Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fear and Loathing in the US

Trust me. NO ONE enjoys a verbal scrap more than me. I absolutely delight in the written dodge-and-parry, and with each day that passes, FaceBook is proving to be a treasure trove of joust matches.

I'm not sure whether it's a function of the mix of folks that comprise my friends list, or a general trend, but I've noticed that the most hotly contested debates on FaceBook are political. For every Rush Limbaugh fan, there's a Bill O'Reilly hater throwing stones, and for every staunch conservative, there's a bleeding heart liberal ready and willing to go toe to toe on every issue.

Every issue. Every day.

Let me preface all of this by saying that I've never been one to debate politics. There are a few issues that are hot buttons for me, but much like organized religion, big time politics makes me uneasy, and I avoid wading into the cesspool at all costs. Some would argue that it's my civic duty to stay "engaged" in the process and the parties and the issues, but it all feels like watching football on TV to me. No matter how much you yell and cuss and throw popcorn at the screen, the outcome remains unchanged. Despite this, you still have your facepainters, and your tailgaters, and your fans that live and die by the success or failure of the team, oblivious to the fact that they are about as integral to the team's performance as the Astroturf.

So . . . . why do people invest so much energy? I was discussing this last night with a very smart new friend, and the discussion ran the gamut from Obama, to 9/11 conspiracy theorists, to Bush lovers to Bush haters to Clinton . . . . you get the idea.

I had a small epiphany while we were talking, and it's probably something that others recognized long ago, but for me, it's sort of a revelation:

Politics feeds off of and breeds fear.

People in the US are scared to death, and have been for years, and the entire country is reacting (and voting) from a place of fear. Political parties continue to pit us against one another, but the underlying "crisis of confidence", I think, stems from the entire country being scared shitless.

I'll try to explain where that came from.

Remember seeing the video clips of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta? There was this explosion, and milliseconds after the shock, people took off in a dead run, like antelopes when the tigress hits the Sahara.

Understandable.

I remember people being so angry about that, and cries of "Where was the security?!?! Why couldn't they catch Rudolph? Where was the FBI?" echoed. People were in a dead panic for months.

I remember noticing a similar reaction to Katrina. Video of absolute devastation seemed to run 24/7 on every news outlet, and people were so pissed off, and scared, and upset. The outcry was the same: Where was the Core of Engineers? Where was the military? Where was FEMA?

And 9/11 was the worst of all. Images of planes hitting buildings were shown over and over and over until the entire nation saw the carnage in their sleep. Within hours of the shock, people were screaming for blood: How could this have happened? How could a handful of terrorists with a few hours of flight training take down the World Trade Center? Where's the CIA? Where's . . . somebody?

Oklahoma City, the abortion clinic bombings, levees giving way in the Midwest, forest fire destruction on the West coast . . . . all of these tragedies were visited upon us, in full color, with overzealous broadcasters willing to turn up the gore and the fear factor to up the ratings.

People can only handle so much of that kind of thing before the stress starts to show, and it's only a matter of time before people become enraged and start screaming for answers. Someone has to pay, someone has to be responsible, and we all thought that The Government of the United States, the most successful, strongest country in the would, could protect us from all this. It was a mighty blow to discover that it couldn't.

And we had to accept that.

But, you know, it's one thing to shake your hand at the sky and denounce natural disasters, or call for the head of an insane terrorist, but our country also had plenty of OTHER crises that shook us to the core. There might have been sexual scandals that were worse than Jim Baker, or Bill Clinton, or Jimmy Swaggart, but again, they weren't served up on the 6:00 pm news along with the potroast and baked potatoes every damn night. Ditto for the S&L and banking scandals. There might have been bigger crooks than Lay and bigger implosions than WorldCom and ENRON, but none took place in our living rooms like these did.

It happened a little bit at a time, but slowly slowly, all of this eroded our belief in what we all thought were the most trustworthy parts of America: our appointed leaders, and our financial institutions, and those that spoke from the pulpit to the masses. They all started looking like "confidence men", and we became distrustful and bitter. And scared.

And our reactions were real. Fear is real. We might not have ALL lost our retirement savings in the ENRON debacle, but we experienced the anguish and pain firsthand by watching endless interviews and exposes on those that did. We might not have had to swim for safety in New Orleans, but there we sat, begging for someone to rescue the people we saw waving from their rooftops. We might not have been in NYC when it all went down, but we watched as desperate people jumped to their death, and heard the sirens and the screams.

I don't know about you, but once you've been burned by the stove a few times, you learn not to touch the stove, and once you've been battered by scenes via the national media enough times, you resort to placing your confidence elsewhere.

Enter . . . . the internet.

You know, if I were walking down the street in New York City and saw someone standing on the corner with a handmade sign and screaming about conspiracies, I wouldn't be all that impressed. Certainly not impressed enough to stop and listen and put any creedence in what he was screaming. BUT . . . . if you put that same screaming lunatic in front of a computer and gave him a free Blogger account, and he was lucid enough to type all the shit he was screaming, chances are, he would have a legion of followers, believers and those that would expend precious energy arguing over his every point.

Cause, see . . . . the internet is grassroots. We were taught in the 60s that grassroots is good, and grassroots means the truth, cause it's REAL people, not the talking heads from the Establishment.

And when you live in a mentality of fear, and you don't trust the authorities anymore, and you are looking for answers, and you start searching on the web, it feels like you've hit gold when you find a blog that explains it all, like . . . .

9/11 was an inside job.
The government knew Katrina was going to happen.
There ARE aliens, and the damn government just won't tell us.

And when you have ready access to the flood of information on the internet, it's easy to find an explanation that's palatable for you, which is MUCH easier than facing the fact that bad things happen, and they can't always be prevented, and no matter the size of the government, or the man in the office, people die that don't deserve to, and bad people do bad things to good people.

But it FEELS so real when you get a Twitter message from the Obama campaign, cause Twitter is grassroots, man!

And it feels like you are finally getting to the truth when you see the people you know, your friends, your family, when they all take a stab at the TRUTH about what's going on in politics on FaceBook, cause . . . . you can't trust the goddamn politicians, but you can trust your friends and family. And you feel a compulsion to save everyone you know with YOUR truth, the truth you uncovered by talking with the conspiracy theorists, and the rightwing militants and the leftwing liberals. You get to a point where you are saturated with it all, and you filter it all, and you come up with a patchwork of truth that makes perfect sense to you, and you want to make sure everyone you know knows what YOU know.

And you want to surround yourself with likeminded folks, and fight those that see it different with everything you have to throw at them.

But, they're being manipulated by the same thing that YOU are.

Fear.

And while we are ALL watching the Punch (dem) and Judy (repub) show, no one is looking behind the stage, and addressing the REAL issue.

We are all scared to death.

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