(Greetings, Bartcop. I've been following your
age with great interest here in São Paulo, Brazil.
I am glad there are still people in the US who can mantain a healthy level of skepticism and discerning.
Granted, there is much we disagree with, but in the spirit of democracy, I guess we can just respect
each other's views and agree to disagree. I like to think that thinking people don't attract ditto-heads.
They attract questioning equals.
As a journalist here in Brazil, I have been able to stay informed about
part of what goes on in the US.
Not as much as I would like to, but we in the Third World can't afford to remain ignorant of what goes on
in the sole remaining superpower. This is an article about the current state of things.
Best wishes, and keep up the so necessary work.)
“We've got nothing to fear -- but fear itself?
Not pain, not failure, not fatal tragedy?
Not the faulty units in this mad machinery?
Not the broken contacts in emotional chemistry?
With an iron fist in a velvet glove
We are sheltered under the gun
In the glory game, on the power train
Thy kingdom's will be done And the things that we fear are a weapon to be held against us...
He's not afraid of your judgment
He knows of horrors worse than your Hell
He's a little bit afraid of dying
But he's a lot more afraid of your lying
And the things that he fears are a weapon to be held against him...
Can any part of life be larger than life?
Even love must be limited by time
And those who push us down that they might climb
Is any killer worth more than his crime?
Like a steely blade in a silken sheath
We don't see what they're made of
They shout about love, but when push comes to shove
They live for the things they're afraid of
And the knowledge that they fear is a weapon to be used against them...”
Feeling safe is a thing of the past, like vynil LPs. Ours is that age of utter uncertainty. Now THIS is post-modernism. While I am here nursing my flu and all of Latin America and Europe watch the World Soccer Cup, India and Pakistan bare their nuclear fangs at each other, the US government candidly announces that, well, it might have to intervene upon the “Axis of Evil” Based on little or no evidence because, well, why bother with details? Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden, Mohammed Omar and most of the Al Quaeda big shots are still very much at large and certainly not playing Scrabble. In fact, many believe that they fled to Pakistan and are now but waiting for the right spark to happen and then turn it into a nuclear-equipped version of Afghanistan under Taliban rule. In Africa (another) famine brews. Acting under IMF arm-twisting, several countries sold their grain reserves to Asian countries, since according to the International Monetary Fund money is more useful than food in ALL situations. Now, after a particularly bad drought coupled with a few civil wars, tens of millions are boiling savana grass to feed their children. And the grass is running out.
The full list would fill a rack of data CDs. Zipped,
mind you. We live under a barrage of perils that could turn anyone
who dared to worry about each and every one of them into a paranoid lunatic.
That is a good thing.
No, I haven’t become one of the aforementioned
lunatics. I will explain, of course. None of these menaces are new.
Actually, many of them existed long ago. They were there during the good times, the bad times, the so-so times.
We just didn’t acknowledge them. Even when they made the papers, they seldom earned more than a casual glance
before we skipped over to the local news or sports section. Why? Because we could afford to. It was all taking place
somewhere else, to someone else. The worst that could happen was something or another shifting price a bit.
We cannot choose our degree of involvement anymore. If we sell weapons to a warring countries and petty (and not-so-petty) dictators, no matter if we condone their course of action or not (or if we even care to know about it), we can expect some form of retaliation from those who are targeted by them. Perhaps not a bomb, nor a hijacked plane, not even a lonely sniper. Probably just hate. It is enough. Given hate and time, all the others and more can come to pass. The ghastly murder of Daniel Pearl, recorded for the world to see how the wounded and the angry will lash out and strike whomever so much as looks like the enemy.
And so it unfolds that the extremists and hatemongers of each side need each other. They are each other’s reason of being, locked in a lethal embrace. I don’t remember who was it that said that no institution or régime outlives its greatest enemy for long (Brecht?), but I agree wholeheartedly with it. It was everyday fare in the old Soviet Union. Sure, life was bad and the cars were shabby and there was no free press, but hey, the international conspiracy of the greedy bourgeois capitalists was ever scheming against the Government of the People, so we have to increase our military budget. More ballistic subs, more T-72 tanks, more spies to make sure our “allies” do what we’re telling them to do. Likewise, the US and many other western countries endured more than their fair share of corrupt, sleazy crooks and despots because hey, no matter what their flaws might be, they were working to keep the Godless child-eating masses of Commies away from us.
Think about Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh. Listen to the tone of absolute truth that permeates their every statement, the complete denial of the mere possibility of being wrong, the (accidental, of course) inability of either of them to offer space for alternative answers or different points of view, or even granting a target a marginal right to respond and defend itself. Though they (and all of their hate-spreading ilk on the radio and on TV) try to emulate some kind of debate taking place, with all their well-cut suits and sad little ties,the only name for what they do is preaching. Had they been born in Saudi Arabia instead of the US, they would be ranting the Surats of the Koran at moderate Moslems with equal fervor and acridity. Much like Mussolini, who went from Communist newspaper editor to a Right-Wing Fascist, the actual content of the package couldn’t matter less to them. It’s the arbitrary power that they care about; they’ll get it from what source is most easily available. For the authoritarian mind, religious or atheist, left or right wing, racist or libertarian, all of those are little more than Marketing strategies through which they work their tool: Fear.
And Fear always needs an enemy. The Enemy, capitalized,
that faceless yet
easily stereotyped rival against whom we can measure our virtue.
But Enemies let us down sometimes. Look at the Soviet Union, collapsing from its own weight after 70 years of people eavesdropping on each other to make sure they weren’t Red agents dripping fluoride into the water supply to brainwash the whole country, of us dreading the say one side’s head honcho wouldn’t like the tone of the other’s “Bless you” after a sneeze and empty their silos on each other, of poor misguided freaks building fallout shelters in their basements and stocking them with food to last for the coming Nuclear Winter. And then all of a sudden, poof! And it went up in smoke. The former bad guys shrugged at our news reporters and said “Hey, the Berlin Wall is open since this morning, people have been going back and forth all day, you know.” And our reporters exchanged “WHAT???” glances and ran there so see it happen, and soon no one remembered why the hell that Wall was doing there anyway. So why not bring it down? From thought to deed, it was only the time to get the machinery going.
But the red lights of alarm went on in the heads of the Cold Warriors, the mediocre bland of Conservatives, the suddenly orphaned children of the culture of hush-hush. The world threatened to become an intolerably free place. What would happen if we only had…..friends?! All those thousand heavy battle tanks, dozens of battleships and airplane carriers, the systems of intelligence and counter-intelligence, the chemical and biological weapons all sides devised or tried to….what if all were seen as what they always were, fearful tools of an all-too-fearful era? Without losers, how could they be winners?
Allow me to return to Exhibit A, Rush Limbaugh. His deepest, darkest fear is that all targets of his self-righteousness vanish overnight. What is Rush Limbaugh without liberals and immigrants and gay activists to bash? Just another loud, middle-aged, Bible-thumping overweight man. It’s the tragical side of choosing their path; they are afraid of their own victory. If they win, they will no longer be the valiant partisans fighting against the Big Evil. They’ll be….boorish old white men risked with the suddenly vital task of explaining their decisions.
So, there must always be an Enemy. Drugs, Terror, a whole Axis of Evil waiting to trounce our way of life, and many others so vile and secret we haven’t even figured them out yet, but we’d better prepare just in case, right?
But returning to the point…so many things are happening in the world, and every one of them seems terrible and dangerous and hopeless. We tune out. And the media tunes us out (sensing our desire). That’s why the World Cup and Tyson’s fight still get the headlines. We start to no longer care. Why? Because we feel we can do nothing about it. Life has become this huge video-game that plays itself, in which our support or disapproval of anything changes precisely zilch.
We’re not the only powerless players, however. More and more, we no longer live in as world in which the rich affirm their rule of the poor. Ironically, the rich and powerful find that they have less and less ways of enforcing their power. All that is left for them is self-defense. Ah, the good old days when “Civilization” could just pummel the “savages” into submission when they became unruly. This new, dirty Renaissance awakens us to the new reality in which the Enemy is crushed but never satisfactorily defeated because it is not afraid. How can one defeat the cackling suicidal madman? It’s not even the fight between different conception of the world; the weak the dependent and the desperate are simply lashing at any power, getting rid of it, riding the wave of chaos in search of some closure. And I’m not just talking about Moslem radicals. In India, the nationalistic verve is very similar. The words of the leader of the Indian National Party: “At last, after a thousand years, we once again have power to exert.” Or Dr. Abdul Kalam, head of India’s nuclear program: “Today, the world is armed religion. There are four nuclear bombs; the Christian bomb, the Jewish bomb, the Chinese bomb and now the Oriental bomb, be it from Pakistan or India. These are the four Knights of your Apocalypse.” We never used our nuclear weapons after WW2 because of Fear. We had so much to lose. The famished masses of the new atomic powers, kept barely manageable by a combination of repression, hard-line religion and easy enemies to glare at, might differ. If the US made a blunder and caused the globe to go boom, it’d be losing its status as the best place to live on the Earth. If the remains of a convulsing pauper country throw the switch and blow what they can to Kingdom Come, they’ll only be making a grand, dramatic scene out of the end of their misery.
I wonder how much of our disregard for the eternal problems in that part of the world (Africa included) doesn’t come from a small, hidden desire to see those troublesome Easterners finally kill each other on a more definitive character, a little Regulative Apocalypse, shall we say. Why else would we be talking about 20 million deaths as if we’re talking about the slaughter of chickens? But that’s for another entry.
What I’ve been (on and off) driving at all this time is that we’re not that powerless in the first place. We can choose to doubt. We can look for those who are more alike than different, which is a big, broad, all-encompassing category, and start building a small, open parallel culture that seeks to understand instead of judging and to unite with the strength of our diversity. Terrorists and Hate-mongers need enemies. We regular people need equals, friends and helpers in our fight to live by our strengths and improve the lot of our descendants. We can choose to _know_. We can vote every time we purchase (or not purchase) certain kinds or brands of merchandise. We can break apart from the vicious circle until those in power realize their enemies aren’t ours and their Fears are theirs alone. We can even vote by voting (albeit, ironically, less directly.) In our day and age, it takes a remarkable amount of information and discerning to be innocent.
I can still find cause to be optimistic in the long run. If countries which spent 90% of their respective past hating each other to the point of building twin cannon-studded walls between them (The Siegfried and Maginot lines), like Germany and France, can now envision a future together, then given time and chance, things can work out for the best as well. But only if the good people do not sleep on their jobs.