12 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 13)

(cont'd from previous posts)

It's important to be wary of imputing motives to others' actions: I know I, for one, despise it when some angry person—say, a drunk in a bar or a belligerent neighbor or a frustrated boss or an aggressive lawyer who knows he's losing his case or a political opponent or just about anyone with a borderline personality disorder—starts telling me what I'm thinking and why I did something and what I meant by whatever words I might have said.

It is not my intention here to do that, to project my own insecurities onto others, or to score political points against the previous administration. I'm trying to forge some sort of understanding of myself and, in effect, all of us, trying to operate at human baseline.

If—and I stress the hypothetical here—it is safe to say that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld (and especially Cheney) are heirs to what Richard Hostadter termed the "paranoid style" and that not only did they vicariously feel the terror (being, as predators, ever-sensitive to that weakness in others as well as under the civic duty of their offices) that we all felt on Sept. 11, 2001, but also, if they are at all human, that they experienced deep shame at their own failure to do what they loudly claimed their political enemies, the Democrats, were incapable of—to wit, keep us safe from terror—, that would seem to vindicate my own point that these negative emotions I've been examining demand careful handling—and especially so at the political level.

In response to these internal stimuli, compounded in effect by their access to true power (political and military), they instigated what I consider to be the greatest PR effort of recent memory: to wit that President Bush made us safe from terror. They sold us a war on fraudulent premises. But, more importantly for my purposes here, by pre-emptively "tak(-ing) Saddam out" they effectively managed to conceal their own shame and complicity (negligence).

[Aside: There is an argument to be made that their warring ways were strategically motivated. And I am not immune to that argument. That is to say, preserving U.S. might and world domination as the sole-surviving super power requires us occasionally to throw our weight around. To smack down some petty tyrant—i.e., Saddam Hussein—who threatens to disrupt our supply lines of a crucial resource—i.e., oil. To put the pincers on a troublesome thorn in our imperial paw since at least the time of President Carter's administration—i.e., Iran—by occupying countries on both its flanks and asserting controls over its access to key sea lanes. But that's another exercise, another theme blog series.]

But there's a flip side of that coin. I started off by acknowledging the healthiness of a certain kind and amount of fear: it demands you exercise caution out of a sense of self-preservation. Once this sort of fear is conquered, however—by, say, asserting that there is something more important and valuable than the individual self—then a different set of problems comes into play.

Individualism is an important Western Protestant Christian value. It is a cornerstone of the American way of life. Its concomitant, selfishness, is at the heart of many, if not most, of our economic and political policies. Understanding this is key to understanding America. We, as a rule, do not give up our allegiance to ourselves without a struggle. And we look suspiciously on those who do.

[There are exceptions, of course. These have to do, often, with our military and sports teams—though, even in those endeavors we reserve great affection for the heroes and stars who rise above their role in the unit or team and lead them to victory. Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, particularly the first half, is instructive w/r/t the debasement and thus conquering of the self in the name of the greater unit good. Shame, because it so volatile, can be used as a profound motivator/manipulator.]

On 9/11/2001, there were four airplane 'pilots' (along with their co-conspirators), who, unlike me, willingly somehow and at some point overcame their own fears of falling from the sky and flew their planes (three of them did, anyway) into solid objects on the ground, obliterating themselves in the process. In this, I concede, they were far braver than I who couldn't bear to jump from a slow-flying plane with a professional skydiver and a parachute strapped to my back. What could motivate a person to take such a radical step? It's baffling to me.

I am comfortable enough with my own fears to know that I could never do such a thing. My own fear of heights is deeply rooted in my love of life, my sense of self-preservation. Did those pilots (I'll restrict my question to the pilots, because it's not at all clear that their accomplices knew precisely what was going to happen once they took over the planes) have no fear? Of course, they had fear; they're human beings. We all do.

But what allowed them to overcome it and so willingly sacrifice their own lives and futures? Were they somehow coerced or extorted or blackmailed? Was it ideological, as Bush/Cheney asserted? Did they hate us and our life-style (or at least some caricature version of it) so much they were willing to give up their own lives to inflict damage on certain symbols of our civilization? Did they believe they were at war with us? We with them? Did they believe that everything we did was specifically directed against them and what they prized (what Hostadter called the "paranoid style")? Did they not love their own lives? Were they insane? Did they do it out of a sense of religious or spiritual calling? Did they feel shame at their own lives and existence and somehow believe that America was a potent symbol of the root causes of that shame?

I am not sure there are certain answers to these questions, but I believe these are the right sorts of questions. And we have some clues that can, at least, give us some insight into what may have motivated these 'terrorists'.

(to be continued)

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