CXXI – Fear, Incivility, and the State

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Fear
is an emotion whose consequences can either protect
or destroy us. I have a daughter who hikes in the
mountains and occasionally encounters rattlesnakes.
When she does so, she recognizes the danger and avoids
it. She does not, however, forego future walks in
wooded areas. There are dangers in the world which
we must deal with, but to become obsessed by fear
is to turn oneself into a security freak who is easily
manipulated by others.

Though
economic decision-making is driven by both a desire
to avoid losses — a fear-based purpose — and
to promote gain, it is the latter motivation
that predominates. Insurance companies thrive on fear
(e.g., of death, property losses, etc.), but marketplace
activity, generally, is premised upon the production
and exchange of goods and services that increase our
material well-being. A healthy economy is thought
of more in terms of the amount of wealth that is generated
than in the prevention of losses.

Political
systems, on the other hand, are mobilized almost entirely
by fear. Our allegedly more u201Cprimitiveu201D ancestors
were frightened into obedience by tribal leaders,
with warnings about the dreaded u201CNine Bowsu201D who lived
on the other side of the river. The u201CNine Bowsu201D have
now morphed into u201Cterrorists,u201D and the river has widened
into an ocean, but the logic of the fear-based political
racket has not changed.

Fear
causes people to herd together for protection, thus
its generation is essential to the accumulation of
state power. The marketplace — which is premised upon
individual autonomy — decentralizes decision-making;
and the profit-seeking benefits of cooperation cause
men and women to freely organize into groups. Those
who subject themselves to coercion as an organizing
method do so because of a threat to something they
value. This is what makes individualism and collectivism
irreconcilable. As fear erodes as an influence in
our lives, so does collective power.

The
power of the state, in other words, has its origins
in our individual weakness which, in turn, is generated
not simply by our fears of others, but of our capacities
for self-direction. To reinforce such fears, the state
continually reminds us of the hostile nature of our
world, and of our personal inadequacies for dealing
with its dangers and uncertainties. We have been warned
of threats ranging from violent criminals to street-corner
gangs to price-gouging retailers, against which the
state promises us protection if only we will submit
to more of its powers and authority. We are told that
we are not capable of raising our children on our
own; that u201Cit takes a villageu201D (i.e., the government)
to do so. Those with designs upon our lives then compete
with one another to become president of that u201Cvillage.u201D

In
this television-age in which the visual has become
increasingly dominant as the basis for learning, the
state has provided a meter of varying colors with
which it manipulates our fear level. We need only
check our Crayola box to recall that orange is a more
intense expression than yellow, while red reminds
us of war and bloodshed. Blue and green — colors we
associate with peace and life — are never offered
as the hue-of-the-day by the Department of Homeland
Security, other than as an implied promise of a world
to be realized only when state power reaches its zenith.

The
military/police-state purposes behind the state's
current fear-mongering have been unwittingly revealed
by the unsubtle George W. Bush. He has announced plans
to place the country under martial law in the event
of another terrorist attack, or a major natural disaster
(such as hurricane Katrina), or an u201Cavian fluu201D epidemic.
His primary objective is to militarize the nation.
The fear-based rationale for doing so consists of
varied options, part of the unfettered u201Cdiscretionu201D
that so many herd-oriented Americans are prepared
to give the president.

It
cannot be denied that there are dangerous people in
the world, and not all of them work for the state.
Even in the best of societies, there always have been,
and always will be, brutes and thugs with whom we
must occasionally be called upon to deal. This fact
confirms the Jungian insight that whatever degree
of order exists in society derives from the inner
lives of people, not from institutional mandates
or systems. It is also true that how we fare against
such social misfits always depends upon our individual
strategies and resources, and never upon how many
police officers, squad cars, or prisons the state
has available to it.

It
is in the realm of politically-contrived violence
and destruction that we face the gravest threats to
our well-being. As a child, I was warned that Hitler
wanted to take over the world, and my friends and
I, in our innocence, scanned the Nebraska skies watching
for German dive-bombers. Later, communists were held
up as threats to my liberty and prosperity. Now my
children are told that Islamic terrorists want to
destroy them. At no time, of course, do the statists
acknowledge the symbiotic relationship they and these
specters have with one another; an association that
makes these threats causally connected to state policies.
The photo of a smiling Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands
with Saddam Hussein ought to serve as wallpaper on
the conscious minds of each of us.

Instead,
we are told to look to our neighbors as a source of
danger. As we increasingly distrust our own judgments
and abilities, we also widen our distrust of the actions
and motives of others. We are encouraged to u201Cstay
alertu201D — although not aware — and to report
to the police any u201Csuspiciousu201D persons. In my lifetime,
Nazi bundists with short-wave radios were replaced
by communist subversives who, in turn, have been succeeded
by crazed terrorists with suitcase bombs. This manipulation
of fear produces a vicious circle of paranoia, as
we learn to distrust all but the puppet-masters.

Such
fear-manipulating practices energize the worst of
human emotions and behavior. As in a lynch mob or
a race riot, such conduct brings people down to the
lowest common denominator. Social relationships become
characterized by the most depraved of dark-side impulses:
dishonesty, lies, brutishness, violence, a disregard
for the pain and suffering of others, and a general
disrespect for life itself. Paradoxically, such statist
behavior produces the very u201Cwar of every man against
every manu201D that Thomas Hobbes saw as necessitating
political systems.

History
affords abundant examples of fear eating away at our
souls and destroying our sense of humanity. The increase
in lynchings during economic depressions; the Nazi
atrocities that were grounded in German economic and
social instabilities; the post-9/11 willingness of
most Americans to sanction any course of violence
against anyone George W. Bush chose to target, regardless
of the factual basis for his doing so. These are but
trifling examples of how fear dehumanizes us and fosters
the incivility that helps to destroy societies.

I
remember a u201CTwilight Zoneu201D episode in which the residents
of a neighborhood experienced an electrical blackout:
save for one homeowner whose property was not affected.
The neighbors gathered in the street to ask why none
of them had power, and why this one man did. The discussion
quickly turned to fear and anger, with the neighbor
becoming accepted as the cause of their problem. Soon,
fear of interplanetary invaders was brought up, with
the neighbor being suggested as an agent for sinister
forces.

The
lights in this neighbor's house mysteriously went
off at the same time that another neighbor's lights
came on. The crowd quickly turned its paranoia upon
the owner of the now-lighted home. The electricity
in other homes continued to play upon this theme.
Then, an unidentified figure came down the street
toward the crowd. Fearing that this was one of the
aliens, someone shot and killed what turned out to
be another property owner from the next block who
had come to check on the problem people on this street
were having.

In
the final scene, we see two aliens standing on a hillside
with a machine that can turn electricity off and on
in various houses. One alien tells the other that
they need not destroy the earthlings in order to take
over the planet; all that needs to be done is to frighten
them with the loss of some of their attachments and
they will destroy each other.

This
is how the manipulation of fear degrades us both individually
and socially. The torture and death that men and women
so eagerly inflicted upon subdued strangers at Abu
Ghraib prison; the videotaped brutalities visited
upon individuals by gangs of police officers; and
the surliness with which airport security people routinely
deal with passengers – not one of whom poses
a threat to any airliner – is evidence of how
politics, driven by fear, degrades us all, whether
we are the victims or the perpetrators of such conduct.

I
was going through a security check at a major American
airport recently, when I observed a plug-ugly TSA
agent behaving toward his conscripts like a demented
Marine Corps drill instructor. He was angrily yelling
out u201Chut-two-three-fouru201D as people worked their ways
through these lines of interminable insanity. He ordered
people to u201Cgrab that rope and get up against the wall.u201D
He was not trying to be humorous. When a young man
well ahead of me in the line glared back at him, this
storm-trooper shouted u201Care you looking for trouble?u201D
If such a slug worked for any private employer, he
would likely have been fired on the spot. But for
those who work for the state, mannerly conduct is
rarely exhibited.

Such
unprovoked rudeness is infectious. I have noticed
a number of airline employees emulating this insolent
behavior, perhaps unconsciously absorbing the atmosphere
of state-generated hostility around them. They seem
to have forgotten what those who work in the marketplace
cannot afford to disregard, namely, that passengers
are their customers, not their prisoners.
I have experienced none of this incivility on the
few airlines I find it more pleasurable to fly; airlines
which, to my knowledge, are not in the bankruptcy
courts.

One
of the more vivid examples of how fear brutalizes
us was the shooting of an innocent Brazilian man by
police officers in a London subway. After earlier
subway bombings, this man became — for no apparent
reason — a u201Csuspiciousu201D person. When he got into the
subway, a number of police officers tackled and held
him down while seven shots were fired into his head,
instantly killing him. Eager to strut his moral collapse
to the American public — and before all of the facts
were available – Fox News' John Gibson praised
the London police for being u201Cruthless.u201D u201CFive in the
noggin is fine,u201D he reported. A lynch mob mentality
is troublesome enough when standing by itself. It
is made all the more dangerous when celebrated on
network television.

We
need to become aware of the dynamics of fear, and
how its energies affect our personal and social behavior.
The contrast between the marketplace and the state
is particularly instructive. Most marketplace activity
appeals to our desire for pleasure, material gain,
or other life-enhancing ends. u201CThe Belchfire-8 sedan
will make you happy;u201D or u201CHyper-Scent after-shave
will make you attractive to women.u201D I have never been
attracted to the Las Vegas lifestyle, but I think
it is marvelous that a major city exists whose principal
purpose is to promote pleasure.

By
contrast, politically-minded people believe that societies
can only be held together by fear — of punishment,
prison, death, or other people. One need only contrast
the language of market advertising — with its promises
of benefits to be enjoyed — with that of legislative
statutes — with threats of u201Cfines, imprisonment or
both,u201D as polar opposite inducements for your response.

It
is interesting to observe the happy, eager, energized
behavior of children at Disneyland, and compare it
with the more somber expressions of students as they
slowly and reluctantly make their ways to the government
middle school one block from our home. People want
to spend time at Disneyland or Las Vegas; nobody wants
to spend time in after-school detention or San Quentin.

As
I have stated, there are people and conditions in
our world that can harm us, but we need to confront
such dangers with intelligence, not with a
herd-driven frenzy. We need to understand our fears,
not repress them or allow them to be exaggerated into
collective energies by which political engineers despoil
and destroy us in their lusts for power.

Our
irrational fears have been a major contributor to
the destruction of Western civilization. But what
will arise from the ashes? Will it be a phoenix that
generates a new, vibrant civilization, or only vultures
to feed upon the decaying remnants of what was once
a marvelous culture? The answer to this question will
likely depend upon whether we meet the world with
a passion or a fear of life itself.
To put the matter in perspective, we ought to recall
the observation of Andre Gide: u201CThere are very few
monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.u201D

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