Monday, October 15, 2001

Week of 10/15/2001

Target: Governing by Fear
- by David Matthews 2

"It is appropriate here to recall that the so-called Dark Ages began with the flight of the individuals into the protection of lords or chapters and came to an end when the individual again found it to his advantage to set forth on his own. We live at a time when everything conspires to push the individual into the fold." - Bertrand de Jouvenal

When it comes to emotions, there is probably nothing more powerful than fear.

Fear is irrational. It is unreasonable. It makes us do even the most stupidest of things.

Ever automatically toss spilled salt over your left shoulder? Avoid stepping under ladders or cracks on the sidewalk? Try not to have black cats cross your path? Go to pains to make sure a mirror isn’t broken? Sleep with a night on? Ever try to rationalize logically why you do that? Go ahead. You’ll only make yourself sound ridiculous.

Fear cripples and paralyzes even the most powerful of creatures.

We’ve all heard of the stories of mighty elephants being terrified of the tiniest of creatures such as mice. Rationally, you wouldn’t know why the big and powerful can be so afraid of the tiny and fragile… until you realize that these little creatures can roam in places the mighty creatures cannot see. How would you like to have something small scamper around in sensitive places you can’t see?

Fear is the mind’s response to uncertainty. You don’t know what’s in the dark. You don’t know what’s scampering underneath you. You don’t know what will happen if you try to do something you haven’t done before.

In Shakespeare’s "Hamlet", Romeo considered either going through with his master plan, which was to expose his stepfather as a murderer, and thus be compelled to kill the man himself; or to simply end the insanity and kill himself. He pondered the options, and actually considered suicide in his great "to be or not to be" sililoquy. But then he asked himself what would happen after he died? What dreams would come from an eternal sleep? And that’s why he decided not to kill himself… because he was afraid of death more than he was of life.

Many a religion is founded on fear. The pre-civilized society was fearful of lightning strikes and tornadoes and earthquakes. They thought that they were being punished by some higher being if a comet streaked across the skies, or if the seasons are harsher than usual. Then some self-appointed "wise man" would say that they would have all the answers to what is going on, and if their words were not obeyed, the bad things out there in the world would continue. And the people believed them simply out of fear.

Think about all of the various deities of ancient days, governing various aspects not only of a person’s life, but also of their fears. What would happen if you disobeyed one of these deities? Well, that depended on whom you "offended". Some would "punish" people through lightning strikes. Others through flood, or famine, or drought, or plague. Or they would be stricken by hideous monsters forged from the depths of imagination.

Even when we no longer are fearful of the elements, that last fear of death still holds us. Consider the double-edged swords of modern-day Christianity and Islam. When you die, you are judged for everything you’ve ever done in your life. As long as you obey the tenants of their respective beliefs, you’ll spend eternity in paradise. But if you stray from those beliefs – some say even in the least – you will suffer endless torment.

Now you know why religions based on love, forgiveness, and understanding are quickly replaced by instilling fear. It’s easier to control people if you appeal to what they fear versus what they love.

It is also no wonder why the elderly are the most religious. They cling to their religion like a baby to a pacifier, afraid of what dreams may come when they take that final sleep of death.

Guess what else was forged by fear? Government.

That’s right. Not all tribal and clan leaders were wise, noble, and gregarious. Quite often, they were vain, egotistical, arrogant, self-centered, and power-hungry. They were bullies and thugs, who ruled by keeping others afraid. If they weren’t the strongest, they made sure they surrounded themselves with people who were.

Eventually, though, we decided that it wasn’t right to be governed by fear. We let our intellect rule instead of our fears, and started to set down the notion that government be run by trust, not by fear.

But that didn’t mean we still weren’t being governed by fear.

In fact, anytime we felt threatened, we cling to government like a child to his teddy bear. Like those so-called "wise men" in the caves, we blindly accept whatever sacrifices must be made, no matter what that sacrifice is. We’ll even let our own government snatch away our neighbors simply because of what nationality they came from. Anything to keep the "wise men" happy.

Let’s get brutally honest here… despite all of our beliefs that government should be handled on some intellectual basis of trust, we still end up being governed more by what terrifies us.

And fear is readily apparent today following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America. We were terrified of air travel after terrorists struck. Even when the airports were made "safe" by instilling members of the National Guard, people would not fly. People would not take the bus after some nutcase tried to kill a Greyhound driver. There is still talk among the media of suitcase-sized nuclear bombs and even more terrorist attacks.

Now, the fear of the day is Anthrax. Envelopes with a strange white powder are being transported by mail. Some of those envelopes contain some form of Anthrax; other envelopes do not. The game is to figure out which ones do and which ones do not.

So don’t be surprised if someone comes up with the "novel" idea of wanting all mail searched. After all, it’s a public safety issue, right? If we search all envelopes and packages for Anthrax before they reach their intended targets, we’ll make sure that nobody else is infected by it.

To hell with the Fourth Amendment, they’ll say. We’re talking about public safety!

Oh, and while we’re going through the mail, why not see what else is being sent through the postal service. After all, we may unlock some new terrorist propaganda, or perhaps even a few coded messages from the terrorists themselves, right? That would certainly be worth looking through a few personal letters, right?

And, of course, we can’t forget to look for any other "subversive" messages as well. You know which ones we’re talking about… the ones that lead to the "corruption" of our youths. Let’s see who is getting all of those skin magazines and naughty video offers. Here’s our chance to resurrect the nightmare dreams of the anti-American moralist Anthony Comstock, once again in the name of public safety.

See how quickly something like that can start? And all of it because of fear.

President Bush constantly says that we need to resume our normal life before the 9/11 horror. But that cannot happen as long as we are being told to live in fear and in dread for what else might happen.

Another US president, Franklin Roosevelt, once said that we have nothing to fear except fear itself. In fact, he listed freedom from fear as one of his great goals in his "Four Freedoms" speech. But being truly free from fear will never come from the government, any more than a nightlight will free us from being afraid of the dark. There is a time when you have to face your fears, confront them, and not give in to them. Once that happens, those fears can’t hurt you.

The dark ages of man are always forged by fear. Those days end when we stop being led about by our fears and start looking towards hope and trust. If we really want to defeat the efforts of the terrorists, we need to stop being led by our fears.

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