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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

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“So this is how liberty dies

…with thunderous applause”

I’m a sci-fi enthusiast. I love The Time Machine, the many volumes of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series, and more. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Star Trek (TV and film), and Star Wars.  When my kids were young, I ran Star Trek role-playing games at my synagogue. We had the toys, the costumes, the books, the video tapes, and then the DVDs. I gave religious talks based on sci-fi themes. I was a serious enthusiast. The scene in Star Wars- Revenge of the Sith, where Padme observes “this is how liberty dies…” is to my mind a critical political observation.

So I’m trying to understand why I’m not in a hurry to see The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars movie. It’s not because I’m getting old. It’s not because I’m afraid that Disney ruined the franchise, or that the Jedi have turned into Bambi. I trust the Director, J.J. Abrams. He makes good films. Nor am I concerned that The Force Awakens will only have a short run in theaters.

The reviews are great. My children and grandchildren loved it. The merchandising is ubiquitous. But I don’t care.

This is how liberty dies

In Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian sci-fi novel Brave New World, the public is distracted from important issues by non-stop drugs and sex. In 1958, Huxley revisited Brave New World, examining contemporary western culture and finding that his dystopia had been realized. He concluded, to his dismay, that

what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies — 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… 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.

How liberty dies- Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

The Force Awakens is a distraction of the most fascinating nature. A new threat arises, thirty years after the fall of the evil Galactic Empire. We had a terrestrial equivalent to the Galactic Empire, and its end was sealed thirty years ago, with the appointment of the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev as leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The USSR was a utopian nightmare, whose goal was to spread its own brand of socialism across the entire world. Gorbachev dismantled its brutal system of central control, freeing the economy and allowing the people, and ultimately its subject nations the freedom to make their own decisions. Socialist oppression is for most of the world a bitter memory, its tens of millions of victims long buried. The few holdout states such as Cuba, North Korea, China and Vietnam are more concerned with nationalist issues than global ideological conquest.

We don’t have a new threat. We have the resurgence of a very old one. But it is just as dangerous as the unrealized Communist hegemony, and oh so much more depraved. While the Communist leaders had the ability to start World War III, they knew enough to back off, when actually facing it. Destruction of the planet was not an acceptable outcome.

How liberty dies Caliph of the Islamic State

The Caliph of the Islamic State

Islamic militants look forward to the apocalypse, the end of the world, to usher in an Islamic utopia. From Indonesia to England they have attacked tourists, schoolchildren, concert-goers, shoppers, transit users— anybody at the target location. There is no concern of avoiding collateral damage, when the intent is to wreak terror in a population you want to subdue.

Darth-Vader_6bda9114

The Caliph’s moral superior

Except in Israel, most western citizens will not be personally touched by terror. After all, there is a statistically higher chance of choking to death. Governments and media pundits respond to terror attacks by saying that terrorists don’t represent Muslims; I believe them. American political leaders claim that the Islamic State, ISIS, is not Islamic , and so there’s no need to worry about Islam’s growing reach, about increasing the Muslim population in the Europe and North America.

The leader of ISIS, its Caliph, has a PhD in Islamic Studies, and probably knows more than President Obama about what is and what isn’t “Islamic.” Nonetheless, many Americans, Canadians and Europeans will accept Obama’s assurances that ISIS is contained.  There’s nothing to worry about, even as the number and scale of terrorist attacks escalates. People can pay attention to their foes on the football field, or  the big screen. But this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause. The unreal, the irrelevant distracts people from the actual threats in their neighborhoods, in their cities, countries, on their planet. They pay attention to the menace in a galaxy far, far away.

How liberty dies Yazidi children

Yazidi children on the ground

So I don’t care about the new Star Wars movie, at least not enough to rush out to see it. There is more important, more gripping drama taking place in my own galaxy, on my own planet; it deserves my attention. And it’s not something where I am a passive viewer, unable to affect the outcome. I can write letters to the editor, I can express myself on Facebook. I can donate to organizations such as CYCI— The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq. I can support the politicians who recognize the seriousness of the threat, and have a strategy to deal with it. With Star Wars- The Force Awakens, all I can do is decide how much money to spend on tickets and merchandise.

This is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause and deafening ignorance.