The Fear Follicle

Last night I watched the Giants baseball team play for thirteen innings until they finally lost. By the twelfth inning the air was filled with flying pigeons, the ground fairly covered with their feathers. It was night time, flight time, and time to eat the leftover hot dogs and garlic fries that littered the stands. Tom Lehrer would have chuckled: were we poisoning the pigeons in the Park, as he so memorably sang?(1)

The American dream is a pigeon whose feathers are being plucked, one by one. Does anyone notice, or are we too busy with boy toys and electronic marvels to care? The dissonance, however, is beginning to spread, and not only here. It has infected Brazil, Syria, Egypt, Turkey. There are simply too many people in their winter of discontent, thank you Shakespeare. Eric Schmidt of course would disagree. He of Google fame and immense fortune appears to think that the technocrats must rule the world, at least according to his book "The New Digital Age". One reviewer notes of the book: "How narrow-minded do you have to be that you could look at war-torn Baghdad and only think that it would be a great place to introduce Android phones?" What Schmidt and other wanna-be titans fail to understand, as George Washington succinctly put it, is the old Scottish saying, "Many mickles make a muckle", ie, grievances can pile up.(2)

The elite of all ages have been driven to rule, to prove that their way is the only way. The technocrats with their fantasies of empire-building are kith and kin to Napoleon and Alexander the was-he-really-Great? Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1991, looked at it slightly differently: "It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it".

I call it the Fear Follicle, for we seem to be just a hair's breadth away from living in constant fear. Who is listening to us? Watching us? Data mining us? Taking pictures of us? The Sword of Damocles hangs fragile above us, and we barely notice. Dionysius tried to teach that "those who rule by fear can potentially die by fear, and that they are therefore best advised to seek means other than fear through which to govern" (quoted by John Keane in "Fear and Democracy".)

We seem to be at war with ourselves and with each other. Is it really another 9/11 that we are afraid of, or is something else going on? Do you realize that you could easily be a murderer, as could I? If someone threatened your children wouldn't you murder to protect them? Of course you would, and so would I. In that sense there is no "them" and no "us". We are peas of the same pod, capable of being the worst of us.

We are also capable of being the best of us.

Which will we choose? How long will choices still be available? Are we capable of making them, before others make them for us?

c. Corinne Whitaker 2013

(1)You can read the full lyrics by the inimitable Tom Lehrer here.

(2) "Washington: A Life", Ron Chernow, Penguin Books, London, 2011, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and available as a eBook.