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Monday, June 07, 2004

The Wages of Fear 

William Greider, writing in The Nation, argues that "'War on terror' is useful for the President, but irrational for the nation":
Nearly three years later, the enormity of Bush's summons to open-ended "war" is more obvious. It overwhelmed the country, in fact deranged society's normal processes and purposes with a brilliantly seductive political message: Terror pre-empts everything else.

What this President effectively accomplished was to restart the cold war, albeit under a new rubric. The justifying facts are different and smaller, but the ideological dynamics are remarkably similar--a total commitment of the nation's energies to confront a vast, unseen and malignant adversary. Fanatical Muslims replaced Soviet Communists and, like the reds, these enemies could be anywhere, including in our midst (they may not even be Muslims, but kindred agents who likewise "hate" us and oppose our values). Like the cold war's, the logic of this new organizing framework can be awesomely compelling to the popular imagination because it runs on fear--the public's expanding fear of potential dangers. The political commodity of fear has no practical limits. The government has the ability to manufacture more . . . .

My advice for Americans is also an urgent warning: Get a grip, before it is too late. Take a hard look at your own fears, reconsider the probabilities of danger in the larger context of life's many risks and obstacles. The trauma of 9/11 stimulated infinite possibilities for worry--some quite plausible, but most inspired by remote what-if fantasies. A society bingeing on fear makes itself vulnerable to far more profound forms of destruction than terror attacks. The "terrorism war," like a nostalgic echo of the cold war, is using these popular fears to advance a different agenda--the re-engineering of American life through permanent mobilization. The transformation is well under way. The consequences, if left unchallenged, will be very difficult to reverse.

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