Thursday January 17, 2013

Our leaders are always bragging about how the United States is the most powerful country in the world. Time and again they rattle on about American exceptionalism, (the Congress' current performance of feckless malfunction is pretty exceptional when you think about it,) and boast that we are second to none.

So why are we living in a state of fear? We're supposed to fear the terrorists, which has come to mean most people with dark skin and anyone in a turban. We're supposed to fear the Muslims, because they are coming to take our religion as well as our stuff. We're supposed to fear the executive branch of the Federal government because it is going to take away our guns. We're supposed to fear illegal immigrants because in the twenty minutes that they have between sleeping and working each day, they are out committing crimes in our neighborhoods. We're supposed to fear blacks because we've always feared them. We're supposed to be afraid of being without our cell phone, lest our safety be compromised.

But if individuals take a moment to consider these fears within the lens of their own personal lives, will they really view these dangers in the same light? How many Americans wake each day and worry about a terrorist attack on them personally, as opposed to the general idea of a terrorist attack? How many have even met a Muslim? How many politicians have as much as threatened to take away the guns that we already have? If people put their prejudices and assumptions aside, would they not be able to see Hispanics and other immigrants as simply fellow human beings?

If the general outcry about certain dangers is out of proportion to the actual risks, it's could be useful to ask who profits from these general states of anxiety, dis-ease and fear. We know that in the case of this century's thus far most successfully hyped evil, terrorism, billions of dollars have been raked in by longstanding defense contractors as well as a murky cadre of newly formed security services that has gobbled up government contracts for everything from camera surveillance to kidnapping victims and delivering them for torture. It's notable that the one man who may have had more to do with the American obsession on terrorists and "radical Islam" than any other, Vice President Dick Cheney, left that post to head one of the biggest and most profligate corporations that is now profiting from work in conjunction with our ongoing "war on terror" (yes, we've dropped that term, but our troops in Afghanistan Iraq and elsewhere, as well as the daily drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan Somalia and elsewhere are just a continuation of our brute force reaction to the perceived worldwide "terrorist threat.") By continually hammering home the fearful prospects of these dangers from abroad, Cheney and his ilk have moved the national consciousness into a state of glazed acquiescence when it comes to all budget requests relating to "national defense." He and his friends are doing very well, but the rest of us have more likely been on the take-off-your-shoes-and-belt-and-let-us-feel-you-up-for-weapons end of things in our experience of the war on terror.

Is anyone profiting from the current hysteria about the Obama administration taking away our guns? You bet. The NRA, which is heavily funded by gun manufacturers, accuses the government of the worst possible intentions. It warns everyone to buy guns and ammo while they can, even while they control the Congress and, so far at least, have weakened the few federal gun control laws that we do have. As it stands, gun sales skyrocket every time Obama prevails in an election. The gun and ammo corporations are very happy. Currently, demand for the AR-15, (the assault rifle which was used in the killing of the school children and teachers in Newtown, Conn.) is such that the price has jumped from the $900 range to $1,500 or more.

It's a little harder to see who could profit from fearing illegal immigrants. Perhaps these profits are not in dollars, but rather the contempt that is directed at these "others" might otherwise be aimed at the fools who are currently running things. Old guard White America fears Hispanics, blacks and other ethnic groups because they are pushing us inexorably into a minority status. If we only judge our own history in the treatment of minorities, we may well gulp at the thought of the future. But if we embrace everyone in our nation and accept the changes that they and their cultures bring, then we stand to gain greatly, even as our current share of accumulated wealth and power lessens.

If you juxtapose cellphone and danger, the first thought that might come to mind could be the various studies that show the link between cell phone use and cancer and brain damage. It might be the unknown dangers of living near cell towers transmitting various types of radio waves for different carriers. But, it seems, to the modern American, a cell phone is our only link to keep us safe from danger. Apparently, in the 20th century, no one was ever saved. If people ran out of gas, they must have starved to death sitting on the side of the road with no way to contact anyone. How did anyone ever contact an ambulance before there were cell phones? It turns out that American ingenuity had figured out how to survive before the cell phone was invented. We hadn't yet been convinced that everyone was just a potential pervert or a killer, and we would do absolutely audacious things like knocking on a stranger's door and asking to use the telephone. We often discovered that people sometimes had things like gas in their garage and would offer it to a stranded stranger on the road. Today, such an encounter with a stranger would be seen as fraught with danger and something to be avoided. With our cell phone and AAA, we ‘re covered and won't need any random interactions, thank you (and a big thank you back from Apple, Nokia, Samsung and the others).

If we want to be fearful, we might worry about whether we do any thinking for ourselves any more. Are the fears that we consider really ours, or are they part of someone else's profit making scheme? Why exactly should we trust our leaders when they point us towards a new enemy or -ism to fear? Doesn't our own personal experience tell us that there is more in the world to honor and cherish than there is to fear? When you really think about it, shouldn't those in power be the ones to fear us, who overwhelmingly outnumber them? Shouldn't the corporations be afraid that malfeasance on their part could destroy their customer base? Shouldn't they fear our possible rejection of their products, rather than we be afraid to live without them?

Let's try turning to our neighbors with whom we rarely interact. Let's start some over the fence and across the street conversations about the life and environment that we all share daily. Let's start forging personal values that have real meaning for each of us, and stop being part of a mass culture that demands the same tastes and buying habits from everyone. We don't need mass media manufactured fears any longer. We can live our own lives, engaging fully in our own communities and the world beyond. We can figure out for ourselves what we should fear and what we need not.

Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane. He is also a contributor to www.thiscantbehappening.net.