“Fear” and “Scared” Make Lousy Rhetorical Weapons

“Fear” and “Scared” Make Lousy Rhetorical Weapons May 21, 2022

There’s this guy I love, who shall therefore remain nameless, who’s spent a large portion of the COVID pandemic dropping little comments about people who are “afraid” of infection.  In fairness, he errs on the fearless side in life, so I guess people who are bothered by potentially-deadly situations do seem odd to him. He probably doesn’t wear a helmet when he rides his bike, either, for all I know.

Still. It irks me.

It irks me because I’m one of the people who gets painted as paranoid by the Unthinking Jerkmouth Class, and my ego would prefer affirmation, thanks.


I’ll go ahead and explain my situation for those who’ve lost track: As of this morning I’m on Acute Viral Illness Number Eight in the past six months.

None of those eight rounds have resulted in serious illness.  What I get is a usual, often comparatively mild, version of whatever the hot trending virus is, followed by an inordinately long and crushing bout of fatigue.  So far, since Thanksgiving I’ve lost about ten weeks of productive time down the black hole of post-viral fatigue. That’s a lot of lost time.  It’s a miracle I fold laundry ever at all.

So. Dealing with a situation like that, of course I’m doing all the things to be as healthy as possible (which is not made any easier by losing ten weeks to crushing post-viral fatigue); it also seems to help quite a bit if I act like an intermittently-paranoid person.  The more precautions I take to reduce viral load, the shorter the duration of a given round seems to be.

That’s anecdotal evidence, so don’t take it as anything other, but as long as it seems to be working? It’s worth trying.


What to do in a situation like mine is very much the realm of weighing risks and benefits. There is no course of action, anywhere on the spectrum from devil-may-care to hermetically-sealed-bubble, that will avoid downsides.  It’s a fallen world.  We make difficult decisions about what risks we prefer, but avoiding risk altogether isn’t on the menu.


So.  I live dangerously in order to do things like be in the presence of my own children while also allowing those children to have a normal teenage social life.  I experiment with crazy stuff like silicone-sealing N95s in order to try to get out every now and then and do something that’s totally just pure fun but would be a total disaster if I weren’t aggressive on the precautions (and I’ve given up six weeks of my life to learning that the hard way).

It’s a strategy that my family is on board with and which seems to upset all kinds of bystanders who swear they care about me but don’t actually seem to care about me. Okay?

Well, those bystanders want me to have magic.  They want me to either magically just not get sick (sign me up, please) or to magically discover a vocation as a hermit. I do live mostly like a hermit? But it’s not my vocation at this time.

The people who want me to prioritize physical health above all else — even at the expense of family life and parenting my own children — mean well. They have different priorities, and I’m fine with them ordering their lives however they feel called. I do sometimes suspect the people who want the “be fearless” “quit worrying about getting sick again” magic out of me are probably just jealous that they didn’t make the cut of people I’m willing to get sick from.  Probably stings. I’m less sympathetic, however.

(Um: Some of you who haven’t seen me in forever did make the cut, it’s just that it’s really difficult finding time to get sick from everyone I love, there’s a waitlist.)


So. That’s what I have to say to the “fear” people.  You go around accusing others of being “afraid” when really those others are just doing their best to make prudential decisions, just like you do.  Maybe they are erring on the side of too-cautious.  Maybe they have a different life from yours, and therefore they need to avoid risks that you are able to accept. Either way? Your insults don’t help.

Now for the “scared” people.


When I say the “scared” people, and you know the type, I don’t mean people who have grimly assessed a real danger and undertaken to mitigate that threat.  Rather, they are people who use “I’m scared” as a rhetorical weapon, an excuse for not bothering to legitimately engage their opponents in a reasoned discussion of whatever the topic at hand might be.


I’m not saying you can’t acknowledge legitimate fear.  I am saying that “I am scared” is not a reason.  It proves nothing, other than you have an emotion.

Okay, I have emotions too. What are the specific, objective outcomes that you fear?

How likely are those outcomes? What steps would mitigate the situation? What would be the side effects of taking such steps? What are the reasons your opponents object to your proposal? Are there any alternative solutions that would allow us to reduce the likelihood of your fears coming to pass, and which your opponents would be more likely to accept?


So that’s it. In conclusion: Don’t take my debate class if you’re married to one of those rhetorical tics. Sorry.  They stink and you need to stop using them now, and then your life will be much better. Amen.

Barnum & Bailey clowns and geese promo poster

Artwork: I felt like a good picture of geese was what I wanted for this post, no reason, insert your own metaphor.  During the search I came across this poster, circa 1900 of a Barnum & Baily Circus promotion for “Wonderful Performing Geese, Roosters, and Musical Donkey.” It’s ripe with all kinds of metaphors I’m not actually implying, but I mean, sure, go ahead.  Also: Who are these audiences which are more likely to attend an event promising a “Musical Donkey”? Presumably in an era when most people knew what donkeys sound like, even.  Amazing. Via Wikimedia, public domain.

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad