Source: Petrified Forest | Lapham’s Quarterly
How does it happen that American society at the moment stands on constant terror alert? In no country anywhere in the history of the world has the majority of a population lived in circumstances as benign and well-lighted as those currently at home and at large within the borders of the United States of America. And yet, despite the bulk of reassuring evidence, a divided but democratically inclined body politic finds itself herded into the unifying lockdown imposed by the networked sum of its fears—sexual and racial, cultural, social, and economic, nuanced and naked, founded and unfounded.
Real fear invites action, the decision to flee or fight dependent upon “our feeling of power over the outer world”; expectant fear induces states of paralysis, interprets every coincidence as evil omen, prophesizes the most terrible of possibilities, ascribes “a dreadful meaning to all uncertainty.”
Like the war on drugs, the war on terror is unwinnable because it is waged against an unknown enemy and an abstract noun. But while a work in progress, it is a war that returns a handsome profit to the manufacturers of cruise missiles and a reassuring increase of dictatorial power for a stupefied plutocracy that associates the phrase national security not with the health and well-being of the American people but with the protection of their private wealth and privilege. Unable to erect a secure perimeter around the life and landscape of a free society, the government departments of public safety solve the technical problem by seeing to it that society becomes less free.