LIX – How The Ridge Stole Christmas!

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The
stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
When
Tom Ridge appeared with a pre-Christmas scare!

Just
four days before Christmas, Mr. Ridge was the principal source of
network entertainment as he announced that he was raising the "terror
alert" in America from "yellow" to "orange."
The upcoming holidays might, he supposed, provide an opportunity
for some ill-defined group to attack some possible targets someplace
in the homeland he imagines it his province to protect. When a 6.5
earthquake hit central California the following day, I almost expected
members of the Busheoisie to praise Tom for his foresight and for
making us aware of the threat of tectonic terrorism!

There
will be those who will commend Mr. Ridge for keeping America informed
of terrorist threats. But his words informed us of nothing. To
"inform" means to give shape to, to communicate knowledge.
His words were of no value whatsoever in helping individuals make
plans. Were these uncertain terrorists going to attack airliners,
shopping malls, college bowl games, concerts, freeways, or amusement
parks? People were advised to "be vigilant," but about
what? His warnings were as irrelevant to the contemplation
of human action as are the pre-holiday predictions of the numbers
of people likely to die in traffic accidents. His predictions had
no more substance than do those of the psychics who show up in the
media this time of the year to tell us that a "major catastrophe"
will occur, or a "prominent person" will die, in 2004.

Mr.
Ridge's "alert" was designed for one purpose only: to
keep us terrified so that the state can continue to manipulate our
fears for its purposes. Had he been candid about the matter, he
might have said: "lest any of you people get caught up in the
u2018peace on earth' sentimentality that is going around this time of
year, we want to keep you in fear of the unknown, so that we can
continue to enlist your energies on behalf of the war system we
have worked so hard to maintain and develop." Ridge urged people
to go ahead with their holiday plans. He might have added: "but
don't enjoy yourselves."

Those
of you who, like myself, were around during World War II and the
early days of the Cold War will recognize the scare tactics being
employed. As children, living in Nebraska in the 1940's, we were
encouraged to scan the skies with our binoculars to watch for German
or Japanese warplanes. As an adult, I figured out the logistical
absurdity of the threat of German dive-bombers and fighter planes
traveling from Germany to the middle of the United States. We were
likewise told by Mr. Ridge's 1950's counterpart, Sen. Joseph McCarthy,
of the threat of "communists" in our schools, businesses,
government, the media, and neighborhoods. Many movies and television
programs helped to reinforce this state-induced fear of the unknown,
as did rumored threats of poisoned food and water supplies.

The
dominant fear propagated during the Cold War was that America had
to respond, militarily, to the "threat" of an international
communist conspiracy. Nowhere was this campaign more energized than
in a quarter-century of vicious warfare in southeast Asia. I wonder
if the families of the nearly 100,000 American soldiers who died
on behalf of the "domino theory" in the Korean and Vietnam
wars might have gagged at the recent sight of President Bush and
his Chinese counterpart exchanging smiles and agreeing that they
were opposed to independence for Taiwan. If those wars were fought
to prevent Chinese communism from taking over southeast Asia, would
that alleged purpose not have been served by America's insistence
that Taiwan remain free of Chinese control? I wonder if Bush
and his gang regard the names on the Vietnam War monument as anything
more than a "suckers list" of young Americans who, not
having had the advantages of political connections, were conscripted
to die to protect the liberties of South Koreans and South Vietnamese
from a prior generation's assemblage of "evildoers"?

We
are held hostage by our own fears, and the more amorphous the fear-object
the more terrified we become. When fear combines with the unknown,
our imaginations know no restraint. No film presentation of Dickens'
A Christmas Carol, for instance, can begin to match
the fearfulness I experienced in listening to Lionel Barrymore's
radio broadcasts of that tale. My imagination horrified me much
more than did the special effects images of Marley's ghost.

As
we listen to the fear-mongering of Messrs. Bush, Ridge, Ashcroft,
Rumsfeld, et al., we need to recall how, as children, we frightened
one another with ghost stories or tales of murderers or monsters
lurking in the darkened hallways of our homes. Have we outgrown
this vulnerability to fear-objects? Before answering this question,
first assess your responses to current news stories designed to
mobilize fears and reinforce support for the "big brothers"
who promise you their unspecified "protection" from the
unknown.

Political
systems have always depended upon the dynamics of fear to mobilize
individuals into a servile herd. From primitive tribesmen who were
told of the dreaded "Nine Bows" across the river, to the
modern "terrorists" on the other side of the planet, the
manufacture and management of fear has always been essential to
statist ambitions for power. It is impossible to watch a television
news report without being reminded of a myriad of agents in our
world who will likely visit great harm upon us unless we grant the
state more power over our lives. Child abductors, spousal abusers,
obesity, drug usage, terrorists, ozone holes, money launderers,
racists, smokers, cell-phone users, and "hate groups"
(i.e., people who oppose your political agenda), are among the more
prominent examples.

We
live in an institutionalized world that requires the submission
of individuals to organizational purposes. Systems that seek to
control the behavior of people must invariably resort to fear as
a way of overcoming individual resistance. We live in a fear-driven
culture: politics feeds on the fear of others and the fear of punishment;
most school systems emphasize the fear of failure; organized religions
offer fears of eternal punishment; our economic lives are underlain
by a fear of losing our job or our credit rating; movies and computer
games entertain us with monsters, mass murderers, and other threats
while the fear of disease, death, the loss of our worldly attachments,
etc., add to this mindset of dread.

Is
it any wonder that, having become preoccupied with fear, the state
would find it so easy to convince most of us that "terrorists"
— the very embodiment of fear — are the latest specters against
which we require the "protection" of a totalitarian state?

But
fear-mongering has its limits. Just as having too much information
can saturate our minds and immobilize us, our psyches can experience
an overload of fear and make us immune to more threats. There is
a lesson to be learned from the study of Zen Buddhism. It is common
for a Zen master to take a long piece of bamboo — one with a good
whipping action — and surprise his students by hitting them across
the backs of their legs when they do not expect it. He might hide
behind a curtain or a pillar, or jump up from behind a piece of
furniture, and give them a solid whack. The students try to anticipate
his moves, and become overly cautious when out walking, but the
Zen master always manages to surprise them. In time, the students
simply give up their fears of being whacked and go about the business
of learning, which is the purpose of the teacher's exercise.

Should
our minds begin to overload on fear we may, like the Zen students,
no longer find ourselves responsive to the contrived threats by
which we allow others to control our lives. Should this occur, the
future of the state may be a bleak one, as there are a number of
factors whose conflation is rendering the political organization
of society increasingly untenable. As the study of chaos informs
us, the assumptions of vertically structured planning and control
upon which state power rests are incompatible with the dynamics
of a complex world. As a consequence of this, we have been witnessing
a movement toward more decentralized, unstructured, horizontally-based
systems. The growth of private schools and homeschooling; the increased
use of alternative health systems; the challenge the Internet poses
to traditional institutional sources of information; the spread
of secession movements in many parts of the world; are some of the
more prominent expressions of the weakening of centrally-structured
systems.

One
must appreciate the significance of these decentralizing forces
in driving the state's "war on terror," a war that Mr.
Bush promises will go on forever. It is the incipient collapse of
state power that terrorizes the political system. Since the state,
by definition, is the established order, any fundamental change
that would bring about the liberty of men and women to generate
a diversity of organizational systems, would represent "terror"
to itself. It is the life process itself, as reflected in the spontaneity
and autonomy of individuals, that is feared not only by the state,
but by those of us who remain conditioned by political thinking.

But
what if, like the Zen students, we can transcend our fears? Upon
what basis would the state be able to sustain its authority over
our lives? It is rather evident that the state no longer inspires
people with what they like to imagine are noble purposes of social
betterment. In a world that has become accustomed to the Realpolitik
that awards billions of dollars in favored government contracts
to firms like Halliburton and Bechtel, while the families of American
soldiers in Iraq must have recourse to charities for their sustenance,
the classic JFK admonition to "ask not" could no longer
be uttered with a straight face.

It
is clear to growing numbers of people that the political system
they have been conditioned to believe they control is under the
control of the state itself, and that the "democratic process"
is nothing more than an empty ritual by which voters confirm the
establishment's choice of future leaders. It is not apathy
that continues to drive down voter participation in elections, but
a sense of realism, an unwillingness to participate in a
meaningless charade.

When
the state is seen as ineffectual even for the accomplishment of
its avowed purposes; when it no longer provides inspiration or even
entertainment value to people; and when it overloads our minds with
endless fears of unspecified dangers about which we are expected
to do no more than remain obedient to established authority, such
influences may very well coalesce to bring about its collapse. I
suspect that the demise of the state will come about not by revolution,
subversion, or other violent means, but by a profound sense of boredom
with the system. Like the dinosaurs — whose gigantic and cumbersome
structures rendered them nonresilient to the kinds of fluctuations
with which life must always contend — the downfall of the state
will likely be the product of its own dead weight upon the body
and soul of humanity.

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