April 20, 2013
This has been a sad and frightening week for the United States. On Monday, April 15, a “terrorist attack” at the Boston Marathon left 3 people dead and 174 injured, when two bombs detonated near the finish line of the annual race.
On Wednesday, April 17, a fire and explosions at fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, killed 14 (in the latest account I’ve read,) injured around 200, with one or two still missing and destroyed 200 homes in a city of about 2,600 people.
As terrible as the deaths and injuries were in both of these events, what made them particularly unsettling for me was the way in which the two incidents were categorized, treated by the government and covered by the media.
The Marathon bombings were immediately designated a terrorist attack (whether foreign or domestic) by the government. And the government – federal, state and local – threw the full force of the trillion dollar security apparatus of that government – federal, state, and (increasingly militarized) local – into pursuit of those terrorists. The media covered the attack endlessly that day and over the following four days as an attack against America, complete with pictures of the smiling eight-year-old who died and the ashen-faced, bloody man in the wheelchair, with his legs blown off. And we were just as endlessly subjected to the, “We are Americans, our spirit will not be dimmed, the people of _____ are strong and we will stand together in the face of this tragedy” propaganda from the media and our leaders that has become so commonplace as to be virtually meaningless in nearly every tragedy since 9/11. Then, last night when the manhunt ended in the death of one of the alleged terrorists and the apprehension of the second, the scene – carried in excruciating detail on television – ended with people cheering and waving flags in the street. America was once again safe from terrorism.
I do not mean to make light of the genuine relief those people must have felt. But contrast all this with the way the press and, frankly, the government handled the equally tragic incident in West, Texas. And, the difference in the responses of the people involved in that tragedy.
Yes, there was some (comparatively) momentary coverage of the fire and explosion that followed. Yes, there were speculations that this, too, might have been a terrorist act. I’m sure the security apparatus checked out that possibility, too. And, there were the usual interviews of harried local police, firefighters, and frightened citizens on TV and internet news sites. Yes, the President assured the people of West, the government would stand behind them in this tragedy. Yet nowhere was it treated as anything more than a local tragedy. Nowhere did I see gruesome pictures of the dead or injured for days on end. The coverage I saw amounted to a quick bulletin on one or two of the national news stations and perhaps 30 seconds of coverage on the nightly news over the next couple of days, a flurry or articles in national papers, followed up by a few internet articles. Certainly we saw no patriotic scenes of the people of West, Texas waving flags and cheering the local police and firefighters after they triumphantly killed or captured any careless company owners who might have cut corners with safety regulations to save a few dollars.
And it is this difference in treatment of these two incidents – and all those like them, since 9/11 – that worries me and raises such niggling, persistent questions.
Back in 2011, for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Reason Magazine ran an article entitled, How Scared of Terrorism Should You Be? http://reason.com/archives/2011/09/06/how-scared-of-terrorism-should Their conclusion? Not very.
Among other facts and figures the article pointed out in trying to answer that question, it stated:“Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller and Mark Stewart, an engineering professor at University of Newcastle in Australia recently estimated that the U.S. has spent $1 trillion on anti-terrorism security measures since 2001 (this figure does not include the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Assuming that 2,300 Americans might have been killed by terrorists inside the United States, this implies a cost of more that $400 million dollars per life saved. Typically when evaluating the costs of protective regulations, federal government agencies set the value of a life at about $9 million.
“However, terrorism is especially frightening (that’s why they call it “terrorism”), so the average citizen might want to spend double the usual amount to prevent a death. But [this] still suggests that on a reasonable benefit-cost basis public and private spending is 20 times too much to prevent deaths from terrorist attacks. Now let’s retrospectively add the tragic 3,000 deaths from the 9/11 attacks to take into account the remote possibility that terrorists might be able to pull off another similarly spectacular assault; that still means that nearly $200 million is being spent per plausible life saved.”
Federal OSHA statistics show that, every year thirteen workers per day (4,609 in 2011 alone) die in work related accidents, with 4 million injured per year. While many of these are due to simple worker carelessness, many are due to deliberate decisions by company owners or corporate boards to save costs by cutting corners on worker safety.
Yet even in the most egregious cases, you do not see the full force of the government security apparatus come down on company owners or CEOs. The media does not speculate endlessly on the danger they pose for America. The FBI and other agencies do not flash their pictures across the televisions of the nation as dangerous criminals, or post them around the world for identification on social media, or send them to Interpol for evaluation. Swat teams or heavily armed police units do not hunt them down like rats in a barrel. Nor does the media cover them for days on end as threats to the very heart of the nation, their demise to be celebrated with patriotic jingoism and flag waving.
Why not? Both types of events are the result of people making deliberate choices that lead to (often massive) injury, death and destruction. Certainly, both lead to grief, uncertainty and, yes, terror in those who have gone through such an event. So why do we treat both the events and the perpetrators so differently?
Why do both the government and the media continuously encourage us to fear the terrorist and the next potential terrorist attack, but basically encourage us to “suck it up” and get on with our lives when similarly massive damage is caused by greed and corporate carelessness? Is one any less of an attack on “America” than the other? Perhaps not, but while the latter are certainly an enemy of the people, only the first have been declared an enemy of the State. It’s a distinction worth noting.
There’s a lot of speculation across the internet when one of these events occur – whether it’s a terrorist attack, a mass shooting or an industrial “accident” – as to whether it is actually a false flag attack, designed to promote fear and make people more dependent on the government for security. Well, the government has certainly proved itself capable of such actions – both here and abroad – through the years. And whether you believe 9/11 was a covert operation by our own government, or an act of accidental or deliberate “ignorance” by government officials, you cannot deny that it and other terrorist events have been used by the government – abetted by a compliant media – to keep Americans fearful and dependent on the huge security apparatus that has been put in place since then.
Which again raises the question, Why? Why do they need us to be fearful and afraid?
Personally, I think it has to do with the nature of State – especially Imperial States – as they begin to fail and enter collapse. Such States begin to lose the confidence of the people within them. It is the faith of the people in their government that supports a State. And even in the best of times, governments are not above lying and manipulating that faith to get support for the things it feels are necessary for it to do in its own best interests, by convincing the people that it’s in their own best interests as well.
However, as the State fails and the people lose confidence that the State is acting in their best interest and not its own, fear becomes an equitable substitute for confidence. For a long time, fear of the other will do the trick. Fear of the other can rally the people behind their government and distract them from the slow erosion of rights and the rapid development and maintenance of a security apparatus necessary to protect itself, as we’ve seen repeatedly since 9/11. As we’ve been encouraged to see in this latest “terrorist” episode.
Eventually, as the State moves deeper into collapse and even fear of the other is not enough to maintain control, fear of the other is replaced by fear of each other as the people, themselves, become the enemy. We are on the cusp of this right now.
Look at the turn of events over just the last five days. We were told a terrorist attack had occurred. The government and the media told us that five pressure cooker bombs had been set up in Boston, but that the police had found three and disarmed them. Two others exploded at the Marathon site. The media showed us a constant stream of horrific images; local, state and federal government officials assured us that, whoever did this would be brought to justice. The full force of the security system kicked into operation. All the rights we’d given up came into play. Security camera images, phone records, emails, private pictures and videos from the scene were requested or confiscated.
For two days we were urged, by the media, to speculate whether it was a known other like Al qaida or some sinister domestic other on a government watchlist that had done the dreadful deed.
A couple of days later, two young men – designated “white cap” and “black cap” were presented as suspects. Both carried big backpacks; one was seen in security footage setting his backpack down and leaving, shortly before the second bomb went off. Their images flashed around the world on social media as we were asked to be participants in identifying them and bringing them to justice. For a while, it looked like they could be any two American kids – not others, but each others.
At last, they were identified. Two young Chechnyan men, living and going to school here for the last eleven years; their parents, Chechnyan refugees. Not any of the known others, but somewhere in between an other and each other.And finally, over the next twenty-four hours, Boston and its suburbs went into virtual lockdown as these not-quite-others and not-quite-each-others were hunted down by the security apparatus. One dead; one barely alive.
Did we get the right people? I don’t know. Right now, it’s difficult for me to understand how two young men could carry five pressure cooker bombs in two backpacks past security, police and bomb-sniffing dogs and distribute them around the area without arousing someone’s suspicions, somewhere. But perhaps that, too, will be explained.
As I said, we are on the cusp, right now, between the other as enemy and each other as enemy. When the Occupy movement first began to gain momentum, they were harassed by local police and city and state authorities in almost every city where they protested, called terrorists by various national legislators and denigrated daily in the press and on television. These were our own children – exercising their first amendment rights, angry at what greed and hubris had done to millions of people across the country – designated as “others” by the government. We had blurred the line between others and each other, as to who might be an enemy of the State.
The next step down in the collapse of the Empire draws ever closer. Over the last ten years, we have been carefully schooled to see every other as a potential terrorist. Over the next ten years, we may be just as carefully schooled to see each other in that same frightening light. As in other dying empires of history, at some point in this collapsing Empire’s struggle to save itself, we may all run the risk of being asked to turn on each other. Will our faces be flashed across the social media so that our neighbors can help the government by identifying us? Will our neighbors cheer and wave flags while one of us is taken away as an Enemy of the State?