Monday, September 27, 2010

Fear Factor & the personification of everything

Activists and organizers wonder why their fellow citizens sit home in front of inane television shows instead of hitting the streets to demand the government stop pouring tax revenues into the pockets of war profiteers.

Many say it's apathy. Others think it's greed ("I've got mine, screw the rest of you.") If I ask someone I have enough rapport with to pose such a question, I usually get an answer along the lines of: I am following my bliss and it's so much more fun to (garden, make quilts, spend time with my grandchildren, go to concerts -- fill in the blank).

But I don't believe them. I think they're actually afraid.

When the FBI comes to kick down doors in the dawn's early light, they don't want that door to be theirs.

This is a reasonable fear, and one which must be faced in order to be politically active.

Whistleblower Bradley Manning is still in solitary confinement while his fellow citizens turn away from the video called "Collateral Murder" and go about their business. 

I once worked with a nice woman, grandmother to one of my students, an ed tech without much education herself who had been a reading tutor for years under Title I funding programs. She admired a letter to the editor I'd had published about the shrub's plan to privatize social security. Her mother had raised her and her siblings on social security payments after their father died.

When I suggested that people needed to hear her story, and that she write a letter to the editor herself, she was visibly frightened. "Oh no, I don't think Dr. ______ would appreciate that!" she said with alarm, referring to the superintendent who was our common boss. So much for the 1st amendment, a lofty set of rights you study in school but don't dare exercise. (And don't think about building a mosque to exercise your right to worship as you see fit either.)

But people know something is wrong when their kids can't find jobs despite expensive educations and the concomittant student loan debts. They know their neighbor who defaulted on a mortgage and faced foreclosure wasn't lazy. Everybody knows somebody without health insurance because they can't afford the high premiums.

So what do people do? Many channel their concern into the charade of electoral politics. It's officially sanctioned activism, and probably won't result in the FBI confiscating your computer, cell phone and digital camera.

The issue of which celebrity spokesperson for the interests of the ruling class will be elevated to a bully pulpit doesn't affect much. But it conveniently creates even more fear.

When you vote out the guy everybody loved to hate and replace him with an articulate person of color with a glamorous wife and darling children, what do you get? The same rep for the Pentagon stays on board as Secretary of "Defense" and successive war supplemental funding bills keep pouring more dollars down the same rat hole. The annual military funding bill gets bigger, too. But you, the voter, now hold what you believe is a "Get-out-of-racism-free" card that they will have to pry from your cold, dead hands to get it away from you.

Fear the former vice presidential candidate for the G.O.P.! Fear her ignorance and her even more agressively stupid doppelgangers! Spend time on the internet sending insulting jokes about her to your friends. Then go shopping.

Some say the cult of celebrity is a modern phenomenon, fueled by mass communications, focus group research, and elocution coaching.

But Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar is believed to have been written in 1599. It opens with a scene where two patricians query commoners about why they are idling in festive garb. Turns out they the people are waiting for Caesar's parade to pass by so they can cheer for him. Weren't you standing here last time to cheer Pompey? Don't you know Caesar killed Pompey, you bunch of blockheads? say the patricians before shooing them away.

Later at the funeral oration the playwright has some more fun with this. When Brutus speaks, the rabble calls out their admiration. Then it's Mark Antony's turn, he trashes Brutus, and suddenly the mob is all for crowning him.

So this tendency is nothing new.

And pouring energy into electing a talking head isn't activism.

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