andy Driscoll wrote:

Al, Al, Al; Never be amazed at my outrage.

Election? Where did I mention the election? Political partisanship? Where did I mention that? You’re extending my words into arenas never intended – that because I’m a political animal, I’m referring only to the crass
partisanship of cultivating fear. Not good, Al. You shouldn’t put words in my mouth of in my statements.

I think if you’ll check, you’ll find I spoke of a governing climate of fear throughout the culture. The election is both a result and a cause of some of that, but generating a fear-based life has been part and parcel of life in late-20th Century/early 21st Century USA. Fear is a controlling emotion and those who can and are willing to make it their business to manage other people’s fear have a leg up on the rest of us who cannot or won’t – unless the fear management is a fire to be fought with fire.

Fear is nonpartisan. Fear is the very core and foundation of the NIMBY syndrome – irrational hysteria over images conjured up on television that will destroy your children, your neighborhoods and property values when 99.4% of the time, nothing ever happens and people invariably forget with the passing of uneventful days and months. Fear drives the 10 O'clock News every night and the front page content of the daily papers. Fear is preached from the pulpit – both spiritual and carnal – warning that the almighty will crush you if you don’t prevent all of “those people” “out there” from controlling their bodies and their sexuality.

We’re talking here about a 60-year move away from personal and political freedom and trust of each other to a society of furtive consumers who’s only real freedom is rapidly narrowing to merely buying things.

And then came 9/11 and the unabashed exploitation of fear that comprised administration policy from then on – and led to the lies and distortion that murdered 100,000-plus innocents (not to mention the maiming of hundreds of thousands more) in other countries, doing little or nothing to the real perpetrators. All of this to retain political power and moral authority that was never there to begin with.

Surely, you don’t believe that because you say you don’t feel fear, especially as you’re writing me, that you’re immune to the fears raised daily in the media and by public officials.

Do I have fear? Damned right! But not for my life. Rarely have.

I fear for this country’s very existence – its soul. I fear what my children and grandchildren will live under as the police state clamps down on dissidence and illegally and unconstitutionally deprives common citizens their right to disagree openly with their government. And I fear that the corporate dominance of our economy and political processes is taking us down a road to very real fascism, if we’re not already there. Sound melodramatic?

That’s what average German citizens argued in 1933.

Andy
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To: Andy Driscoll

Andy, You'll have to pardon me if I took "red land" as a reference to the election. Did you mean that we're communists? And pardon me if I tried to put it in context with the other 500 emails I've received from you
concerning the election.

If I go back 60 years, it must mean that the America of 1944 was when we went to hell in a handbasket. Yes, it was the end of the Roosevelt era, but you know what, I'll bet if you tried to put that group home in that little town in 1936 in the heyday of the New Deal, the NIMBY would still rule. Yes, it's fear, but it's not something new to these days.

I'll dwell on this some more, but my wife has arrived to pick me up.

Moralist Al
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Ahhh, Al. Let’s not nitpick, shall we? Red-land has been around four years and has been a reference point for middle American “values” discussions, election or no election.

You’re a communist? How would I know? And who’s “we”? Al, you’re positively sounding like a Fox News spinner. Play games with the terms, if you wish. The point is – and you know it – that since WWII, what we’ve seen here is a long process of alienating the people from the government they are supposed to pick, not hate the very word or abandon their franchise to pick it.

Of course a group home in a small town like that in 1936 would get the same reception. But then, group homes were not the enlightened alternative to state insane asylums back then, were they? Seventy years ago, AA was being founded in Ohio. Recovery from alcoholism only possible in the strictest secrecy. So. Come to think of it, maybe the home would go in without telling anyone and the ruckus avoided.

The fear I speak of – and you know this, too – is far broader than NIMBY. In 1936 strangers weren’t afraid to acknowledge each other’s existence on a public street. Increasingly, since WWII, we’ve been pumped up with the
belief that no one but no one is to be trusted and no one should be caught on the streets after dark and no one should attempt to gather in dissent from their government’s policies and behavior.

That sort of fear is made worse by the incompetent newscasts most Americans have come to rely on since the war – all of them reporting little more than the few crimes that occur each day in a Metro area of 2 million people and
affecting three people at a time. If it bleeds, it leads, is the newsroom axiom, and a thoroughly distorted view of the real world where random crime and danger completely dominates the ever so earnest pretty mouths on the
tube every night.

Decades later, all people can think about is how dangerous their lives have become when nothing of the sort is true – not even after 9/11, which has been shamelessly and shamefully exploited for its fear-based manipulation of the American psyche and their subsequent votes. I’m far more fearful of my own local and federal police forces and an administration calling dissent a crime than I am of any potential terrorist, but I understand my views comprise merely half the nation’s as a whole.

It’s one thing to be fearful – of walking, talking, dissenting, even writing against the grain, but entirely another when that fear is, as it always will be, the basis of anger, even rage, and paranoia, and the violence they eget. Never have we been so violent on a per capita basis as we are now – in language, in driving, in voting, in confronting disagreement. These are dangerous times made more dangerous by those willing to keep fear alive and keep us at each other’s throats while they run our nation into the ground with greed and war.

When we all decide to stand up and stop pretending we’re not afraid of what can be done to us in the name of religion, national security and money by the powers above and by each other, when we confront the fears and decide not to let it rule us, then something resembling a unified culture under the promise of a Constitution fast becoming moth-eaten by the insects of power might actually allow us to survive. Otherwise, we can kiss the culture
goodbye.

We will have be come the next Roman Empire – assuming its not already too late.

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