Is anyone else struck by the irony that Homeland Security so often erodes First Amendment rights? Homeland Security has become obsessed about listening to personal phone calls and seizing people’s cell phones and laptops when they travel. Ironically, there is no security for the victims of gunmen who shoot up college campuses and city council meetings.
At 48 years old, I can remember attending high school and college without any fear that someone would walk in and begin blasting away. The recent stories on the news, starting with last year’s Virginia Tech shooting, followed by a local killing rampage at a Kirkwood City Council meeting (5 dead, 2 critically injured, one of whom was the city’s mayor), and yesterday’s deaths on the DeKalb campus of Northern Illinois University, has me wondering what has changed? Is it my level of awareness or is it a change in the basic behavior and beliefs of Americans?
Initially outraged by the extremely cavalier treatment of US citizens with Muslim backgrounds who attempt to travel out of the United States, I now find myself feeling deeply saddened and frustrated that innocent folks are uselessly harassed while others, intent on venting their rage, are so easily able to take many lives in a few short minutes. Is there a connection here? I think there is.
For eight years now we’ve lived in an atmosphere of fear, created by and fed by an embedded media that supports a President and a government that speaks of terrorism and “The Enemy” as something out there, waiting to get us all.
Whatever we might think about the media’s ability to affect how we think and behave, I personally believe it is impossible to escape its effect altogether. Even if we refuse to turn on the TV or the radio, there is the Internet. And even if we do not indulge in surfing the Internet, our neighbors, friends and family members are certainly not on a low- or no-media diet. The atmosphere of fear pervades the very air we breathe.
Unfortunately, there is no respite and there are no sure-fire solutions offered by the government or the media. Homeland Security? It’s not effective. It’s a “war” we cannot win. Just as computer viruses and system break-ins continue to be engineered by those with the fever to destroy, terrorists bent on passing through security lines will think of new and creative ways to detonate their bombs and kill people.
The result is that we feel completely out of control. Guess what? It’s true. We are. Despite increased security (That woman’s a Muslim! Take her cell phone!), shooting rampages continue, children continue to be raped and kidnapped, and the fear builds.
We can run but we can’t hide from fear. We can keep our children indoors and we can give them cell phones with instructions to call us from wherever they go, but we still can’t quell the fear. Fear has the capacity to build on itself and, without a means to face it, we become driven by it. The Fearful people themselves become dangerous. People who are basically motivated by fear can become so angry and frustrated that they act out. They sometimes kill.
Underneath the religious fervor that drives zealots to kill themselves and others, and under the rage and desire for revenge that drives young men to kill classmates and fellow students, what ultimately makes some folks “go postal” is fear itself. Fear that we don’t have control. Fear that we won’t get what we want. Fear that we’ll die without receiving the love, power, and recognition that are basic human needs. And fear that if we don’t take action first, someone or something will do us in.
Children know this urge well. The video games to which children are so addicted always involve someone or something being killed, violently. The point of these games is to kill “The Enemy” before he, she or It, kills you. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. Sound familiar? It’s our good ol’ survival instinct, that deeply rooted chakra-driven urge to survive in spite of all those forces of evil that are out to get us. Children are more immediately driven by this survival instinct because they are young and vulnerable. What should make adults truly adult is a deeper and more mature quality: Acceptance. I’m referring to an Acceptance of what cannot be changed (that includes everything outside of us) and an Acceptance of our basic humanity, our fears, our needs, our desires and our aversions.
What could truly serve us in this environment of ubiquitous fear-mongering is to grow up. We need to learn to face Fear. We need to look at it head-on, study it and know it for what it is.
What we can actually change is ourselves. To always fear the Enemy, the Evildoer who is outside, is to refuse to accept an intrinsic fact of humanity: we all have the capacity for violence. We can all become resentful, envious, angry or enraged. We must learn to accept these inconvenient facts and learn appropriate responses to these feelings. After all, thoughts and feelings are impermanent.
The human survival instinct is not a good or a bad thing. It serves a purpose. If your car goes into a skid, the quickened pulse and the speedy turn of the wheel, keeps us alive. If we are to truly live, however, we must find ways to live fully, without being driven primarily by fear. We must change what we can. We must change ourselves.