In response to an article by Noam Chomsky on the high levels of fear and paranoia in the United States.
Most people who visit the US are struck by the fear/aggression in the society and in individuals, both hidden to some degree by an affability but scratch the surface and there they are.
Anyone who spends a long time in the US, or who lives there as a foreigner, with any sort of self-awareness cannot but be struck by the paranoia and fear in the culture which you just don’t find in other developed nations. You don’t even find it in undeveloped nations. Aggression is usually a response to fear and so the tendency of Americans to aggression, and often completely unnecessary aggression, both at individual, social and national levels reflects this underlying fear.
One could perhaps argue that ‘leaving home too young’ and ‘cutting the apron strings’ with Mother England, founded a naive, adolescent culture which, because fate handed it wealth and power too soon and too easily, never really ‘grew up.’
On this theme, I did ponder the American propensity to ‘size’ when it came to food and drink, portions, cups, plates of dimensions you just don’t see anywhere else. Why does a cupcake need to be enormous? Why does a drink need to be in a bucket? Why are portions on a plate big enough for two and sometimes three normal people? Why such infatuations with sweet food and drinks, fast-food (junkfood) and for things to be bigger, faster, sweeter than they ever need to be?
From a psychological perspective all of it ‘creates’ the sort of ‘world’ in which a twelve-year old lives or wants to live.
Another ‘adolescent’ factor is the pervasive culture of bullying in American schools, a theme repeated ad nauseam in American movies and always running the same sorts of scripts which clearly kids of all ages face not just throughout school but also in university (college), that of the one who is different: smaller, fatter, uglier, poorer, blacker, smarter, dumber – different, and who is persecuted and ridiculed and yet who, through some gift, talent, skill, fate, luck, good fortune etc., succeeds and gains power etc. The troubling thing is that when they gain power they usually take revenge in some way. Revenge being expected in the culture of fear and aggression and its power dynamic.
Little wonder that so many of the young people who take a gun and slaughter teachers, fellow students, unknown students and school staff, as often as not have been the one who was different and who was mocked, ostracised and rejected. Not everyone gets a ‘movie ending’ and that means the only way one can gain power is with a gun! It is all tragically predictable.
There have been some interesting books written by Americans on this pervasive culture of aggression and rejection in US schools, present in ways and degrees just not found in other developed nations; plain old-fashioned cruelty actually, and its outcomes but most Americans would never have read them. Then again, with semi-literacy rates so high and wages so poor how could they have that opportunity? This is where ignorance is bliss but potentially deadly bliss.
And this intolerance is also sourced in fear, as is the aggression it breeds.
There is a naivete to many Americans. Of course there are exceptions and some brilliant thinkers and writers, but they are not the norm. The centuries have in fact brought greater insularity and ignorance along with more wealth and power so that even the segment of the American population which could be self-aware and insightful has diminished. The fact that the US has the worst public education system in the developed world plays a part and with the highest levels of semi-literacy in the developed world you combine poor educational skills with ignorance born in religion and insularity and a lack of knowledge of the outside world: 80% of Americans do not possess a passport.
Because of this most Americans do not know they have the poorest quality of life in the developed world – on average and that their nation offers them the worst working conditions; social welfare; education; infrastructure and social cohesion of any developed nation.
Beyond the historical cultural inheritance there are a number of factors which would breed fear:
. a country with a ridiculously armed citizenry, awash with weapons with the highest rate of gun deaths and massacres in the world where the most dangerous places are schools and shopping centres. Why would you not fear for yourself, your children and those you love?
. a country with no universal health care where illness can lead to bankruptcy and the loss of your home. Some 68% of bankruptcies in the US are because of illness and medical costs. Why would you not live in terror of falling ill?
. a country with an ineffective and inadequate social welfare safety net where, if you fall, as people in the Third World do, you fall in the gutter. The lack of the sort of social welfare safety nets that other developed nations have is sourced in the peculiar 19th century belief still held by Americans, that poverty is self-inflicted. That combines with a deluded paranoia that social welfare equals socialism which equals communism and communism still terrifies Americans despite the fact the Soviet Union fell in a heap many years ago and China is now a capitalistic society, albeit, not a democracy. Why would you not fear falling into the gutter?
. a country where universal quality education does not exist. If you are poor and live in a poorer area you get poorer education which makes any sort of progress difficult and a fear of the future natural. Why would you not fear you will be trapped in poverty?
. a country where a university education can be such an economic burden, unless you are wealthy, that it cripples you for life. Why would you not fear what debt might bring?
. a country where worker rights are so poor, and virtually no union representation to help you, where you can be sacked without recourse and future job opportunities limited. Why would you not fear losing your job?
. a country where the rich rule and worker conditions are disgraceful because of it. The lowest minimum wage in the developed world; least holidays, sick leave and forget about paternal and maternal leave and compassionate leave and all of the other considerations which people get in the rest of the developed world as a right. Why would you not fear for your job and your future?
. a country with the most corrupt political system in the developed world where the lobbying system purchases political power, including the presidency, and the rich get paid off for their donations with tax breaks which would be illegal in any other developed nation. Why would you not fear government?
. a country where millions of illegals are allowed to work threatening the working poor. compared to the rest of the developed world the US has massively high levels of poor and working poor and a very small middle class. Some 49% of Americans live beneath the poverty level. Why would you not fear poverty?
. a country where the race issue has never been really resolved, but simmers underneath and fuels some of the resistance to adequate social welfare because most blacks are poor. And people tend not to live in mixed suburbs in the way that they do in many other nations and so again, ignorance fuels fear. Why would you not fear the unknown?
. a country with the worst media in the developed world and one of the worst in the world where news is hard to find, let alone real information, and what is presented as news is ‘infotainment’ of a sensationalist, fear-inspiring, divisive, finger-pointing, bigoted, narrow-minded kind. Anyone who watches American news would live in fear and become paranoid.
. in addition, fear is always greater in the face of the unknown. Americans have been brought up to believe that life in the US is as good as it gets – that they have it the best. How true this may ever have been is irrelevant because it is certainly not true today and has not been for a long time, but, if all you know is the US, and, as an ordinary citizen you experience how poor the quality of life is and yet you believe this is as good as it gets and you have no way of correcting that erroneous belief, life must seem even more threatening. Why would you not fear if what you have fails on so many counts and you believe that outside it is worse?
Beyond the practical sources of fear one could ponder the part that religion plays, and a smoting, smiting, angry, vengeful, fear-driven, hating kind of religion which is evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. Why would you not fear eternal damnation and all those deemed other?
Is fear a part of the karmic inheritance of the US; its astrological makeup; something in the energy of the earth; a cultural psychological wound where the genocide against the indigenous people has never been addressed or healed and the guilt inherent in that, albeit unconscious, permeates the society……..
Who can say? But the reality is that even on the most basic and practical of levels Americans have far more to fear than citizens of other developed nations and one suspects that the fear/rage/paranoia are often projected out onto ‘less threatening’ things like zombies and aliens and fuels the Prepper Movement which gives people the illusion that they are in control of their lives and in the doing, diminishes their fear.
What one can say is that this level of fear and paranoia is so great it has the potential to de-stabilise the country in dangerous ways. Many Americans fear those outside – first the English, then the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, pick an enemy, but the reality is the true enemy is within. In a country with such high levels of fear and paranoia, combined with ignorance and insularity and more than 300million guns, many of them military assault weapons, the potential for civil war is far greater than any other threat. Perhaps the Preppers are more right than we know.