Friday, November 30, 2007

Fear

As this nation crawled out of the Great Depression, FDR (the only 3 term president ever) made the famous statement "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Today messages bombard us from every direction telling us to be afraid, but I contend that FDR's message is still true.

Ninety-nine percent of the violence in America today is on television. It's not real, folks! Real people have a very difficult time looking a stranger in the eye and hurting him in any way. In fact, most real people will go out of their way, at least occasionally, to help a complete stranger. I can testify because I've often been that stranger. My gratitude abides.

Why would TV producers want us to be afraid? Is it a deep, dark conspiracy? I don't think so. TV and filmmakers will talk about audience demand for the visceral thrills of violence. Pressed a little harder they may admit the truth about what advertisers will pay for. It's a complex system fueled by expensive psychological research. The fact is, commercial media exists to sell stuff, and FEAR SELLS.

People who are afraid will buy more because they don't trust neighbors enough to share. Stuff doesn't satisfy them like the ads implied, so they buy more stuff. Then they need security systems to protect their stuff from the people they fear. Soon they're walled into private enclaves with lots of material goods and few trusted friends. Sound familiar?

Let's not let the politicians off the hook. Too often their messages are laced with fearful stuff about criminals and terrorists. They justify bigger defense budgets, more military training for cops, additional prisons, and more restrictions on civil liberties. It's not hard to see who profits from these decisions. Today the prison-industrial complex is beginning to rival the military-industrial complex for sucking down tax dollars.

The rate of violent crime in the USA has been going down for the last few decades, in spite of prisons that seem designed to insure the continued separation of the criminal class that justifies their existence. Most of the violence is domestic and a huge piece of that perpetrated by soldiers and others who've been taught by their government to use violence to solve their problems. It's a self-perpetuating cycle of violence.

Why do you suppose politicians are now debating torture? It's been against the Constitution since 1791 (8th Amendment) and violates several treaties. There is no legal question about torture. The US Army has been teaching dictatorships to use torture for decades (http://www.soaw.org/), but this administration is the first to suggest it may be okay for agents of our government to torture our own citizens.

Let's remember the reason torture is practiced. It does not help obtain useful information. A torture victim will say anything, regardless of truth, to stop the torture. Torture may be used for vengeance against enemies, but the reason to use it is to frighten people from resisting authority. In fact, you don't often need to torture anybody, as long as potential resisters think you will. Now why are our politicians debating torture?

So what are you afraid of, besides your own government?

Poverty? Having been there most of my life, I can assure you it's not so bad. Frankly, most Americans could benefit physically from a little less comfort. When you stop working so hard to keep up with the imaginary Jones, you find lots of time to sing, dance, and laugh with others who've decided to stop being afraid.

The Unknown? Whatever happens when you die is gonna happen eventually. All you can do right now is be the best person you can be. That doesn't mean obeying the imaginary authoritarian father, it means being the nice person you naturally are and accepting the voluntary kindness of others.

Being weird? C'mon, admit it. Hard as you've tried, you've always been weird. Welcome to humanity. We all are.

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