National Insecurity: an opinion by S. Mehrotra.
Few, if anyone now alive, can fail to recall the shocking news of September 2001, when an extraordinary act of air-piracy destroyed over a thousand innocent lives, for reasons unknown to the public. For the past 19 years, this horrifying surprise has dominated much of American national policy.
However grave the crime, the response, and the influence of the crime itself, have been out of all reasonable proportion. Our emotional state, resultant of this misdeed, has extended itself into all venues of interpersonal communication, and in its outward aspect, resembles nothing short of sheer paranoia.
In the public sphere, this reaction has taken the form of a rapid proliferation of so-called ‘Security Agencies’ (National Security, Transportation Security, and, on college grounds, Campus Security), with a proportionate increase in the authority, and impunity of police-departments, which co-operate, whether intentionally or not, to keep the public virtually prisoner, and under constant surveillance, on the dubious pretext of ‘safety’ from nameless, eidolon enemies. In the private sphere, concurrently, this reaction takes the form of a state of perpetual panic; whereby, any citizen becomes frightened, indignant, and quarrelsome at the slightest provocation. As a result, the American public resembles nothing so much, as a child told to beware of strangers, and naiively inclined by this warning, to think of every and all people so identified, as possessed of an overwhelming desire to inflict some unimaginable terror upon the child itself.
This antisocial behavior, is complicated by a premise already ridiculed by popular writers, and yet believed by the aforesaid public without reservation.
In Stanley Kubrick’s famous film, Dr. Strangelove, the villain ‘General Ripper’ announces:
“The enemy may come individually, or he may come in strength. He may even come in the uniform of our own troops. But however he comes, we must stop him. We must not allow him to gain entrance to this base. Now, I’m going to give you THREE SIMPLE rules: First, trust NO one, whatever his uniform or rank, unless he is known to you personally; Second, anyone or anything that approaches within 200 yards of the perimeter is to be FIRED UPON; Third, if in doubt, shoot first then ask questions afterward. I would sooner accept a few casualties through accidents rather losing the entire base and its personnel through carelessness. Any variation of these rules must come from me personally”.
Such is, in general, the de facto policy of the United States in times of war; even, as in the present case, in a war without valid military, or even political objectives, and prolonged solely by our own side.
In the same film, the character of ‘Ambassador Sadesky’ says, speaking of an automated nuclear-detonation system:
“It is designed to explode if any attempt is made to untrigger it”;
and this, too, is a characteristic of the public hysteria, wherein every sociable gesture, every overture of friendship, and (especially) every compliment, is taken as an insult, or even a threat; apparently on no grounds whatsoever, except the flimsy complaint, That it was not solicited by the receiver.
In principle, of course, this latter condition is unenforceable, insofar as it is not feasible to control the actions of every person one encounters, nor even (for most people) to anticipate their wishes and solicit the overture. There is a substantive difference in degree, if not in kind, between greetings offered in passing, and preliminaries to an assault; but at present, this distinction appears forgotten by most people. To those who fit the foregoing description, any approach is an intrusion, and any obligation to stand and listen to those who approach, is too much.
As presently extant, this state of affairs is uncomfortable at best, irrational at worst, and in all degrees intolerable. No rational examination, unless biassed by the very post-traumatic phobia, on which this entire social edifice is built, could possibly justify the inspection, and detention of elderly passengers, nursing mothers, and innocent children at airports and stations; the recourse to law, for protection against even harmless, conventional remarks; and the summons of police and security upon the slightest pretext. Yet these have become common phenomena, until it is not unusual to see men, women, and children arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and killed, simply because some neighbor objected to one of these, abstractly gazing into space, and accidentally glancing upon the neighbor. Powerless to protect the truly innocent from robbery, assault, murder, and even slavery and prostitution, the agencies of ‘Security’, so called, are swift to answer any call on the grounds of ‘feeling uncomfortable’, and unrepentantly ruthless.
It is obvious upon the face of things, that this condition of society is untenable, even if solely insofar as it amounts to little more than a reign of terror, and accordingly supplies the grounds for an increasing number of tortures, imprisonments, and deaths, of otherwise innocent citizens. Therefore, it falls to us, to re-acclimate ourselves to a few simple truths:
1. There are no terrorists, or anarchists, or voluntary murder-suicides lurking around every corner.
2. Not everyone we meet, and indeed hardly anyone the average person meets in a lifetime, is out to get us; and those who do mean harm, may be told apart from those who do not, with only a little practice.
3. Most approaches, greetings, compliments, and overtures of friendship, have no long-term purpose; and when they have, this purpose is usually conducive to the happiness of both parties. The best course of action, is both to give and receive such gestures. True security is had not by the discovery and destruction of enemies, but by the cultivation of friends.
It is perhaps over-optimistic to hope, the malignant growth of institutionalized ‘Security’ may be easily arrested by the daily application of these three premisses to public life. Yet in whatever degree the difference is made, a difference is indeed nevertheless made, and contributes to the net effect in the world, of whatever processes it entails. At any rate, such a custom, once familiar to our forebears, may at least make the lives of its participants a little more comfortable. At most, it may be the making of a generation of beautiful friendships.