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The causes of terror

On Tuesday this week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that he had a “gut feeling” that the U.S. is in danger of another terrorist attack soon. Not practical evidence. Not “intelligence.” A “gut feeling.” That’s America. We trust our gut; we only need “intelligence” when we have to prove something; and if we don’t have the “intelligence” we need, we fabricate it or go back to our gut feelings. The one thing that has helped the Bush administration most is September 11.

I’m not blaming Bush for Al Qaeda’s terrorism; I’m just pointing out that the terrorism had the side-effect of bolstering Bush and his cronies. Their “approval ratings” soared. They began to profit from fear, to feed fear. Fear caused the other branches of government to cave in and give them permission to do all kinds of things no administration in U.S. history had ever been allowed to do before. So they continue to say that the US is in danger; they continue to breed fear. It is their primary “platform,” their raison d’etre. The day after Chertoff’s statement, a steam pipe ruptured in New York City, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of people panicked. Not because they were afraid of a ruptured steam pipe, but because they were afraid. The first person to die had a heart attack; she died from fear alone. Look at this report from the New York Times:

“The explosion on Wednesday propelled a giant scalding jet of brownish steam toward the sky, sending commuters who had been heading home stampeding to safety.

One person died, officials said, and more than 30 were hurt, two of them critically….

The blast, near 41st Street and Lexington Avenue, raised fears of terrorism, but officials were quick to dismiss that possibility.” That, and the story, pictures, and videos associated with it, are here.

I’m glad officials were quick to dismiss that possibility, although they weren’t quick enough to forestall feelings of terror. Those feelings were immediate and unpreventable, because there has been a campaign of fear-breeding and fear-feeding since 9/11 that has brainwashed us all. It is important to feed the fear, and then to appear to be the very bulwark protecting a fearful people from evil. It is important to convince the nation that there is a terrible threat. The barbarians are coming! And our leaders are doing such a wonderful job of protecting the country that they are holding back the barbarian hordes.

Homeland Security is working because there are not terrorist attacks, or the terrorist attacks are being foiled, and Homeland Security needs to keep working (and keep being fed enormous infusions of tax dollars) because we have gut feelings that the barbarians are coming. It’s the old one-two from vaudeville. Only it isn’t funny.

I feel really furious about the terror that spread through people in that moment. Other reports said that many New Yorkers ran right out of their shoes. People were screaming, racing down stairwells, twisting their ankles, sobbing, falling on each other. Not because of a steam pipe that ruptured, but because of what was in their minds. On a scale of global disaster, this was mild. But thousands of people were terrorized in New York, and hundreds of thousands of us all over the country felt a hot, sharp, violent hit of fear. Those heartbeats, cold sweats, the rush of adrenalin, the flight mechanism that kicked in: all those symptoms of fear change our chemistry, bring us a little closer to death. Very little happened, really; it wasn’t an earthquake like the one in Japan or a horrible airplane crash like the one in Sao Paolo. But terror is terror. There’s no measuring it. It is its own absolute. It’s my opinion that Chertoff and his bosses are feeding a climate of fear that contributed powerfully to making people terrified by that explosion. I just want to say that.

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