The Age of Phobia

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



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  1. What makes you afraid, how does it affect you, and what can you do to shake off its manacles and shackles?

    • Edger on November 25, 2007 at 18:54

    pointing out the growth of an economic empire propped up by access to cheap or free labor and energy (oil), CD.

    It is becoming very clear, to me at least in the past few years, that the “empire” has run it’s course and is in “the last throes”, if you will.

    Richard A. Clarke very succinctly summarized the situation very well I thought in his Author’s Note to his novel Breakpoint with:

    In The Scorpion’s Gate, I projected a world in 2010, with the United States and China competing politically and economically for a dwindling supply of increasingly expensive oil and gas. That competition naturally took them to the Persian Gulf, where the largest oil deposits remained.  The Persian Gulf of 2010 was unstable, with the United States threatening Iran, and fundamentalist Islamic forces emerging in Saudi Arabia.  Corruption and giant corporations made Washington a political battleground.  While I noted at the time of publication that the work was not meant to be predictive, many of the trends in the novel have developed and are dominating the news.

    The fears you describe are fanned by politicians in their need to manipulate people into supporting insane policies, particularly foreign policies, in the hopes of continuance of that “empire”. But they create and pursue those policies out of fear themselves, I believe.

    The US economy, the “empire”, is founded upon having to continue to grow. Imperialism. Pure and simple.

    The politicians who fearmonger to sell their policies, are themselves trapped and operating out of fear.

    They are very afraid, I think. Afraid that the economy and the “empire” will collapse unless the US can control the energy resources of the world.

    Unfortunately, policies that result in things like the occupation of Iraq are creating the very problem they hope to stave off with the occupation.

    Larry Everest, ZNet, May 10, 2007

    What the Bush Regime portrays as a noble effort to make the world safe from terrorism and bring democracy to the Middle East is actually a vicious war of empire to deepen the U.S. stranglehold on the Middle East and Central Asia –a war that is part of a broader effort to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable imperialist empire.

    This goal is not viewed as capricious or incidental by those in charge–whether Democrats or Republicans–rather it flows from the deepest needs and drives of their system: U.S. hegemony in the Middle East and global dominance is crucial for U.S. capitalism’s ongoing functioning and U.S. global power.

    So when Bush says, “Even if you thought it was a mistake to go into Iraq, it would be a far greater mistake to pull out now,” he’s expressing a fear — from an imperialist viewpoint – that a U.S. pullout would leave the empire weaker. And he is saying this in opposition to other forces in the U.S. ruling class who, also coming from an imperialist viewpoint, now think it’s a big mistake for the U.S. not to withdraw.

    • Edger on November 25, 2007 at 19:24

    For myself, the only way I know how is to learn and be aware of the reasons for the fearmongering, and shed light on those reasons for as many people as possible, in the (possibly vain) hope that by doing so I will eventually be surrounded by a society of people that also don’t live in fear.

    Also the less I own, the less I fear losing.

    I also think that right now things are backwards and upside down… and perhaps just a change of perspective is all that will be needed?

    You mentioned that:

    Americans are now more afraid of their world and their government than the government and the world are afraid of them

    And I believe that until that is reversed and the government is more afraid of Americans than Americans are of the stay out of control.

    I like science fiction. It’s my favorite literary genre because it is a literature of speculation, possibilities and of thought experiments. In many cases because of those attributes it can sometimes predict or describe the general outlines of future scenarios and future societal needs.

    Watching Bush’s, and all US governments for the past 50 or more years, assaults on reason, intelligence, thoughtfulness, freedom, rights, and the constitution has lately begun to remind me strongly of Frank Herbert’s story “The Dosadi Experiment”, and particularly his character Jorj X. McKie, an agent for The Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab):

    In Herbert’s fiction, sometime in the far future, government has become terrifyingly efficient. Red tape no longer exists: laws are conceived of, passed, funded, and executed within hours, rather than months. The bureaucratic machinery has become a juggernaut, rolling over human concerns and welfare with terrible speed, jerking the universe of sentients one way, then another, threatening to destroy everything in a fit of spastic reactions. In short, the speed of government has gone beyond sentient control (in this fictional universe, many alien species co-exist, with a common definition of sentience marking their status as equals).

    BuSab begins as a terrorist organization, whose sole purpose is to frustrate the workings of government and to damage the incredible level of efficient order in the universe in order to give sentients a chance to reflect upon changes and deal with them. Having saved sentiency from its government, BuSab is officially recognized as a necessary check on the power of government.

    First a corp, then a bureau, BuSab has legally recognized powers to interfere in the workings of any world, of any species, of any government, answerable only to themselves (though in practice, they are always threatened with dissolution by the governments they watch). They act as a monitor of, and a conscience for, the collective sentiency, watching for signs of anti-sentient behaviour and preserving the essential dignity of individuals.

    Maybe we need a “Bureau of Sabotage” to throw a wrench into the plans of BushCo and PNAC?  

    Maybe Docudharma, and others, are a BuSab of sorts?

  2. in the Yellow Pages.”

    Ferlinghetti’s been right all along, a prophet unheard in his own time.

    Thanks for this, Cosmic. And nice pic, too.

  3. always like a slap in the face, just seeing how fearful and suspicious people are of everything. This is small town, middle America, where all the factories that provided jobs are gone and the bible beaters have taken over. The churches love it that people are afraid, because it keeps them coming back.

        But it looks like fear is everywhere these days. Here’s an excerpt from an email a friend sent from Florida:


    The people are impacted with fear – fear of strangers, fear of the new, fear of food, spices other than salt and pepper, bread other than white, fear of travel outside of the US, fear of Beelzebub ….

        These are the people for whom Homeland Security threats are made, who nod in agreement at swiftboating, fear, fear, fear. They fear flying, preferring to drive in cars with large house ashtrays to hold their ciggies because the car ashtray can’t handle the load.  The Surgeon General warnings are just more gubmint propaganda.  My niece told me she voted for Bush in 2004 because Kerry “scared” her.

        I wish I knew how to address the problem, how to calm people down, but I have no clue. I’ve tried talking to my relatives about it, and got nowhere. But I’m so glad you wrote about this. Getting away from all the fear is one of the main reasons I want to move out of the country.  There has to be a better place, right?            


  4. It is part of the human condition. Imo, what has changed is the amount of fear-mongering is ‘allowed’ Fera mongering USED to be frowned upon, but now of course it is the very basis of our government. I think one of the major functions of the Left is to try to defuse those fears and to coin a phrase, be more ‘reality based’ about them.

    To paint it in the broadest possible strokes…The Left wants to eliminate fear as much as possible, The Right wants to exploit it as much as possible.

    Great essay! I’ll be promoting it…!

  5. On one level, I’d have to be an utter moron not to be.  As far as I can tell, the Government is completely out of control, the economy is crashing, the People are in a coma, and the country cannot pull itself out of its nosedive.  That’s scary.  We could, all of us spend the next hours enumerating the horrible, scary aspects of the present circumstance and assigning blame for it.  That would also scare us even more to death.  And/or it would make us irretrievably angry.  Our words and actions might become violent.  And that would scare us as well.

    OTOH, I have no illusion that my material possessions are me.  I don’t think getting rid of stuff handles the fear.  In fact, when I had much less stuff, I was nevertheless quite afraid anyway.  I don’t think one benefits from trying to get rid of stuff and thereby getting rid of fear.  I just don’t think that will work.

    I think the ideas that help me handle my fear are acceptance that suffering is universal and endemic, and that everything, including my life, is temporary.  There’s really nothing to hold on to.  Everything will eventually be gone, including me, my family, and everyone of us.  Everything is constantly degrading and decomposing.  

    So if there’s an answer for me, it has to be in my heart as well as my mind.  It has to be in compassion and in the radical acceptance of exactly how things are right now.  Does this mean, I don’t fight for what’s right?  Not at all.  It means I fight with all my heart and all my strength against despair, against inequality, against injustice, against oppression.  I do what I can do.  I don’t slip into the materialist, propaganda trance if I can possibly help it.  If I fall asleep, I wake myself up.  I work consistently on waking up.  I speak my truth.  I do what needs to be done.  I enjoy helping others to do the same.

    These are individual steps.  When enough of us are doing our own version of them, there will be a change in the culture of fear.  And in our country.  What I hope we’re trying to accomplish is the laying of the groundwork for that transformation.  I hope we’re using our fear to point us in the right direction for our, and everyone else’s liberation.

  6. When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

    Audre Lorde

    • psyched on November 25, 2007 at 22:27

    It’s not only the politicians who promote fear and use it to control people. Business interests also use fear to sell their products–fear of illness, fear of being different from their peers, fear of financial catastrophe, fear of romantic rejection, fear of death, just to name a few things that pop into my head. But the list, as they say, goes on and on.

    This is a great essay, and very a propos to our times.

  7. A 52 year old native New Englander knows positively the government is the enemy of humanity.  As a member of the peasant class of “Americans” I also know I have zero influence in changing any of the decisions of assholes bent on the destruction of America for profit.

    Left with the only choice that is to not worry at all about “the future” and enjoy the day as it comes.  Each day without another false flag like 911 and the ensuing chaos is just another gift.

  8. Folks, if you haven’t read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, do so now, as you can see from there the source of the fear rising in global society; neoliberalism.  Meanwhile, since economic collapse is spreading, expect things to get worse in the near term.  It won’t last forever, tho.

    • Edger on November 26, 2007 at 19:21

    William Rivers Pitt of Truthout has a great, though very disturbing, article this morning.

    Bad, Worse, Worst and Beyond

    There is a man in the Oval Office of the White House working an agenda for the destruction of American government. His partner, Mr. Cheney, has been just down the hall taking care of the rest of the job. Subpoenas are ignored, documents are not delivered, Americans are put under surveillance without warrants by the NSA with assistance from nearly every phone company in the country, deep-cover CIA spies are blown to silence critics and whistleblowers, American citizens are imprisoned and denied rights that have been around for a thousand years, direct orders to fraudulently elevate terrorism threat levels are issued to provide cover for uncomfortable news reports, like the report on how many blunt warnings came in before 9/11 but were ignored got itself bounced to the back pages after the White House began yowling about the imminent destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

    That is not even close to the half of it all, and this basic truth cuts to the heart of the matter: The quickest way to destroy the functionality of American government is to destroy the rule of law itself. Declare the Executive supreme and beholden to nothing, flood the Department of Justice and the federal courts with lickspittle political loyalists with no personal code of honor, upend the balanced counterweight of the separation of powers, terrify the populace into submission to avoid any hue and cry, roll out the grand distraction of war to get the flags waving and the newsrooms into line, and never obey any law or regulation imposed by anyone, ever.

    This is what has been done to America, and it turned out to be a frightfully simple task. Once the rule of law is gone, there is nothing left to defend American rights and freedoms, nothing left to bring justice to the unjust, nothing left to stop those powerful few who aren’t about to let quaint anachronisms like the Constitution, or pesky ideas like the ones that became the United States, get in the way of their work.

    None of this information has ever been reported by the smart people on the cable TV news shows. Much of it may not have even occurred to most of them. Pundits don’t get paid to think or be smart, so much as they get paid to shout and have stupid hairstyles and deliberately miss the point of every pressing issue they address. This guarantees nobody accidentally provides real and valuable information to the American people during any news broadcasts, and that is what mostly keeps many Americans dumbly frightened and easily managed.

    The final product of this process is today’s American body politic, almost completely unaware of the gun at their head, a body politic without the protection of law or basic rights and does not know it, a body politic that is altogether lost and wandering and afraid, for reasons they don’t begin to understand. That is an unbelievably dangerous state of affairs, a real threat to the very survival of the United States. It is, simply, Beyond.

    This barely scratches the surface of the situation as a whole, and that fact alone is pretty much Beyond even Beyond all by itself. If the national economy doesn’t collapse before springtime now that debt has again become a bad thing and the dollar is turning into pudding, if Pakistan doesn’t fall apart and lose control of its nuclear weaponry, if Iraq and Afghanistan magically stop being lost causes, and if George and Dick actually decide to obey the law and leave office next year, there will only be fifty more disasters left sitting on our national plate.

  9. But I find I must log in to recommend this fine piece of …


    yeah, that’s it – fine piece of writing!

    Well done, CD.

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