In his book Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Derrick Jensen hypothesizes that average citizens in western society are suffering from a collective, complex post traumatic stress syndrome. Complex PTSD is caused by extreme and/or ongoing trauma that makes an individual lose all sense of meaning and control in their lives. Victims are “rendered helpless by overwhelming force (1).” Symptoms of the malaise include a persistent disconnected feeling, and victims may experience a constant hyper-alert, state of anxiety.
Jensen attributes our collective PTSD to the violence upon which our entire culture is based (please see previous post The War on…Fill in the Blank). From the time of the nation’s founding, when the continent’s First People were brutally extirpated from their land, the United States has waged wars of global conquest to fuel its incessant need for economic growth. In the everyday life, people are subjected to violence of both obvious and insidious origins.
From birth, the life of the average American is bombarded by a violent assault on the senses. Thrust out of the secure, quiet and dark sanctuary of the womb, the infant is at once assaulted with bright lights, air conditioning and the alarms, voices and mechanics of a busy hospital. When the baby goes home, he will most likely be exposed to a constant drone from a television screen programming him to know a world where his country is engaged in a perpetual state of violence. Violence against other nations, violence against the environment, violence between people and economic violence against developing countries are the American baseline.
The typical American day to day lifestyle is punctuated by a permanent state of anxiety and fear. In most families, both parents must work to earn enough to have a reasonable quality of life. Infants and small children are left at daycare or with a poorly-paid home helper. The modern work place is surrounded with uncertainty. Job security is virtually unknown in the modern world. Without a job, and the wages the job brings, an individual has no access to food, shelter, medical care and the basic necessities of life. Even with a job, the above necessities are often hard to come by. Nothing is secure. Will I lose my house? Will I get sick and lose my house? Will I still have a job tomorrow? As the job market becomes more and more unstable, the conservative movement is simultaneously, steadily eroding the safety nets of unemployment insurance, welfare, social security and Medicaid. Record numbers of Americans are falling into poverty.
We have real things to fear. Humanity is performing a dangerous experiment with Earth’s atmosphere. Monsanto, Dupont, Dow, Sargenta and Bayer chemical manufacturers are inventing genetic mutants of corn and soy, introducing them into our environment and offering them to unsuspecting citizens as food. We have polluted our air and water to the extent that an entire class of organisms, amphibians, may become extinct within the next few decades. This list could unfortunately go on for a while.
Then there is the fear proselytized by those who would seek to profit from a population made irrational by fear. Our president is a Muslim foreigner who wants to become the totalitarian dictator of a communist state. Heath care reform is a socialist conspiracy to bump off geriatrics. Homosexuals are trying to recruit our children into their ranks and have a conspiracy to do so by marrying each other. President Obama wants to redistribute wealth by taking money from hard working Americans and using it to subsidize lazy black people who don’t want to work (I’ve heard this one personally here in the lovely bigoted hills of North Carolina). Higher education is a satanic conspiracy to secularize society. The end times are upon us. Arm yourselves and be very, very scared.
When people are anxious and scared, they are motivated by fight or flight mechanisms. Like a hungry dog growling over a bowl of food, the adrenaline-pumped response is every man for himself. And this fear-motivated, individualist response has become the mantra of our society. Anxiety-driven responses are also immediate, knee-jerk reactions that usually do not take into account future consequences. The never-ending war in Afghanistan is case in point. As we become a fear-driven, reactionary society, we are ignoring the bigger issues that really do need our attention.
What if, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody feared financial insecurity? Sweden and Denmark have eliminated poverty from within their borders, why can’t we? What if every man, woman and child knew that all of their healthcare needs would be taken care of, and that retirement and old age would be free from financial worry? What if every hard working child was guaranteed a college education that would not put him in debt for the rest of his life? What if the United States became the leader rather than the detractor for solving global climate change?
Right now, the above social security measures do not happen in the United States because people are scared and manipulated. We are frightened about an escalating national debt and believe we can’t afford social programs. We could tax the wealthy, but are threatened by propaganda suggesting this would result in more job loss. We could save trillions by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then what about the terrorists that want to kill us? We could take great strides towards solving global climate change, but we can’t afford it and/or etc., etc. For every great solution to all our problems, fear gets in the way.
The entities that benefit from keeping Americans scared and paralyzed are few, the industrial military complex, corporate oil, multinational corporations and the banking industry to name a few. For the most part, the beneficiaries are not even real people, and the irrational fears they provoke are largely fabricated. We can eliminate American poverty and create real universal healthcare and pay for these programs by asking those who benefit the most in society to pay something back in the form of taxes. Many countries in the world have wonderful social programs and (unlike the United States) thriving economies. We can end the wars without any increased threat of terrorism. In fact, ending the wars would probably reduce the threat. We can be a positive example in the world regarding global climate change, creating jobs and stimulating the economy in the process.
A United States motivated by fear is a dangerous scourge upon the planet and a detriment to her people. Only in the absence of fear, can this nation become the leader in justice and democracy the nationalist diatribe claims it to be.
1- Quote is cited in Endgame (Kindle Edition Location 843) and is attributed to Judith Herman.