The guiding principles of this country came from the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment. There was light and hope as the Europeans established the charters and documents declaring a new nation of freedom in this land. Of course in practice, there was the attempted destruction of the original American peoples and the importation of other peoples for labor, against their will. In over two hundred years, the nation still struggles with those injustices, even though some progress in that regard has been achieved. It still struggles with the need for cheap labor. The current masters of the capitalist machine continue to “use” labor via outsourcing and importing immigrants, where the rules of fairness and equality can be bypassed. But getting back to light and reason, they are dimming and sputtering with this dawn of a new century, this insane project for a new American century. The light is being snuffed by phobia. This twenty-first century has evolved into the full blown Age of Phobia: intense irrational fear, with all the darkness, anxiety, suspicion, paranoia, suppression, depression and misinformation that Fear with a capital F can propagate.
The government has certainly used phobia throughout my lifetime and longer, of course, but it has escalated under the Neoconservative dominant perspective to an unprecedented degree. I was born into the Cold War where we were all told to be afraid of the Commies. It didn’t work very well on me. As a very young child I believed, thanks to the twisted sensibilities of my father, that Nikita Khrushchev (Nicky Kru) was Santa Claus and that Uncle Ho was a national hero, in spite of his being not American, but Vietnamese! I was afraid of the bomb, however, of mutually assured destruction. I was also afraid of earthquakes, as a Californian, and learned to duck and cover in preparation for the “Big One” more than for the mushroom cloud.
With the Iranian hostage crisis and various hijacked planes we started to be conditioned to become afraid of those different believing and looking peoples in the Middle East. As the threat of Communism waned, the threat of Terrorism escalated. At home we learned to become afraid of sex with the onslaught of AIDS, of recreational drug use, and more and more with rising crime rates, of each other.
The attacks on September 11th, however, generated a new level of fear in most Americans that I don’t believe they had ever felt before. That day, shortly followed by the threat of Anthrax in the mail, sent America into a tailspin. As we now know, the Cheney/Bush Administration and its lawyers took full advantage of the fear to dismantle those founding charters and documents in the backrooms as America looked, quivering, the other way.
In the ensuing six years the phobia has ebbed and flowed in waves, but its tendrils have dug deep into the American psyche, ready to be exploited as the masters of war and deception see need. New sources of fear have been played out in the media, more targeted to specific populations. There has been the ongoing theme of homophobia to frighten and enrage the blindly religious. There has been the xenophobia, relating both to Muslims and immigrants from the nations of Latin America, to engender mistrust and hatred by the Christians and the working and middle classes. Most recently there are the fears engendered by consumer products such as contaminated meat and greens and the toxic ingredients in pet food and children’s toys. There is the fear that our government is spying on us, listening to our calls and reading our mail. There is the fear of the declining economy and the tanking value of our dollars. There is the fear of the effects of global climate change and the growing scarcity of water and oil.
The result of this escalation of phobia is that, in general, Americans are now more afraid of their world and their government than the government and the world are afraid of them, which makes Americans even more afraid of their government and their world. Phobia is reinforced and strengthened by multiple negative feedback loops.
As thinking and caring people, I call on all of you to break the oppressive cycle of fear, to spread light upon the phobic and anaerobic darkness in which we cannot see or breathe, to invoke your personal inner strengths, to plant the seeds from which knowledge, reason and creativity can grow for the future.
For a little inspiration I’d like to share some tidbits of wisdom from one of my personal heroes, someone who has contributed enormously to the spreading light for more than eighty years.
Through art, create order out of the chaos of living
Make it new news.
Write beyond time.
Reinvent the idea of truth.
Reinvent the idea of beauty.
In first light, wax poetic. In the night, wax tragic.
Listen to the lisp of leaves and the ripple of rain.
Put your ear to the ground and hear the turning of the earth, the surge of the sea, and the laments of dying animals.
Conceive of love beyond sex.
Question everything and everyone, including Socrates, who questioned everything.
Question “God” and his buddies on earth.
Be subversive, constantly questioning reality and the status quo.
Strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident.
Hip hop and rap your way to liberation.
Try being a singing animal turned pimp for a pacifist king.
Read between the lives and write between the lines.
~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poetry as Insurgent Art, © 2007