Page "belles_lettres" Paragraph 210
from Brown Corpus
The frequently postulated antique worry that the daylight hours might dwindle to complete darkness apparently gave rise to a ritual and celebration which we still recognize.
It is curious that even centuries of repetition of the yearly cycle did not induce a sufficient degree of confidence to allow people to abandon the ceremonies of the winter solstice.
This and other fears of the solar system have disappeared gradually, first, with the Ptolemaic system and its built-in concept of periodicity and then, more firmly, with the Newtonian innovation of an universal force that could account quantitatively for both terrestial and celestial motions.
This understanding provides a very simple example of the fact that one can eliminate fear without instituting any controls.
In fact, although we have dispelled the fear, we have not necessarily assured ourselves that there are no dangers.
Our understanding of the solar system has taught us to replace our former elaborate rituals with the appropriate action which, in this case, amounts to doing nothing.
This almost trivial example is nevertheless suggestive, for there are some elements in common between the antique fear that the days would get shorter and shorter and our present fear of war.
We, in our country, think of war as an external threat which, if it occurs, will not be primarily of our own doing.
And yet we obviously also believe that the avoidance of the disaster depends in some obscure or at least uncertain way on the details of how we behave.
Our weapons production, our world prestige, our ideas of democracy, our actions of trust or stubbornness or secrecy or espionage??
We have staved off a war and, since our behavior has involved all these elements, we can only keep adding to our ritual without daring to abandon any part of it, since we have not the slightest notion which parts are effective.