Monday, September 5, 2011

Post 9-11: What to do about the fear

FDR: Fireside chat (Wiki Commons)
 (Read the companion piece to this article here.)

What to do about the fear
AHA!  People with no stable employment are easily made fearful, aren’t they?

And whose homes are being snatched out from under them? How much worse could that fear be if they were effectively prevented even from declaring bankruptcy in Bush’s land of the corporate serf, or at least, not without signing the rest of their natural life away to do so. (Please read Republican Tortures for the Middle Class for more information.) Unlike corporations, of course, which can go bankrupt totally, at will, leaving the employees empty-handed.

It’s no wonder the population was still scared seven years after 9/11 when it quakingly elected a man they thought perhaps, just maybe, could bring some sanity and safety back to their lives. Because deep down, they KNEW they were not safe. They knew that everything they had ever planned, hoped and dreamed was more at risk in Bush’s America than at any time in US history. Even their superstitions had failed to provide solace for their misery.

Never mind religion; There’s a new opiate for the masses
No less than Bertrand Russell, one of the philosophical giants of the 20th century, noted that, “Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. (An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish)

Superstitiously, restaurant had owners changed French Fries to Freedom Fries in the months after 9/11. Why? Because the French government refused to join Bush’s juggernaut against the entire Arab world. The restaurateurs thought casting the French symbolically out of the ignominy of the rancid fat in the deep-fryer and into oblivion would keep them safe. Their customers ate it up.

Superstition was responsible for that minor cruelty, a mere stupidity in the run of human events, but it was emblematic of many much, much larger ones to follow. For example, suddenly Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown, despite his antipathy toward Al Qaeda, which the same agencies that failed to warn of an attack had miraculously identified as the perpetrator of 9/11. 

They had help ignoring the warning signs, of course. And there was the impenetrable fug of Bush’s mind to cope with, and the hubris of the leaders of the agencies involved in public safety and, not to put too fine a point on it, the likelihood that Cheney’s once and future connections with the likes of Halliburton stood to gain mightily from any protracted military action the US was involved in.

But Hussein was an Arab, providing reason enough for the superstitious mind to want to destroy him. Destroying him would bring peace. Wouldn’t it?

Daddy Bush and Baby Bush
For Bush, destroying Hussein held more magic still.  Bush’s father had failed to destroy Hussein; what the man failed to do, the boy attempted and so very unfortunately succeeded. Not that Saddam was a saint. He was a horror show. But he was his own nation’s horror show, not ours. And toppling him led Bush to superstitiously believe that Bush and Co. could do no wrong, and worse, could get away with just about anything. They had lied to get the US into the war. They would be out of office before anyone had to tell the truth and get the military out. They would be busy with their revisionist memoirs when…if…the nations they invaded and destroyed got busy resurrecting whatever could be salvaged of a culture, an infrastructure, and any belief system except despair.

One has to wonder if somewhere, sometime, the misfiring synapses in Bush’s pickled brain ever suggested to Bush that what he had done was wrong. He had taken apart a nation and killed its leader by constructing a not-totally-credible lie about WMDs, and further, caused some of those who followed him to lie as well. 

An officer and a gentleman
Colin Powell, a decent human being and honorable man, did not have the devious constitution to understand that the man leading the free world would lie to him, and get him to lie, to achieve ends that were wildly less than sterling. As much as anyone, Powell was the victim of the Bush government. Luckily, Powell’s strength of mind has outlasted most of the damage done to his reputation. But his public service is probably a closed book because of the way he was duped, on a world stage, by Bush & Co.

Cruelty is not gratuitous
Fear is the parent of cruelty, wrote James Anthony Froude in Short Studies on Great Subjects. Cruelty cannot be said, thus, to be without explanation, nor can cruelties be done for no reason at all. Cruelty is in thrall to fear, is part and parcel of fearits very offspringand must, therefore, follow fear absolutely.

From their fear of the demonized Iraqi population and the terrorists they were told were hiding behind every tree*, American military personnel tortured and degraded prisoners in wild contravention of the Geneva Conventions, rules that were written by wiser, calmer men to grapple with the natural fear that combatants feel in a war.

Some of the American military in Iraq chose to ignore their own humanity, in a superstitious belief that if they sufficiently degraded and dehumanized their prisoners, they themselves would be more than they thought they were, forced into a meaningless war by gormless politicians who exposed them not only to enemy fire but to vitriol from those at home who saw the truth. Not that many doves castigated the servicemen and women. Indeed, in Bush’s wars, the home front was at pains to honor the service of the soldiers but agitate against the decisions of the politicians. So at least the Bush-era GIs were spared some of the demoralization  faced by GIs in the Vietnam era. However, not being idiots, those very servicemen had to suspect something was not right and they were part of it. They had a hard time figuring out how officers and gentlemen (and women) had become tools of a craven mentality that cared no more for them than for the copperhead he killed last night at the ranch.

George Bush wielded more power than anyone lacking empathy or a conscience should ever wield in the universe. He is an opportunist for all the worst reasonssupremacy, not having to be accountable, acquisition of toys and of undeserved honors. Indeed, if he has not earned the honors, he is completely capable of wearing the badge anyway, as he did whenever he donned flight togs, gave a victory salute, and attempted to ingratiate himself with bona fide officers and gentlemen. He is corrupt to the bottom of his soul, and, as Prof. Tsurumi noted, he is a pathological liar.

Power corrupts, but it gets worse
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it,” wrote Aung San Suu Kyi in Freedom from Fear.

The fear-based psychology of America’s leader at its most vulnerable moment was the start of a superstitious period in which ordinary people clutched at absurdities, like renaming French Fries, as a way to protect themselves. It was also the start of a level of corruption rarely seen in human history. 

The corruption has so pervaded America that ordinary people believe that the two percent of the population that controls fifty percent of the wealth will help them up the ladder. They have become Teabaggers, a name they chose themselves unwittingly. It refers to a gross sexual act. They thought it cunningly described the ludicrous hats they constructed when they began protesting against universal health care, at the same time demanding that Medicareno more than universal health care for the old and unwell, and therefore infinitely more costly than truly universal care which would save money on the young and healthynot be touched. They demand, now, to be called Tea Partiers, but they are not hosting an event any sane person would wish to attend. The Tea Bag nation celebrates half-truths, lionizes stinginess, and exhibits the same pathology as any garden-variety sociopath.

It is easy to be corrupt and to foster corruption when it is so easy to control others by instilling fear; it is easy to become corrupted when one fears what those in control might do. One will likely believe any liesthat is, subscribe to any superstition (Horatio Alger gone mad, too broke for health care, no way to create a healthy economy for everyone, etc.) in order to be exempt from the very conditions the fear has induced.

It may well be that there is no antidote for the gut-wrenching terror most Americans find themselves living in. I’ve experienced a recent dose of it myself, although I gave up living in America a while back. America still has a long reach, and unfortunately can export its own brand of greed and hubris worldwide.

I was spending all my time conditioning myself to cope with the frightening and suddenly headlong dissolution of both the institutions of government and population of a nation based on a great idea, freedom and liberty for all. Then for some. Now, sadly, for almost none.

Something has to change.

It is time for a new Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is time for America to come to grips with its fear; possibly, it will take putting the architects of that fear on trial. Bush, Cheney, Rove, Yoo, Ashcroft, et al. At least, they must be marginalized, forgotten as thoroughly as Rutherford B. Hayes (who?). It is time for someone, anyone, to begin convincing the quaking mass of disheartened Americans of the thought by which Roosevelt dragged/pushed/cajoled America through the Great Depression and through World War II:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1933

What a different world we would be living in today if FDR had been in the White House on September 11, 2001.
In Iraq, terrorists were and are hiding behind every tree. But the problem is, of course, that destroying a nation gratuitously is likely to make its people eager to remove the invader however they can. In short, US military presence has created most of the terror they are facing. 

How do you get people who volunteered to fight for their nation's honor and safety--US military--to fight when it is obvious they are engaged in an unjust war? Here are some clues: brutalization by their own command (see Abu Ghraib), the knowledge that there are no jobs at home, and treacherous re-deployment when a combatant's psychological reserves are diminished. All of these have been factors the military has faced for the entire recent past.