Fear and the Frightened

(A posting on the second front in the War on Terror)

There is no conspiracy. They are what they are. They do what they do. Let go of the concern that they manipulated the timing. Let go of the concern that the assassins succeeded. Every conspiracy theory weakens us. When it appears that the news cycle is being manipulated, rise above it. Of course it’s being manipulated. That’s what they do.

When it’s reported that the Vice President says that Lamont is a candidate that gives hope to Al Qaeda, let it go. The Vice President is a weasel. Those weren’t his words. That was a sound-bite spun by the media into a “let’s you and him fight” scenario. Ever eager to take offense, the loyal opposition leaped in with an interpretation that Cheney had called anti-war Democrats friends of Al Qaeda. Perhaps that’s what he implied, but so what? He’s a weasel. The news was about Lieberman’s defeat, an internal matter for the Democratic Party.

Yet, hard on this news came the arrest of a bunch of criminals in Britain, criminals who intended further disruption of air travel and the murder of hundreds of passengers. The news was spun not as a victory for law enforcement, but as an opportunity to remind us to be afraid. Besides being delighted that today we are safer than yesterday because a gang of criminals is in custody we should focus on the framing of the story. We should be aware of the spin and the spinners. Who benefits from framing the story as a reason for fear rather than a reason for celebration? Who are the fifth column terrorists among us, and how can we open a second front to fight them?

Just as it does us no good to question the timing of the story, it does no good to debate the framing. There are people of good and evil intention on all sides of any issue who would drive public understanding by means of a debate. Debate is a binary and competitive proposition that reduces complexity and channels an outcome to a winner take all scenario reminsicent of trial by combat. Debate is a primitive, competitive approach to channeling conflict that assures that there will be a winner and a loser. All too often truth is subverted by the process. Whenever a matter of importance is framed with champions on two sides debating an outcome, you can be sure that there are facts that will be ignored as inconvenient, truths that will be dominated by shifts in the binary positioning of the opponents. What we have to do then is observe and frame our own responses based on what we see.

Take for example the matter of hair product. I can see why the TSA would want to ban hair product from the carry on luggage of all travelers everywhere in the world forever. I can also see why this may be a ridiculous over-reaction. But the fact of the ban, and the mindset of fear that it buttresses should tell us about the leadership that fosters this kind of public policy. While millions of Americans have no health insurance, the great public policy debate of our time focuses on removing shoes before boarding and carrying hair products on board aircraft. See why debate is not really useful?

There comes a point where cooperation trumps competition. The great depression was one such historical nexus. Americans gained a respect for each other then and moved forward toward a greater sophistication, toward a world view encompassing the eyes-wide-open understanding of the costs and benefits associated with corporate business models, toward a world view of tolerance for the naivete of the diminishing crowd of religious believers. Americans again must respect each other and move forward toward a greater sophistication, toward a world view encompassing the eyes-wide-open understanding of the costs and benefits associated with corporate business models, toward a world view of tolerance for the naivete of the diminishing crowd of religious believers. But these vested interests, the american billly-bob pulpit pounders and the top hatted profiteers from Warbucks, Incorporated never let go of their need to dominate and control, and we are on a pendulum swing in the wrong direction. Sophistication is the property of the moneyed classes. Security belongs to those who can pay for it. It does no good to debate these matters. But if we keep our eyes open, note the condition of the emperor’s clothes, give each other a wink and a nudge when it’s clear that there may have been a misjudgment vis a vis his attending the parade naked… well, there’s always hope that we can stop this parade before the capering monkey, the naked leader marches us all off the cliff with him.

Or has he already?

Posted in Politics, Truth and Falsehood
3 comments on “Fear and the Frightened
  1. Nathan says:

    Great piece except the last paragraph. Why bring in the Great Depression? This opens up a whole new can of worms? I can now focus on that last paragraph and debate your conclusion that, “Americans gained a respect for each other then and moved forward toward a greater sophistication, toward a world view encompassing the eyes-wide-open understanding of the costs and benefits associated with corporate business models…” rather than discussing the truly great points you make in the body of the article. I believe the only reason we got out of the Great Depression was WWII and the creation of the military-industrial complex…..and the complex is still going strong, with, as you say, the fifth column in direct collusion to keep us all focused on stupid things while the gov’t spends 500 billion a year on “defense”.

  2. First, you’re probably right that any historical reference weakens the post, and I may just correct that on the fly. My thinking has been centered around the great vision and meme that Roosevelt spread: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It seems to me that this idea pulls the rug out from under the entire argument that terrorism should be treated any different from other heinous crimes.

    Second, we have to give up on the idea that debate (as in: “I can now … debate your conclusion”) is any more meaningful than a mugging. I’m happy to discuss my conclusions, happier still to redraft to find a more inclusive point of view, but regardless of our public school training, we have to let go of the win/lose debate adversarial model if we are going to make any progress toward an enriched democracy with control over powerful special interests.

  3. we have to give up on the idea that debate (as in: “I can now … debate your conclusion”) is any more meaningful than a mugging

    Couldn’t agree more, Frank. Debate in the USA is usually bad entertainment and a deliberate waste of time. The elite political class absurdities should be discussed in an absurd context. The “war on terror”, for example, means a lot to the self-important, and I can respect their feelings to a certain extent, but I have to insist that they perform in propria persona. Cribbing talking points from think tank “scholars” and fatuous op ed war-pundits is an act of self-degradation. Those who do it need our sympathy, some easily digested food and a nice place to rest, but it’s an insult to their intelligence and terrible disservice to humanity in general to take them seriously.

    The advantage in debate goes to people who are trained in rhetoric, shameless and know how to work an audience. Those skills and that quality can achieve a victory, which is as meaningful as the adrenalin rush of getting away with a crime.

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