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Fear in AmericaWhen the call came to "Go West, young man", I paid attention. That was in 2004. I was not particularly young, nor did I travel west from my English roots to my Oklahoma home from some desire to better myself, or take advantage of the American Dream.

I came to these shores because I fell in love, and the woman I am now proud to call my wife, is American. We had long discussions about which country we should live in, because we had a choice. The decision was influenced most heavily by the needs of her children, and the declining health of her father. So, Oklahoma it was, and has been these last eight years.

Those tempted to believe that settling in Oklahoma was easy for me could do worse than read this. Living in the Sooner State was never going to be easy. Oklahoma was the first State to pass laws forbidding the Courts from applying Sharia Law, yet they are also the State most keen to impose the Christian version of that Islamic dogma on the rest of America. Oklahomans do understand many things, but the phrase cognitive dissonance is not one of them. They struggle with irony too.

Yet I have now been here sufficient time to realise that my adopted State does not represent the norm. Indeed, there are more Americans living in a single borough of New York than there are in this entire State.

Despite this, and even with the knowledge that not all of America is represented by Oklahoma, what has surprised and astonished me is just how quickly this country has descended into a nation living in fear.

Prior to 2004, my view of America was, I think, fairly typical of most Europeans. We respect America. We are a bit scared of the power and influence you exert, but we like Hollywood and Hill Street Blues. We think you are loud and a bit arrogant with, quite frankly, not much to be arrogant about.

In short, we accept that America plays a role in the lives of Europeans, but we don't like you very much. That has a lot to do with American tourists. They are rich, loud and wear impossibly gaudy shirts and golfing pants ... even in restaurants.

That said, when we actually meet real Americans, the kind who can't afford foreign vacations in faraway places, or the kind who approach such opportunities with a more considered demeanour, then we find that we like you very much, despite ourselves.

I have long thought that this is simply because you are the same as us. You have the same hopes and ambitions as we do. You care for your families exactly the same. You want the same things ... health, happiness, education for your children and good care for your seniors. You want a job, and clean air, and peace. You no more like your young people dying on foreign soil that do any other peoples. We have pretty much everything in common, and we, the Europeans, don't actually like our own rich people either.

I have been told, many times and often by people who should know better, that I do not understand the American psyche. That I cannot, and even if I become an American citizen I still will not understand, because you have to be born to it, to be immersed in it in order to understand. Given that this is a nation built on immigration, that is not a view I have ever accepted, but I do accept that there is something I don't understand.

I do not understand why Americans both live in fear, and give in to fear so easily.

I wonder, sometimes, what are these Freedoms that all y'all are so proud of. I am told of, and have read, the Bill of Rights. I am reminded that Europeans do not have these freedoms enshrined as the supreme law of the land. It used to be that even progressive Americans would gleefully point to the surveillance society that is England, with all of the cameras in every public space. Funny thing is that I don't hear much about that particular aspect of British totalitarianism any more.

I never feel the need to defend the European way of life, but I do sometimes think it appropriate to mention that we do not actually feel that we are not free. Indeed, Europeans are at least slightly amused by the strident declaration of freedom. It feels like Americans think that no one can be free unless they live in America, the Land of the Free; and that is probably why we are tempted to think that you need to get out more.

Why for example, if Americans feel free, do they live in fear of their neighbors? Why do you arm yourselves to the teeth to go to the store? I know not everyone does this, but many do and they are usually the same ones who bang on the loudest about freedoms. Is it that a sizable section of society here simply wants the freedom to be scared of each other? Scared of brown people, black people? Scared of teh gay. So distrustful of their own identity that they worry about who other people marry?

Then there is the big one ... Terrorism! Except it isn't, is it? Terrorism might be a significant problem, dramatic and horrific when it rears it's head, but is it so large an issue that you will willingly abandon all of your freedoms, so that you may live free?

It might be worth stopping for just a moment, and asking yourselves why America is such a target. Are the terrorists jealous of the freedoms here, or might they simply be fed up of American (and British, we don't get a pass here) imperialism? I mean, if we quit interfering with, and invading their countries they might be a bit less inclined to fly aircraft into our tall buildings.

As horrific as losing the Twin Towers and all those lives was, and it was both horrific and shocking, was the Department of Homeland Security, and the Patriot Act, worth it? Were the deaths of 4500 US Servicemen and countless Iraqis worth it? Have we abandoned the rule of law to such an extent that those who lied, and are complicit in all of the American deaths, can still appear on Sunday Talk Shows? Was the wholesale abandonment of two hundred years of carefully guarded freedom worth the cost, because a guy in a cave was pissed? Especially when that guy was originally on America's side, and armed by the United States. At least on our side to the extent that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

We travel around the world exploiting other countries, and other peoples usually at the behest of American corporations, then when they get angry and hit back, we surrender our freedoms to the same corporations that started the trouble. Seems reasonable!

In the current debate on the activities of the NSA, raging both in this country and around the world, it is tempting to take sides. I have seen liberal against progressive on this issue, and I can hear the "other side" laughing. Whistle blower or traitor, neither label matters a damn. The individuals concerned are simply a distraction being used by the entrenched power to stifle debate. They are a tool that is being used to divide us and distract from the issues. While it might be the case that the government believes this massive intrusion on an unprecedented scale is necessary to protect us, my question would be "Protect us from what?"

It can't be to protect us from three thousand deaths on a very occasional basis, because the government shows very little appetite for protecting the people from most other unnecessary deaths and injuries. The number of people killed by terrorists is tiny, miniscule, and while each death is a trauma for a family, there are other causes that kill vastly more people, and no shiny new government department or data-mining program aimed at preventing those losses.

My nasty suspicious mind is tempted to wonder if, rather than trying to protect us, what they are actually about is trying to profit from us while maintaining a level of control that prevents a serious challenge to power.

It is not necessary, when seeking to enslave a population, that the people be shackled by the chains of totalitarianism. It is not required that a secret police resembling the Stasi, or KGB be created. It is only necessary that you scare the population to such an extent that they build their own prisons, in their minds. Chain the consciousness, make our attitudes become the ties that bind. Ensure that the people are so afraid of each other that they have neither the time nor the emotional capacity to question why they have to live this way.

It may be a Gated Community, but look at the swimming pool and the 50" TV in the den ...

Freedom .. You bet!


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Comment Preferences

  •  There are going to be those (32+ / 0-)

    who take great exception to this. I knew that when I wrote it so feel free to have your say.

    It is difficult for me, because I am not American, and am there to be criticized for daring to criticize.

    Yet I am committed to my new home. It is my permanent home. I am not a tourist and I have no intention of living anywhere else (Well I might not always live in Oklahoma ... sorry Sooners).

    So I am as interested as the next guy in finding a way for America to actually live the way it pretends it lives.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:06:28 AM PDT

  •  --Because Our System Is Our Greatest Threat. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kenwards, Dragon5616, a2nite, twigg, kbman

    The one that can govern the economy and promote the general welfare that is, and states don't have rights.

    That's why at every passing cloud we need to suspend rights, cut red tape and privatize. Sure the terrorists can take down a building or two, but only Constitutional government can threaten to tame an entire industry.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:05:05 AM PDT

  •  I'm making the leap that (3+ / 0-)

    these people were from OK.

    "I have been told, many times and often by people who should know better, that I do not understand the American psyche".

  •  As an American born in America (5+ / 0-)

    I thank you for this post. It needs to be said. We need to have people asking us these questions over and over again to jolt us out of whatever state of mass mind we have slipped into.
    What good is defeating an enemy if you turn into him to beat him?
    Why do we give into fear so easily and throw freedom overboard as the first instinctive reaction to each attack large or small?
    Saw something in the paper on Sunday (giving away my age - i still receive and read newspapers!) that it was the anniversary of the suicide bombings in London in the subways that killed over 50 people. I don't recall Britain turning itself inside out as a society in response. I have this fear that a majority of Americans would gladly surrender to the 'freedom' of a police state in response to another major act of terror. And spend itself into oblivion in the process.
    And some on this site would argue we already have.

    Blue is blue and must be that. But yellow is none the worse for it - Edith Sidebottom

    by kenwards on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:19:34 AM PDT

  •  Good job. (5+ / 0-)

    It IS all about fear, and keeping people fearful. A huge example, a non-governmental one, is the nightly news, both local and national. What leads the reports? Shootings, fatal accidents, robberies -- and especially if there's video. I've quit watching - quit a long time ago, in fact, because it really affected my state of mind.

    Of course, there's enough presented here to ratchet up the fear levels, too, so sometimes I take a break from dkos, or limit my involvement to pootie and food diaries, guaranteed to sooth a rattled psyche. ;)

    More seriously, I do thank you for your diary. I agree with your perceptions.

    Being the single intellectual in a village of 1,100 souls ain't much fun, especially when 1,099 of those don't think you're all that smart.--Lucy Marsden

    by Miniaussiefan on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:25:09 AM PDT

  •  I don't really think there is an American psyche. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Not sure how far you've traveled within the country, but this country is really too big and has too many competing cultures to be considered one.

    (Frankly, I wish they'd break it up into 5-7 countries, but that's for another comment thread.)

    •  5-7 countries (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yoduuuh do or do not, twigg

      I'm solidly with you on that one!  Into countries which are more culturally and geographically homogeneous, and too little to bully any else.  I have always felt that Lincoln was badly mistaken, and that he did us a disservice by preventing the collapse of the union.  Of course, that could have entailed other problems, like nasty regional rivalries, but it is an experiment which I wish we could make.  People who live in small countries are lucky, as I told a Croatian friend a month ago in Croatia, a small, peaceful, happy country, on the whole.  I envy them!

  •  It is based on the knowledge that those in fear (3+ / 0-)

    are operating their decision making processes through the amygdala thus making them less likely to challenge the information given.

    Flight or fight responses do not have the time to process information for decision making. Thus our psychological/chemical makeup is being manipulated as to enact what a rational person would object to.

  •  I tend to think all this fear (6+ / 0-)

    began with the suspension of the fairness doctrine and the subsequent evolution of right-wing media.  Fear--and selling fear--drives market share.  As Limbaugh ruled the airwaves and corporations gobbled up tv/radio/newspaper, news departments became profit centers, and fear sells.

    Fear is also contagious.  It began with the whole "your child might be kidnapped if you fail to watch him/her every second of every day" news stories, which encouraged people to silo themselves and hover anxiously over the families.  Neighbors became potential threats.  It feeds itself.

    "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

    by DrLori on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:50:59 AM PDT

    •  I had a conversation about this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Susan from 29

      just last weekend.

      We were talking about the freedom to roam we had as kids, and how that has largely disappeared.

      I made the point that the only danger I can see that has increased, is from traffic.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:13:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I came here from Canada in 1996 (6+ / 0-)

    never intending to stay. I married and American and am now divorced. Even though the differences between the two are often very very subtle and I went to the trouble of getting citizenship, I have actually decided that if I can sell my house and find a job I am out of here and heading back North. I am sure that much of this comes form being a liberal/prog in the BB but I just cannot deal any more. I am not even sure Canada is much better given the government in place but I basically feel very pessimistic about the state of things here with no indications things are going to even swing to the center. I am tired of nutty Christians thinking they are persecuted, the endless assault on women's reproductive rights, the continued march to eliminate individual rights while expanding corporate rights, faux fear about terrorism, the transformation of workers back into serfdom, and there has been very little in the way of legislation that convinces me otherwise. There are also very few collective outlets for individual Americans to push back given the decrease in unionization and lack of organizing alternatives.

  •  We have been too safe for too long (4+ / 0-)

    I disagree that there is any overarching plan by "them" to control "us". Those seeking profit will find and provide what is profitable, and to that extent "we" control "them"

    What is very different for the US, compared to Europe or many other countries, is that we have been very safe from many threats for a long time.  Neither World War really threatened our collective safety. We have not had the kinds of threats experienced in many other countries since then. For those who have seen and lived through the worst there is a more nuanced sense of the balances between safety and freedom. Here we expect much more safety from threats of all kinds, not only terrorism but other things as well, from crime to accident and injury; and will do whatever it takes to approach 100% safety and security.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:04:56 AM PDT

    •  This: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, twigg
      Here we expect much more safety from threats of all kinds, not only terrorism but other things as well, from crime to accident and injury; and will do whatever it takes to approach 100% safety and security.
      Except what we should do -- disarm.

      "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

      by Dragon5616 on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:19:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well said, thanks nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:52:31 AM PDT

  •  Well (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think Occam's razor is useful here. Why do politicians go to extreme lengths to try to prevent terrorist attacks? Because they are afraid of getting kicked out of office if they don't. The anger over the Patriot act, surveillance, etc. is lesser than the potential political repercussions if more serious attacks were to occur. What do politicians care about? Getting re-elected, or if they are termed out, having their legacy protected and other similar minded politicians in office. We see this same kind of thing in the capitol in CA. Particularly the Repubs honestly because talk radio is very powerful and they will get primaried with a not-small chance of loss if they do something even slightly less than nutty.

    Iraq is another issue and I don't think that was about the above, I think that was more of a thing they had been wanting to do anyway and just used 9/11 as a pretext.

  •  Nasty suspicious mind, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, Susan from 29, northsylvania

    or commonplace newspaper fact.

    My nasty suspicious mind is tempted to wonder if, rather than trying to protect us, what they are actually about is trying to profit from us while maintaining a level of control that prevents a serious challenge to power.


    Last year, however, two USA Today journalists were targeted in an online propaganda campaign after they revealed that the Pentagon’s top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan owed millions of dollars in back taxes.

    Washington Post

    Sometimes it's hard to tell them apart.
  •  A nation neither loves, lives nor fears. (0+ / 0-)

    However, that you have accepted this figment of the imagination as a stand-in for all of the people resident in the United States (it is a discourtesy to all the other people living in the Americas to reserve "American" for them) is telling. Albeit a figment of the imagination and, therefore, immaterial, "nation" is an impersonal term and discounts the individual, and not because, as is the case with the First Nations, the individual's identity is coterminous with the clan or tribe. As employed in phrases like "national interest" and "national security" the word "nation" has a material import, delineated by boundaries and borders, which are also figments of the imagination but can be located on the ground. Human beings are nowhere to be seen. Human rights are nowhere mentioned. The "inalienable rights" with which the people are supposedly endowed by a Creator are in a throw-away line. Indeed, contemporary ideologues argue that those rights are scheduled to be realized on judgement day. In the mean time, the Constitution having been agreed to once and for all (as affirmed by the Civil War), the order of the day is to be subservient to the rule of law, an impersonal tyrant whose head can't be offed.
    People may not understand that, but their encounters with public officials make them feel it and it makes them afraid. People are afraid and rightly so. Hundreds of people being released from death row after being wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn't do is not reassuring. Dispensable black youth being shot in cold blood is not reassuring. "There, but for the grace of God go I" is not much consolation. Germans could tell you all about what happens when the initial targets run out.
    Enslaved people want to be free. "Freedom" a word which describes a condition of change carries with it the implication of being previously unfree. People want what they don't have.
    Do people strapped in their cars realize that they are riding around in cages with wheels?  Do they notice the signs along the highway which remind them that, if they get out of the cage and start walking, they are likely to get arrested? Do they know there are vagrancy laws on the books?
    Cars are being outfitted with all the comforts of home, which is also a cage and which is why being homeless is a crime.
    Does anybody care that 40,000 people a year are being killed in or by these cages on wheels? Their orphans do. Which may account for why fewer youth are learning to drive and aren't buying cars at the rate they used to.
    The state with the highest rate of vehicular deaths per hundred thousand people is Wyoming. And more than a third of those involve people being drunk before they hit the road.
    Do the people of Wyoming have a death wish?
    Live Free or Die is the New Hampshire moto.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:19:41 AM PDT

    •  Actually, I haven't (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Susan from 29
      However, that you have accepted this figment of the imagination as a stand-in for all of the people resident in the United States (it is a discourtesy to all the other people living in the Americas to reserve "American" for them) is telling.
      I haven't accepted this at all.

      I would never brand ALL Americans with a label, nor take the view that they share the same ideas or opinions.

      However, take a look around. It is happening, and sufficient numbers are either okay with it, or ignorant enough that it is allowed to happen.

      The Politics of fear is a game played here to an extent unprecedented in other industrialised nations, and it is ironic in the one country that most talks about freedom!

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:29:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, aside from the fact that instinct-driven (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        twigg, Susan from 29

        people don't get irony........
        It is not uncommon for abused people to love their abusers and argue to themselves that if they just try harder to please, the abuse will stop. It doesn't; there has to be an intervention.
        Don't blame the victim.

        We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

        by hannah on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:45:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well that is called (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Susan from 29

          "The Stockholm Syndrome", and its application in this respect is not innappropriate.

          I don't blame the victim, I merely pointed out that it is happening.

          There is a difficulty when making remarks on a site like this, and that is simply that the people least affected are the ones most likely to read this.

          I often make that point ... That observations like this might well be read by those who are as frustrated as me, rather than those who are the victims, and are ignorant of their status.

          I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
          but I fear we will remain Democrats.

          Who is twigg?

          by twigg on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:41:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The Republicans have bred 2 generations of.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    fucking pussies and cowards, afraid of their own shadows.

    Fear-mongering as a political tactic for 30+ years has had an impact on the psyche of America, and it's a bad one.

    But that WAS the point, to turn us into a nation of simpering cowards, afraid of our own shadows, and they are here to keep us safe.... only they DON'T and the real goal was to rob us all blind in the process.

    The United States military is capable of annihilating any actual enemy. Notice that, other than Gulf War I, despite Cheney's best efforts the US has not fought an ACTUAL WAR since Korea. Republicans, they don't give a shit about keeping us safe, only about stealing our money. Keeping "the enemy" on the prowl is a tool of control to manipulate people, they are TRAITORS all.

    Actual war means bringing total obliteration to the enemy in every way to crush their will to fight.

    IF there is an enemy out there, SO POWERFUL that we need to give up our privacy to "stay safe".... then instead...


    Or let me do it, and get the fuck out of the way, either way I don't give a shit.

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