My immediate reaction to the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, several days after the event (I don’t have a TV, nor do I want one), was amazement at the amount of military force deployed to capture two individuals. I waited, patiently, for a response from more thoughtful individuals and sure enough, those thoughts have started to make themselves known. Here is one of them.
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. His essay appeared on the Citizen Journalist Exchange.
Within The National (In)Security State: Fear as a Constant Companion
2013 April 26
Life, as lived, moment to moment, in the corporate/consumer state, involves moving between states of tedium, stress, and swoons of mass media and consumer distraction. Therein, one spends a large portion of one’s economically beleaguered life attempting to make ends meet and not go mad from the pressure and the boredom. Where does a nebulous concept such as freedom even enter the picture, except to be a harbinger of an unfocused sense of unease…that all too many look to authority to banish?
Finding a balance between anxiety and freedom is not something that comes easy to us.
In a society beset with a lack of purpose and meaning, patriotism, empty self-promotion and jingoism are mistaken for strength and character, when, in fact, they are anathema. Weakness compensates by affecting a cretinous swagger. Those who lack a centering core crave power. Beneath it all, quakes one who fears risking intimacy…is terror stricken by the vulnerability attendant to risking love. Those who fear the uncertainty inherent to intimacy and freedom perceive a world fraught with ubiquitous danger.
They terrorize themselves; therefore, they see terrorists everywhere.
Recently, a U.S. city was placed in lockdown due to the search for a solitary, nineteen year old suspect. Thirty different law enforcement agencies were involved. This is the sort of authoritarian overkill that is emblematic of a police state i.e., all sense of proportion is lost, and conveniently so…
Why? Because these bloated, overfunded police agencies have a need to justify their existence. And one means of doing so…is to maintain a ramped-up level of fear, by creating a culture-wide, self-resonating feedback loop of hysteria.
Hence, if there exists a perpetual, looming menace to all we hold dear, the operatives of the police state can maintain their authority, and the political class can operate sans public oversight.
The events that followed in the wake of the bombs set off at the Boston Marathon have served as an object lesson in how the police state/militarist madness of authoritarian excess becomes normalized. How belligerently ignorant, sorehead nationalists and jumpy ninnies will forfeit their rights for the illusion of safety.
Under the tedium, angst, and ennui of corporate state rule, people get high on the adrenal rush induced by the mass media feedback loop. Also, there is the illusion of breaking the spell of alienation and becoming part of a larger order.
It is troubling that the adrenaline-tweaked, news-as-mass-spectacle audience/primed-for-authoritarianism citizenry of the U.S. seems indifferent to, or oblivious of, the following: The test of a free society comes when that society is put under duress e.g., not allowing the power-besotted, authoritarian freaks in charge to use the acts of a few violent, lost souls as a means to curtail freedom and consolidate unaccountable power for themselves.
The flacks, operatives and enforcers of corporate state/militarist imperium retail in fear, specifically, in false, displaced and exaggerated fears. The collective mind of empire is a house of distortion mirrors wherein appearances cannot be trusted, all sense of proportion is lost. Perception is thrown askew; thus, the most wily, dangerous enemy of all becomes one’s own mind. Minor threats are perceived as looming dangers — a Rumpelstiltskin in Reverse Effect comes into play. Pressing matters are neglected, as obsession with trivia trumps all things. An empire bristles with armaments, indiscriminately, aimed at invisibles.
Misdirected fear is a phantom. You can attempt to strike him all day long…but to no end, other than to leave you agitated and spent. Keep at it and you will collapse from exhaustion. This is the way empires meet their end. A giant goes mad, addled by the buzzing of flies he hallucinates are a squadron of dragons. Accordingly, meet your fears, look them in the eye, live among them for a time. Discern whether they consist of an insect buzzing at your windowpane or is a dragon on the roof.
After suffering or witnessing a traumatic event, long after the painful event has passed, one will continue to fear a reoccurrence of the incident. All to often, one becomes locked in a state of hyper-vigilance…installing a police state of the mind, and, in so doing, a lockdown of empathy and imagination comes to pass. The legacy of a fear-ridden past denudes the future of possibility. Time passes, yet one stands frozen in place, shackled to the singular moment of a trauma that has long since passed. The imagination atrophies; one’s ability to love fades.
This is the miserable legacy of occurrences such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent police state siege of the city. If you are curious as to why U.S. culture has become increasingly stultifying — why daily life in the nation has been drained of resonance, inspiration, and bereft of a vital core — look no further than the emotional blowback borne of the national (in)security state.
It is only when one chooses to dismiss the cracked brain guardians of perpetual and displaced fear — personal and collective — does one regain the ability to move freely in the world. The shackles upon one’s incarcerated heart are broken. One is free to be held in the embrace of the present moment. The future, less circumscribed by an oppressive legacy, can unfold like the dawn of a newborn day.
Experiencing fear does not amount to weakness; instead, when buffeted by fear, courage entails putting one foot in front of the other. Attempting to banish fear from consciousness is not a viable option. It is not possible to obliterate angst and trauma by an evocation of will. Even if they appear to be banished, they will return as kvetching ghosts and keening demons of the mind. Your heart will be haunted by their unaddressed grievances.
How can the U.S. not be a haunted land? The country’s blood-soaked soil chants songs of lamentation. Corpse choruses comprised of African slaves and Indigenous People wail out imprecatory hymns from the tormented earth beneath us. As, all the while, the voices of those slaughtered worldwide by our pursuit of empire surround the nation in an enveloping, raging nimbus of accusation. Is it any wonder that we, as a people, are so prone to collective panic?
You cannot outrun a ghost that has taken possession of your heart. You must hear his grievances, grieve with him over the injustices inflicted upon him, then sing him to the next world. And to ensure he will not return to haunt you you must tell his tale and do it justice. If you refuse, as we have on a collective basis in the U.S., you will live out your days in a haze of nebulous dread, and the empire’s vast armaments and the entire apparatus of the national security/surveillance state will not serve to placate your unease.
Because what is lost to time can never be retrieved, memory is a ghost. This is the reason the past is our constant companion. We hear these ghosts within the melancholic sigh that brings up short a moment of laughter, as ghosts within mourn things irretrievable.
Secrets do not remain buried. Their voices, vaulted just beneath the contours of one’s awareness, filter up from the underworld. When we catch a snatch of their murmurings, inchoate longing transforms into nebulous dread. We panic in the market place at noonday; the heat of eros can only be experienced in acrimony e.g., a nation with millions of unacknowledged Indian dead buried in its soil finds an inexhaustible supply of enemies abroad.
The ground is not solid, when it has been seeded with the restless dead. At any moment, the earth beneath one’s feet threatens to give way. What you bury sans ceremony will in turn bury you. The dead will bring you down to their level for a chthonic tête à tête.
Late empire is a charnel house. Within its confines, the dead become one’s most ardent suitors. And this is the reason:
“Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.” James Joyce, Ulysses
It is a dangerous thing to fear the uncertainty inherent to freedom; this is the means by which freedom is exchanged for a sense of false security. As a consequence, one sense of proportion is thrown askew.
For example, an American is ten thousand times more likely to be killed or injured at work than in an act of terrorism (and that does not include the dangers involved in commuting back and forth to and from the workplace and the stress related pathologies and premature death resultant from life squandered as an economic animal).
How about let’s declare a War on Work. Let’s have a nationwide mass mobilization for inspired leisure. In this case the terrorists (i.e, the economic terrorists) truly do hate us for our freedoms.
It is a given in human affairs that we will be guided by our misapprehensions of one another. We receive fragments of information through a lens of bias. We stumble through life blinkered by preconceptions. We come upon others whose self-deceptions match our own (in form, of course, but not matching content) and we express bafflement at the extent of their fatuousness.
So it goes with human interactions, from brief encounters to decades in a marriage bed.
Yet, when you embrace the impossible nature of it all, a breakthrough of sorts occurs. When you become willing to admit fallibility, to bask in the warm glow of your bafflement, another fallible soul is apt to be drawn to you seeking a communion of restorative confusion. Comforted by mutual, benign bafflement (a given when confronted with the sublime) each relaxes enough to notice and be drawn close to the mysterious heart of the other.
Although we are convinced we experience anxiety due to the unpredictable nature of life and the impossibility of apprehending the future, what we are often anxious about is the nettling knowledge that the world we cling to is subject to ineluctable forces of change. Often, the greater the imperative to view the world with new sight, the more blinkered and myopic one’s vision becomes. We clutch a handful of dust. Rather than revisiting and remaking the world anew, we spend our hours in desperate devotion to constructing and dwelling in a crumbling mausoleum of doomed conceptions.
Late U.S. Empire is a cult of death. The body count rises in direct proportion to the putrefying, nationalist myths we insist on holding sacrosanct.
Ask me about my sense of patriotism, and you will receive only silence …because what does not exist cannot speak.
But ask me about my sense of affinity with the whole of humanity — about the golden fire of our imagination that binds us to all things, about the cathedral of our bones that binds us to the sorrows of the earth — only if you desire to risk having your ear bent beyond repair by my soliloquies.
Fate will favor those who maintain their dignity, retain their sense of humor, and struggle to keep alive their sense of beauty, even in ugly times.
Hold to your vital center, stay in the vivid moment, if only for the sake of those you love.
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