Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
Somewhere between the earth and the stars, that mischievous fairy, Puck, must still be laughing at us. For as ridiculous as the buffoons in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” may seem to us, they are not half as gullible as the majority of the American public.
For make no mistake, the tricksters and the mountebanks are having a field day at our expense, and like the dazed sheep we are, we refuse to acknowledge it.
I am not talking about the con artists who are pocketing money being donated to help Haiti’s earthquake survivors. Most people know about them, and are taking steps to avoid being ripped off. I’m talking about the politicians, those trusted people we elect to protect our interests, and the rapacious interests they really represent.
Those crafty fear mongers, for example.
Ira Chernus, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, provides a revealing analysis of the fear industry in his blog at TomDispatch.com. It would be funny if it weren’t so depressing.
Here’s an excerpt:
Keep in mind that fear, wherever directed, is a remarkably profitable emotion to exploit. Just think of those controversial full-body-scan machines (photo at right) now being installed in airports at a cost of up to $170,000 each. One promoter of them is former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who now heads the Chertoff Group, which represents one of the leading manufacturers of whole-body-imaging machines, Rapiscan Systems. He’s part of a growing “full-body-scanner lobby” of ex-Washington politicos just made for our moment.
Every jolt of terror, in other words, is a jolt of profit for some company or set of companies. After a while, those jolts of fear become repetitive adrenaline rushes for a whole set of interests which, in the American system, soon hire lobbyists, corner senators and congressional representatives, retain law and publicity firms, and live well as long as people remain terrified.
If these last years tell us anything, it’s that money follows fear. By 2006, for instance, the Department of Homeland Security, that second Defense Department, a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy created from the terror of terror, already had a mini-homeland-security-industrial complex growing up around it; and that, in turn, was part of a global security business aimed at “thwarting terrorists” then worth an estimated $59 billion. (If we had news media worth their salt and DHS was a real beat, we would undoubtedly have more recent, far more striking figures for this.)
At the comical (but also profitable) end of this spectrum of fear were all those places like Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, and the Mule Day Parade that were put into the DHS’s National Asset Database as “potential terror targets,” opening up the possibility that they might receive DHS money to protect them. “The database,” reported the New York Times, “is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year.” Consider just the Weeki Wachee mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs in Hernando, Florida. In 2005, the St. Petersburg Times reported that the Weeki Wachee staff was “teaming up with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office to ‘harden the target'” – as they attempted to access DHS anti-terrorism funds “allocated to the Tampa Bay region.” (“‘I can’t imagine (Osama) bin Laden trying to blow up the mermaids,’ [marketing and promotion manager John] Athanason said. ‘But with terrorists, who knows what they’re thinking. I don’t want to think like a terrorist, but what if the terrorists try to poison the water at Weeki Wachee Springs?'”)
All of this might be dismissed as a joke, if American life weren’t filled with phantasmagoric terrors that are also money machines. Everywhere that fear rules, from the U.S. to Israel, there are people exploiting and making money off it – and it’s in the nature of the beast for them to want the gift-that-never-stops-giving to go on forever.
Reading Chernus’s blog, I wondered who the most dangerous terrorists are – the Islamic extremists with makeshift bombs in their shoes and underwear? Or the crafty fear mongers who exploit the “war on terror” to bleed the nation’s treasury? By promoting fear and draining the country’s resources, don’t the homegrown con artists do exactly what the foreign enemies want?
Without blowing up any more planes or crashing into any more buildings, the extremists are bringing a great nation to its knees. America’s resources are being squandered on random military adventures and panic-driven defensive measures, with very little to show for the enormous expenditures involved.
If our leaders don’t wake up and realize what’s going on, western civilization will spend itself into oblivion. And the chances of change are slim as long as so many powerful special interests stand to make so much money out of the current culture of fear.