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Theater of Fear

They did not foresee…  the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant

Aldous Huxley

We all like good Theater.  Something terrible happens to an innocent victim (or victims), the good guys scurry around trying to find out how and why the tragedy occurred, use all their resources to make sure the evildoers get punished, and it doesn’t happen again.  The audience comes away feeling that despite mishaps, the world is on the right trajectory, a safe place to be.

Take the theatrical aftermath of the recent bike path terror attack in New York City.  Or the van driving down a pedestrian mall in Barcelona.  Or the bomb outside the Ariana Grande concert in England.  Or any of the countless attacks in recent years, some resulting in some minor injuries, other killing dozens.

Closing the barn doors

In the Theater of Fear, a regular script is followed.  First, thoughts and prayers to the victims.  Then outrage, saying that the victims’ city/nation/civilization won’t be intimidated. Then the investigations, where government and police vow to get to the bottom of things.  The authorities take some action to make sure the same attack can’t be replicated.  Like closing the barn doors after the cows have died.

 In “Brave New World” non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation.

Aldous Huxley

Soon there’s a football game, or a celebrity does something scandalous and everything is under control (or at least forgotten) till the next act of the Theater of Fear.  Hopefully it will take place far away.  And the whole cycle is repeated.

What do the thoughts and prayers accomplish? They comfort the spectators, those not touched by the tragedy.  The outrage?  It masks people’s feeling of vulnerability.  Investigation?  It gives the population a sense that the terrorists are being dealt with.

Given enough time and resources, the investigators will be able to determine whether the terrorist yelling a fourteen hundred year battle cry was acting on behalf of some religious ideology.  They will probably decide that he was acting on his own, not part of some nefarious plot to take over the world.

re-defining liberty

It’s all Theater of fear, a diversion.  It doesn’t matter whether a terrorist is part of a tightly controlled organization, or acting on his own.  Sowing havoc doesn’t require great coordination, complex weapons or financing.  We know what the terrorists’ motives are.  We know what population they come from.  We know how to stop them.

But that requires abandoning the theatrics, the grand pronouncements of prayer, outrage and inquiry.  It means doing what we already know has to be done, even though it goes against the grain of what our advanced society is supposed to stand for.  The alternative is to succumb to the forces of evil, that have placed this drama, this horror upon us.  The Theater of Fear is for real.

Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time… somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those would manipulate and control it.

Aldous Huxley