CXLIII – The Bogeyman Industry

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For
as children tremble and fear everything
in the blind darkness, so we in the
light sometimes fear what is no more
to be feared than the things children
in the dark hold in terror and imagine
will come true.

~ Lucretius

When
I was a small child, I delighted in
scaring my two younger sisters with
specters dreamed up by me with the
help of radio broadcasts. My mind
was a bottomless well of monsters,
hobgoblins, and — scariest of all
— those amorphous demons whose lack
of clarity in shape made them all
the more terrifying. I was a Ziegfeld
of theatrical production, with sound
effects produced by my ghostly vocalizing,
the pounding on walls, or the scratching
of my fingernails on a door; while
my special effects took the form of
crawling beneath their beds at night
and kicking the bedsprings. The script
was nothing special, it being sufficient
that the acting would generate the
desired screams.

I
have been out of the fear-mongering
business for many decades now, the
field having been taken over by well-financed
professionals with whom I am unable
and unwilling to compete. The stage
props and special effects have become
so massive and expensive as to leave
little room for a small-time operator
to succeed with nothing more than
voice-over screeches. For the enterprise
to be worthwhile today, economies-of-scale
demand that the intended audience
be expanded beyond one's immediate
family. The bogeyman has become a
multinational operation, leaving a
budding young entrepreneur to content
himself with annoying the neighbors
with a garage band.

Fear-peddling
is very much in danger of becoming
monopolized by the state, which long
ago realized that keeping people perennially
frightened was the most effective
method of maintaining them in a huddled
and obedient mass. From the primitive
tribal chief who was able to convince
his neighbors of the threats posed
by the u201CNine Bowsu201D across the river,
to today's political shakedown artists
with their terrorist phantoms, fear
has been the essential organizing
principle of politics.

As
my sisters and I learned at an early
age, fear objects are most terrifying
when their identities are vague and
formless. Lions and tigers and bears
are dangerous, but never as frightening
as shadowy creatures who haunt darkened
streets or hallways. I recall the
stark terror I experienced in listening
to Lionel Barrymore's radio presentation
of Dickens' u201CA Christmas Carol,u201D and
imagining the ghost of Jacob
Marley clanking his way up a lonely
staircase. I also recall the disappointment
I felt in seeing my first movie version
of the story: I had, after all, dreamed
up a far scarier specter than Hollywood
was able to accomplish with special
effects photography.

Like
small children, we are now living
in a society that the institutional
order — particularly the state — tries
vainly to hold together through fear.
While pointing to u201Cothersu201D as threats
to our well-being — one of the clearest
symptoms of psychological projection
— the state unwittingly acknowledges
its terrorist foundations. We must
be kept in constant terror of faceless
and formless men — or women — who
might attack us in some unexpected
manner; we must learn to fear unattended
packages, or breast-feeding mothers
on airliners, or dark-skinned people
who speak in languages we do not understand.
We have even been warned to feel unsafe
at petting zoos and roller-skating
rinks, as government officials warn
us to be constantly alert to dangers
from u201Csuspiciousu201D others.

Lest
we not accord world events their u201Cproperu201D
potential for threats to our lives,
we have been provided with one of
the most idiotic of political gimmicks:
a color-coded chart identifying the
level of fear we should feel. Like
Pavlovian dogs, our operant conditioning
is apparently designed to elicit from
each of us an expected rush of adrenalin
as the colors move upwards from yellow
to orange to red.

It
is rational for men and women to have
an awareness of potential dangers
in their environments, and to make
an appropriate response when needed.
Some very dangerous and ill-motivated
people did murder nearly three thousand
people on 9/11. It is important that
the identities and purposes of those
involved be revealed, even if doing
so requires us to look in directions
we are uncomfortable considering.
On the other hand, it is quite irrational
— to the point of being pathological
— to embrace the doctrine of a malevolent
universe; to live in constant fear
of everything and everybody at all
times. I was in college, in the early
1950s, when the shadowy hobgoblin
of the u201Ccommunist infiltratoru201D became
a useful tool to mobilize fear on
behalf of expanded governmental power.
I recall one study in which people
were asked whether they suspected
any of their neighbors of being communists.
Many did, offering such u201Cevidenceu201D
as a man having National Geographic
maps pinned to his walls, or a
couple who were accustomed to entertaining
people at their home late at night.
I also recall a legislator in our
state who was convinced of the presence
of a communist u201Cconspiracyu201D within
the faculty of the state university.
When informed that there was no evidence
to support such a charge, the solon
responded that the lack of evidence
only confirmed the effectiveness of
the conspiracy! Again, fear-objects
are rendered more terrifying when
we imagine them operating in shadows,
where our imaginations must be employed
to fill in the details.

Today's
u201Cterroristu201D or u201Cjihadistu201D would doubtless
be defined in the same murky fashion.
Of course, u201Cjihadu201D is a word very
few people understand, it only being
sufficient that everyone fear it.
Our fears of such persons are hastened
because we do not understand the causal
explanations for their actions. Nor
are most of us desirous of learning
such causes because, to do so, would
give rise to an even greater fear:
that of discovering the nature of
the political games being played at
our expense. It is far better that
we simply accept the bogeyman du
jour as our fear object, and recite
all the appropriate mantras on behalf
of our attachment to patriotic causes
that only lead to our destruction.

We
are told, on a daily basis, that our
lives are under constant threat of
attack from terrorists. But if this
is so, where are these supposed
terrorists? President Bush and his
defenders have been bleating that
their expanded police and surveillance
powers are keeping terrorists out
of the country, a proposition that
is rendered laughable by the daily
influx of immigrants from Central
America! If it has been so easy for
millions of people to enter this country
in spite of determined government
efforts to prevent it, what efficacious
mechanisms has the Bush administration
put in place to keep out terrorists?
Nor does the government's performance
in New Orleans suggest to any thoughtful
person that it is capable of making
an effective response to any alleged
danger.

The
so-called u201Cwar on terroru201D is just
another of the many state-run rackets
designed to benefit governmental,
media, and various business interests,
all of whom profit from state-induced
fears of others. Greater power and
more tax dollars flow to political
systems; the media enjoys an increase
in viewers and readers; while untold
numbers of government contractors,
along with suppliers of goods and
services for a market of frightened
people, profit from this protection
racket. In threatening to expand the
war to other countries, the state
increases hostilities from its targeted
enemies, thus engendering more fears
from Americans who demand u201Cprotection.u201D

If
physicians could figure out ways to
inject people with deadly viruses
that they could then treat with expensive
tests, drugs, and medical advice,
their profession would precisely correlate
with the methods of the state!

President
Bush and other politicians — along
with the agents of disinformation
in the media — spent many hours exploiting
the fifth anniversary of the 9/11
attacks. Mr. Bush went to the World
Trade Center site ostensibly to honor
the victims of that atrocity, but
in fact his purpose was to take advantage
of that event in order to reinforce
the mindset of fear upon which the
state depends for the continuing expansion
of its power over our lives. Fear
is a condition the state cannot allow
to enervate; it must be constantly
revitalized. Like a morsel of food
to Pavlov's dogs, Mr. Bush's memorial
wreath served — like Memorial Day
ceremonies – to reinforce the
conditioning that is the state's power
source.

On
the same day that Mr. Bush gave his
performance in New York City, Faux
News had a feature asking: u201CIs
Iraq war a u2018sideshow' in the war on
terror?u201D Intelligent minds would do
better to ask: is the war on terror
a sideshow in the war on the American
people?

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