|The Litany Against Fear|
|Written by Jason Brink|
|Thursday, 03 March 2011 06:25|
“It is not power that corrupts, but fear,” writes Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize winner from Burma. This mirrors something I have been thinking of writing for some time, and have gone back and forth as to whether or not it is a good idea. It may very well be inadvisable socially, but I feel the need to say something, and so I shall. This was initially intended to be a daily book update on Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi, but it spiraled out of control and became stratospherically disconnected from the initial point I was making – or rather the point itself moved from being a simple observation about a piece of literature and its relevance to education to a wholesale indictment of western apathy.
As I write this, I sit on the balcony outside my apartment in Saphan Khwai in the Bangkok. I have been here for some time now, and in this period of time I have begun to realize that while living on the Central Coast I was blinded in so many ways. I could not only not see the forest for the trees, but I was having a hard time seeing any one tree because I had my nose wedged so firmly into a knothole. I had felt a sense of dissatisfaction for years, but had never really known what needed to change. Since my youth I had ranged over every political theory imaginable – from the Marxism of my early teens (I once snuck a copy of The Communist Manifesto into the Templeton Hills SDA Church and read it inside a hymnal) to the cold objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, to the anarchism of Bakunin and Proudhon – but nothing seemed to fit (and just in case anyone is wondering, there is still nothing that fits). Over the past months though, I have spoken to many Americans (incidentally, for the sake of simplicity, “Americans” represents people who are citizens of the United States) both in the States and abroad as tourists, and I have been stunned by the thought processes and stories being shared with me. The more I look at the current geopolitical situation, and the more I look at the history that has led up to this point, the more I realize that the United States is a nation completely driven by its own intentionally manufactured fear.
Now, I know that there are many people (specifically certain family members) who are rolling their eyes and moving the mouse cursor to the X in the corner of the screen. However, before you click that X, hear me out. While there are things written here you will not like, you will not find any dogma or anything contrary to the spirit of what the United States has the potential to be. You will find no abrogation of the core principals holding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the highest esteem. Nothing I am going to say should be inflammatory, nor is it anything that anyone who actually looked around wouldn't see on their own were they to be honest with themselves. If this still frightens you, then by all means, close the window - this is not a message you are yet able to hear or understand. If you want, bookmark it, and one day when you become tired of the continual dissolution of your basic human rights, you may think back on it, bring it up – and maybe it will stick then.
So, if you are not ready for it, go ahead and close it, I will wait.
Now, for the rest of you. Look at the world around you. Look at the men and women milling about in the street with their heads hanging low. Watch the blank-eyed masses push their overflowing shopping carts through Wal-Mart as they load them up with cheap pre-made goods and TV dinners. Go to the library where I spent so many days as a child and look for the youth in the aisles. Go sit in the back of a classroom where the students are taught not out of a desire to impart useful information, but just to pass a test. Go stand in the center of a dance floor at a club amid the sweating and convulsing masses as they try to drink, dance, and dope their way to peace.
I have wandered those streets, mind reeling and head heavy. I have bought CD racks and new bedspread sets because it seemed like a good idea. I have gone to the library and seen the kind old woman arranging books on the shelves in a nearly empty building. I have wandered, somnambulistic, through the rituals of western society and felt completely empty while doing it. I once saw some graffiti that said, “Go to work, send your kids to school, follow fashion, act normal, walk on the pavement, watch TV, save for your old age, obey the law. Repeat after me: I am free.” While I contest parts of this, I feel that it is accurate in its basic assessment of society. As a society, we now willfully place our intents in the hands of those who will do the thinking for us.
To me, it feels like something has changed in what was once the land of the free and the home of the brave. While I am sure this process began long before I was able to observe it, the citizens of the United States have fallen asleep and seem to be trapped in some sort of nightmare from which they are unable to awaken. Enslaved by consumerism and toxic rhetoric, they muddle forward like oil-tainted crabs on a trash-strewn breakwater collecting glimmering pieces of tin-foil, quick to skitter back to their holes at the first sign of threat or danger from something as innocuous as their own shadow.
The human fear of outside threats has always been, and always will be, the driving force behind Nationalism. We believe that because we are born on one side of a border or another, we are somehow separated and different. Any debate that occurs along nationalistic lines has elements of this fear embedded in it. It is always a fear of the “others” and what they might do. The immigration debate in the States is fueled by fear that the “others” will take American jobs or that the “others” will change the ways things are done – muddying up American “culture.” Just about everywhere, this commonly takes the form of ethnophobic anti-anythingotherthanwhatevercountryyouareinism. Whether your target is the French, Mexicans, Chinese, Haitians, Homosexuals, Baptists, Atheists, Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Union Members, or Indians, there is always a ready-made but entirely false stereotype to go with your talking point. Mexicans are lazy, Indians stink, the French are wusses, the Chinese can't be trusted, Haitians are stupid, Gays are evil, Baptists are bible-thumping morons, Atheists just want to think of themselves as god, Republicans are heartless, Democrats want your money, etc. We, as a separate societies build these walls between one another because they allow us to cling to our own kind and create an internal sense of cooperation. These tactics have been used for millenia to dehumanize opponents and create inner-stability. This inner-stability is created at the cost of cooperation in the broader sense, a cost that we can no longer afford to pay.
These external fears are bad enough, but even more insidious are the internal fears that drive our economies forward – the fears that sneak into our dreams and flow over and around us. Commercialism is driven forward primarily by these fears of being inadequate. Fears of being unloved. Fears of falling behind. Fears of not being respected, of not fitting into your assigned spot in society. The entire concept of advertising has morphed from “We have the best yogurt” to “If you don't eat our yogurt, you will be fat and nobody will ever want you.” A simple half-hours worth of watching network TV will make this abundantly clear. From clothing to jewelry to cars to houses to food to medication – woven throughout all of it is rhetoric designed to make you feel inadequate and inspire you to consume. I do not fault people for not seeing this – they live with blinders on and have never been given the opportunity to see – never been allowed to glimpse the true light of day outside their narrow ideological confines. Once they have seen though, it is impossible for them to return to their previous ignorance. Once you know that someone is just trying to play to your fears, you can never make yourself play along again.
These internal and external fears have always been part of American political rhetoric. From our earliest years in government, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton would trade insults and accuse one another of being too close with foreign powers, of being flip with the constitution, and whatever other insults were handy. So, while I cannot say that American political discourse has fallen to new depths, it has become more about promoting the growth of weapons-grade fear of all things external and internal. A political group will choose an enemy and label them as something people know nothing about. They will then begin to demonize this label and create doubt surrounding the issue. It doesn't matter if it's true, people don't know what it means and most of them won't look, so pundits are free to label away to their hearts content. This has been done recently to politicians on both sides of the narrow American spectrum by their opponents. If you want to make it even more fun, you can invent statistics to support your fear. Draw them on a chalkboard, toss up some magnets and a swastika and you have a display that at least a third of the population buys it on the grounds of “Well, he seems legit,” or “but hes so sincere, he even cried on TV.”
Last night I was standing on the BTS headed out to meet up with a friend of mine and this serene but gruff looking man got onto the train and stood next to me. He had the scraggly outdoorsman/fisherman look to him, weathered skin, red beard, and sharp eyes. He was wearing a Glock hat (which is oddly a dead giveaway that hes American, nobody else wears gun hats) and so I decided to strike up a conversation with him. His name was Red, and he was from Pennsylvania, and hes in the surplus business, and has lived in Bangkok for a year. In the 10 minutes we were on the same train, we quickly traded “what the hell are you doing here” stories. We discussed the phenomenon of people we have known our entire lives going from being calm and rational people capable of discussing anything to people who cower inside their own minds and spout hateful rhetoric. He said something that I agree with very strongly; he said, “Its impossible to really understand the world when you stay inside the United States today. You are raised being told that all these things are important, or that you need to be afraid of a whole list of other things, but in the end you are just a pawn – the only way to be free is to leave.”
I mention all of this because having stepped back to a distance that affords me a view of the forest, I believe that we can no longer afford these divisive behavior patterns. Globally, we are facing many more challenges than we have collectively throughout all of human history. As citizens of this world, we must stand united for the purpose of building a better planet, not just enriching our corner. I know this is a pipe dream, but what would to happen if everyone just stopped fighting? What would happen if we dropped our border fences and quit looking at everyone outside as “other” and started thinking of them as “human” instead. I know that so many people will never be able to do this. I know that there are people who will hide in the hills waiting for the “terrorists” to creep over the ridge to enact Sharia Law because without that hatred and fear, their world-view falls apart. In so many cases we have stopped defining ourselves by the powerful and amazing things we want to accomplish, and started to negatively define ourselves by our fears.
The argument that we must fear these things because they want to destroy us inevitably arises. I can think of one case in particular in which a man is positive that Islam's sole purpose is to drive all non-Muslims from the face of the planet. Positive that Islam is determined to perpetrate genocidal acts on those of non-Muslim faiths, his only solution is a counter-genocide – the elimination or conversion of every Muslim on the face of the planet as a pre-emptive act of self-defense. Speaking from my own experience with the Muslims that I have known throughout my life – they are every bit as disgusted with violence perpetrated against anyone as the rest of the world is. The irrational and violent fringes exist on the outside of every philosophy, but overall they are just like everyone else – just other humans trying to live their life in the best way they know how to and bearing no ill-will towards anyone. I refuse to harbor hatred in my heart towards any group as a whole – I would rather catch a bullet with my forehead while having my hand outstretched in peace than live a long cowering life hiding in the shadows.
Yes, there is evil in this world, but as a good friend of mine so aptly put it, “I believe that if I were to stand on a mountain where I could see all of the good and evil laid out before me, there would be more good than evil.” I think if we can all remember this and begin to work together, we can actually accomplish something. We must collectively face our fears, challenging them and tearing them down. As Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear it the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. And when it has gone I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing, only I will remain.” (Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear”) Wake up, stop being afraid, and live your life.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 03 March 2011 16:26|