On the night of September 11th, 2001, after an exhausting day watching the birth of the 21st century live in my dank, cigarette-smoke filled living room, I was sat in my favourite local pub with a few friends. We were all getting drunk. At the table next to us, and the table next to them, sat people all in the same boat. They were also getting drunk. Every table and every stool at the bar contained a snapshot – an identical image repeated over and over again: bewildered, sometimes angry faces pouring a bit of liquid comfort down their throats, each talking about the same awful bloody tragedy, trying and failing to make some sense of it. From person to person the arguments varied wildly, the emotional responses swerved from hysteria to hatred. We didn’t agree on much, but we didn’t really have to right then and there. We needed to talk, to get drunk, and be together because we didn’t want to be alone
We didn’t want to be alone because we were terrified.
People in homes and bars and cafes all over the world were drowning in this same sense of fear and dread. Whether you were feeling it in Boston or Baghdad, or if you were watching Fox News or Al Jazeera, you felt it. You might have feared that your city was the next target. You might have feared that you would be crushed by the full might of the inevitable response. Whatever the individual cause for panic, it was cripplingly real and near impossible to overcome. We had all just watched several thousand people die in a heap of concrete, twisted metal, and a choking cloud of ash and dust. We witnessed people trapped on the top floors of two mammoth skyscrapers leap to their deaths; many of us watched it repeated over and over again in a grotesque loop broadcast across all channels. As much as we wanted to, we couldn’t look away. These horrible visions were burning into our retinas to a soundtrack of screaming New Yorkers running through the streets and news anchors repeatedly uttering names like Bin Laden, Hussein, and Al Qaeda. It was an unrelenting assault on the senses, with any hope of escape completely futile. Logic and reason were high tailing it out the door. The fear had taken hold, and it wasn’t about to let go anytime soon.
What followed after that day was a calculated pageant of fear and loathing, designed to convince the people of the West to keep quiet while the military-industrial complex set about inventing wars as a means to epic profit and a tightening of their grip on individual rights. This is an old trick, though – one that fools us every time.
The fear of Communism directed the actions of the west for nearly fifty years. The scaremongering rhetoric that arose about the horrors of a red state was so masterfully orchestrated that to this day there is a certain sort of person still checking under his bed at night to make sure a “commie” isn’t lying in wait to steal his freedom and force him to wait in line for a roll of toilet paper. War is great business, and for decades the mere possibility of an impending fight for ideological survival led to fortunes being made through the manufacturing and sale of ever more terrifying weapons. The theory proves true over and over again. We are easily scared into submission.
For thousands of years fear has been used by Pharaohs and Presidents, Imams and Popes, CEOs and marketing gurus alike, as a means to control, to persuade, to make you do as you’re told. Many never stand a chance against its ability to cajole us so perfectly because from a very early age we are taught that failure to obey a higher authority will have damning consequences.
Before we have a say in the matter, most of us are taught that if you do not do as your god wants you face a never ending torrent of punishment and torture. Fearsome old men in grand costumes preach to us that these are the commands of our supreme father, a vague and faceless figure we cannot see or communicate with but through his human emissary. They assure us that he is everywhere and he wants you to follow his rules. The penance that awaits you, for not living your life by the wishes of whichever creator you believe in, is nightmarish and eternal — and bloody frightening. The lesson starts early: Do as we say, or horrible consequences await you.
We move into adulthood carrying this deeply entrenched control switch with us, and the fears pile on, one on top of the other. Insecurities about your social standing become a constant presence as you are guided by a new minister: the marketer. Soon you come to believe that your status defines you, and your status is calculated by the things you own. You need a house bigger than the next guy’s, a new car more expensive than the next guy’s. Designer brand name clothing that immediately tells everyone how well you’re doing. The newest iPhone the nanosecond it becomes available. The biggest HD, 3D, LCD, flatscreen, plasma television monstrosity you can find, regardless of whether you can afford it. These things define you. They tell everyone else how much you have, and how important you are. Whether you need them or not is irrelevant. Enslave yourself in a sea of debt because if you don’t have these things, you have failed the game of life.
It is a dark and devilish business. Fear makes us consume.
There is profit to be made in keeping the public fearful. Few industries understand this idea – or have realized it so perfectly – as the war industry. This was the industry that kicked the use of fear as control into overdrive after 9/11. Hours of television reports told us that terrorists were everywhere, lurking in the shadows of every city and every town in the free world. Leaders took to podiums in Washington and London and scared the living daylights out of us. Strange and foreign invaders armed with dirty bombs, box cutters, anthrax and hatred were plotting against us. Thousands of terrorist cells were operating in hundreds of cities across the world, all with one common goal: To kill you and everyone you love.
Who wouldn’t be afraid of that?
This was the politics of fear firing on all cylinders, convincing us to make war in the Middle East against enemies old and new. The war against terror in Afghanistan led to the war on hazy nuclear threats in Iraq. Once again they sold the people fear, with murky photos of weapons facilities and suspect rumours about Nigerian uranium, and the people devoured it. In the end, completely disoriented by the constant doom surrounding us, we barely noticed as our rights were thoroughly trimmed down in the name of security. Peace through war. Love through hate. It was more than big brother could have asked for.
Today, in a year of revolution and ongoing civil disobedience, those who want to keep us afraid are telling us there is a new terror lying in wait: the dissenter. The radical is what you need to fear next. The occupier and the indignado are asking questions the elite don’t have answers for, and now they are back to the tried and true method of marginalization through fear. In London, the authorities have named the occupy movement a terrorist organization. Apparently filthy hippies sitting in public squares with no clear message are as dangerous to your way of life as Al Qaeda. In the mainstream media, the persistent message of the occupy movement is that of shiftless bums and violent drug addicts demanding handouts from the rich and successful. The camps are rife with the worst elements of society, people living on the dark fringes. Even the old red menace has reared its paranoid head.
The truth is occupy camps contain these elements of society, as does each community the world over. Drug addicts overdosing at occupy camps would have overdosed alone in some other dark part of the city. In many cases, being at the camps saved them from death. Those who live on the edge of the knife aren’t drug addicts, or mentally ill because they are at camps offering them hot food and some semblance of shelter for the night, they are at the camps providing these things because they are drug addicts, or suffering mental illness — or both. Mainstream society left them behind a long time ago.
When we think it over for a moment, when logic and reason don’t high tail it out the door, when we don’t choose to fall for it, the fear mongering can be seen for what it is: dishonest manipulation.
The question is will we fall for it again, or not?
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This post was written by Bryan G. Taylor