• Here’s Some Cocoa, America. Tell Me What You’re So Afraid Of.

    January 14, 2018

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump



    Here’s what I’m afraid of. While fear has always been a tool of the vested interests to retain power, make money, and keep us under control, things may be slipping off the rails. The basic political post-war strategy of the United States power block has metastasized. The old fears deployed – the Commies, the Terrorists – were reliably a fire only a few key people could easily feed fuel into, or cool down, as needed. There was an element of control, evil and insidious, but one that maintained a balance. After all, you want enough fear to make people compliant but no so much that they end up chasing each other with pitchforks. Or driving cars through crowds of protesters.

    It is too easy now for too many people to put fuel into the fire. The establishment media, which once thrived on trading information for viewers, now trades on promoting anxiety. Confirmations of our fears no longer show up in scratchy black and white only when the president addresses the nation. They rocket 24/7, unfiltered and unfettered, tailored to match what scares us most. Then we retweet them to like-minded others, to validate our fears and form bonded communities. These are deep waters; imagine an episode of Black Mirror where a device that algorithmically learns your deepest fears falls into the wrong hands.

    There’s a history to all this. We first got really scared just as we were emerging as the predominant power on the planet, armed with the world’s only atomic bomb. It seems an odd set of circumstances to have been frightened in, more like one where we would have sat back and enjoyed ourselves. Yet we near-demanded a succession of presidents build the most massive national security state ever known to make us feel safe.

    We were instructed to be afraid of all sorts of stuff — communists in government and Hollywood, domino theories, revolutionary movements, a whole basket of Bond villains. Those who supported peace were labeled as working for the enemy. Pretty much anything the people in charge wanted to do — distort civil liberties, raise taxes to pay for weapons, overthrow governments, punish Americans for things they wrote or said — was widely supported because we were afraid what might happen otherwise. Most people now realize the fear was overblown. Almost every American who died from the Cold War died in a fight we picked, inflamed, or dove blindly into. Cancer and car accidents took more lives than Dr. Strangelove. Fear justified terrible actions in our name.

    Then we got really scared following September 11, 2001, more than we ever were of the Russians. The terrorists lived among us. They were controlled by masterminds, simultaneously unpredictable and devious plotters playing the long game. They could turn our children into jihadis via MySpace. Pretty much anything the people in charge wanted to do — distort civil liberties, raise taxes to pay for weapons, overthrow governments, punish Americans for things they wrote or said — was widely supported because we were afraid what might happen otherwise. Some people now realize the fear was overblown. Diabetes and ladder falls took more lives than Bin Laden.

    For a long time we’ve been acting like a shelter dog when the Bad Man comes into the room. The difference is that we were mostly afraid of the same thing, a mass driven by anxiety more or less in the same direction, a straight line that could not be anything but purposeful.

    The nasty twist for 2018 is we live in a world of mainstream media with barely screened ideological bias, backed up by social media of barely contained mental stability. At the same time, we are ever more diverse and equally ever more separated, divided into a thousand incommunicado sub-reddits. It isn’t practical anymore for us to have common fears.

    Fear is powerful. A sound triggers a memory that sets off involuntary, subconscious processes: the heart rate jumps, muscles twitch, higher brain functions switch to fight-or-flight. Exist in this state long enough and you end up with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the inability to control your reaction to certain stimuli. Imagine a whole country that way trying to make good decisions, where fear trumps rational thinking.

    Looking at a blog post from a few years ago about what we were afraid of then, there are some familiar names. Putin was going on to invade Europe and Kim Jong Un was going to start a war over a Seth Rogin comedy called The Interview. But there were no mainstream claims the president was unfit at his core; people who feared that were pushed aside as conspiracy theorists, crazy themselves, and made fun of as “birthers.” There was no widespread anxiety democracy was teetering; people who talked about coups and the Reichstag burning were mocked on reality TV as preppers. There was a kind of consensus on what to be afraid of we subscribed to in various degrees of earnestness.

    Now there is a fear for everyone. We’re afraid Trump’ll start a war with North Korea (Kim is the sane one). We’re also afraid he won’t start a war and they’ll get us first (Kim is the crazy one.) We’re afraid Trump’s a Russian spy slipped into the White House (end of democracy) and we’re afraid the Democrats are using Mueller to overturn a legitimate election (end of democracy.) We’re worried the fascist government is taking away free speech and we’re worried the government isn’t doing enough to suppress free speech to stop hate. There are too many guns for us to be safe and not enough guns to protect us. Elect more women or women’s rights are finished. If we do elect more women (or POC, LGBTQ) the rest of us are finished.

    Bad things no longer just don’t happen, they just haven’t happened yet, and there is never a time when we can exhale. So while the story used to be the tamping down of tensions on the Korean peninsula, the headline now is a mentally ill Trump might just push the nuclear button anyway, maybe even tonight (better check Twitter.) Whatever matters to you — transgender toilet rights, abortion, guns, religion — is under lethal attack and you are not just to help decide how we live in a plurality, but to determine whether we survive at all. It is always condition yellow, fight or flight. Fear is primitive; it doesn’t matter what we fear, as long as we remain afraid.

    Trump is not the demagogue you fear, just a cruder version of what has been the norm for decades. The thing to be scared of is what emerges after him. As such, there is still time. His bizarre ascension to the world’s most powerful office could become the argumentum ad absurdum that pulls the curtain back, Oz-like, on the way fear has been used to manipulate us. The risk is Trump may also represent a wake up call of a different sort, to even worse and much smarter people, who will see the potential to cross the line from manipulation into exploitation (the real burning of the Reichstag scenario), from gross but recognizable stasis into chaos.

    Frightened enough, people will accept, if not demand, extreme and dangerous solutions to problems whose true direness exists mostly within their anxieties – remember the way fear of invasion following Pearl Harbor led us to unlawfully imprison American citizen shopkeepers and farmers of Japanese origin? Now that’s something to really be afraid of.

     

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    Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      I fear stupidity of the Dumbest Country on the Planet. Whether it is the cigarettes we smoked or the crappy Papa Johns pizzas we swallowed, until the damage is too much to ignore we deceive ourselves that we are invulnerable. So what if there weren’t WMDs in Iraq, what’s the harm? There is always consequences and we are breaking bad.

      01/14/18 7:33 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      “Maybe it’s the calm before the Stormy Daniels.”

      01/14/18 9:46 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      3

      I’m worried that the GMC harvested cocoa plant will give me cancer! Not really but I need more things to scare me! Again, not really.

      01/14/18 9:53 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      That’s right, nothing to fear. One in eight women get breast cancer. Anybody know why? Let’s wait until half of women get breast cancer before we get rid of carcinogens.

      01/14/18 10:59 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      Fear and loathing, that describes our fearless leader. Why would anyone not believe that the idiot who said Mexicans are rapists would call Haiti and Africa shitholes?

      01/14/18 8:42 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      6

      Mitch- a big fear I have (and one I think your share) is that the losers in the last general election have made it their life’s goal to destroy any way possible the male who beat their female candidate and they will end up harming the process of shared governing more than Trump could ever do. He is just one flawed temporary POTUS but their pathological hatred of him is dangerously hysterical.

      01/15/18 10:20 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      7

      Another excellent analysis by PVB, though I don’t think it goes far enough. I agree that the growth of social media and the commercialization of mainstream media have led to a level of fear mongering that is unprecedented. (And that’s saying something, given how this tactic has been used throughout our history.) But to understand why this is now so dangerous, I think the fear mongering needs to be combined with the reasons behind the growth of our military industrial/national security complex since World War Two or 9/11.

      Sure, we (as a country) have always been afraid of X, Y or Z, but we now also think we can (if we’re clever enough and/or throw enough resources at the “problem”) “win the war on X, Y or Z” too. Besides leading to a “Team America: World Police” trend in our foreign policy, this has also led to an expectation that the USG can protect everyone, everywhere, against everything, all the time, within our borders as well as overseas. Which is a pipe dream of course, but does help explain why so many people in general, and our elected representatives in particular, are fighting like rabid dogs over a bone, instead of trying to live, work and govern together – because their greatest fear is that “the other side” will gain “complete control” of the USG’s rather impressive (but not omnipotent) ability to use coercion and force to “protect our freedom.” (With the definition of “freedom” of course varying wildly from faction to faction in this case.)

      01/15/18 12:54 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Social media just confirms what we knew deep down- this country has got a bunch of ignorant people.

      01/15/18 2:20 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      The Secretary of DHS of the Dumbest Country on the Planet doesn’t know if Norway is predominately white.

      Amerika, you are soooooooo fuckkkkkkked.

      01/16/18 4:25 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      Is Trumpie hoping for a terrorist attack to boost his popularity ratings? He can forget about the Deep State Anthrax Boys to bail him out. Even they can see he is a threat to national security.

      01/18/18 12:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      11

      It’s not the economy, stupid. Wall Street reaches new highs as Trumpie hits new lows.

      01/18/18 12:29 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      12

      I am afraid Hollyweird will make a porno movie about Trumpie humping Stormy Daniels. Of course, It will be very difficult to cast a Trumpie who is a so short in the meat department.

      Peter, forget about trying to make bucks writing fiction. Just accuse Trumpie of having sex with you. He just paid a bimbo $130 grand to keep quiet about something he said he didnt do.

      01/19/18 7:22 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      13

      At least Trumpie didn’t pay Stormy to pee in his bed.

      But when Melania divorces him, Trumpie is gonna shit himself.

      01/19/18 12:48 PM | Comment Link

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