Sunday, July 13, 2008

Boogeymen

In far more dangerous times than ours, parents taught their children myths and fairy tales about the dangers of the outside world. Cultures created monster stories, creatures that would eat the children if they were not good. Sometimes the dangers were real, but the monsters created by the community were intended to be even more frightening to make children obey the rules. Fairy tales were filled with such dangers, not simply as entertainment, but as a teaching mechanism.

Do we need these kinds of monsters today in our community and even personal lives? Do such monsters help us or hinder us? Do political leaders create them to keep citizens in line? Do they enhance the dangers of real concerns to get and keep power for themselves? Doesn't fear always take away the power of the one who is afraid?

Since I was a child, in the United States, there has always been a monster, an enemy, someone to fear, someone who is the boogeyman in the night, someone all people are taught to fear, the bad guy who will destroy us if we don't do something. All politicians (and their helpers in the media) are willing to tell us what that something is.

I am not saying there are not real enemies. I saw the headlines about Iran testing missiles capable of reaching Israel (we all know Israel already had them capable of reaching Iran). Maybe Iran wants the world as an enemy; and it's why they do such things, but what about us? What are we getting out of it?

Iraq was built up as being such a monster, one capable of somehow harming even countries thousands of miles away. Hussein was a danger to his own people, to the weaker surrounding countries, but the monster our government created bore little resemblance to his actual power.

I read this morning that someday when Iran has nuclear weapons, they will sell them to terrorists and it will be Obama (or his ilk) that can be blamed when an American city is suitcase nuked. So let me get this straight. We should worry about Iran having nuclear power but it's okay in Pakistan? Already having it makes it okay and we don't need to worry what they might do with it? We will talk to the bad guys who have it already but not the ones who might get it?

Pakistan is who we believe sold nuclear secrets to North Korea and who knows where else. Pakistan had the scientist who did all of this, was charged, found guilty, and then pardoned by the government... huh?! Pakistan is who has been hiding bin Laden. Pakistan is where there is a powder keg politically that threatens toppling the existing government at any point, but Pakistan is on our friend list. This gets a bit confusing.

Those who seek power benefit from monsters, and they have an ample supply in the world from which to choose. Terrorists are definitely to be concerned about, but the fear that the Bush administration and now McCain are attempting to use to take away American liberties, to torture possibly innocent people, to keep power, that form of political terrorism has been working even without further violent acts by radical Jihadists. Their work of spreading terror is being done for them by the politicians.

What if we as citizens (in every country) keep our eye on the ball, focus on the things that we feel will give our citizens a better life, that will help the world where we can, and we do not allow fear to dictate our choices? What if we have firm opinions on what the country should do and we don't allow any terrorist attack or fear talk to sway us?

What if we don't let fear control us in our personal lives either? What if we are as brave as our ancestors, the ones who pioneered, who stepped out into wildernesses, and we take on enemies when they come, not let ourselves be controlled by the fear of something that isn't yet there? Terrorism is bad but are people staying off freeways because so many are killed each year on them? What makes terrorism more to be feared than getting in an automobile for a Sunday drive (other than the gas price)?

It is reasonable to take protective measures, but we don't need to feel terror to do that (at least not until in the midst of a real attack where often the terror serves a purpose of increasing adrenaline and giving us the power to react). What if we, as a people, worked to recognize real dangers (not magnify them); then deal with them responsibly, not in an emotional panic-- most of all that we didn't let ourselves be manipulated into giving up our own power.

What if... or is all of that a fairy tale as much as the boogeyman?

6 comments:

robin andrea said...

Such an interesting and thought-provoking post, rain. I have no answers, only a link to an article I read this morning. I think The Parable of the Tribes presents a way of looking at our social evolution, that may explain the rise of the boogeymen.

Parapluie said...

Both essays - "Boogeymen" and "The Parable of the Tribes" support a cosmic view close to mine. Thank you robin for the link. A quote that really says what I have been thinking is " Though we must see history as a drama inwhich main actors are powerful and agressive, we should not slip into seeing them as villains, for it is not the actors who set the stage or who govern the thrust of the plot.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

The enemy or the opposite of good is an archetype cross-culturally. It comes to us from the collective unconscious, or at least that's how I believe.

But, I do believe that sometimes fear is instilled in us by our governments, religions and hallowed institutions to keep us in line.

You always take on these "hard" topics that I have a tendency to run away from, but I'm glad that you do because I learn from you.

Darlene said...

Great post, Rain. I firmly believe that it is so easy to control the masses with fear that it has been done to one degree or another by all bad administrations.

Certainly, Hitler had this perfected and used it to take a docile public to a misbegotten war. Does that sound familiar?

Parapluie said...

Fear of the outsider and the desire to identify with your inside group is instinctive. Fear of the outsider is easily set in motion by weak leaders. We also have the capacity to be objective and reason. To learn and progress and change is a human ability that true strong leaders can inspire.

Rain said...

Interesting comments from everyone. My feeling has been that there are real dangers in the world, genuine enemies, and the problem cultures have is discerning when something is a risk and when it's just different.

The irony is that when monsters are used this way, the culture itself can become the danger to the individuals within. Selfishly if for no other reason, we should work to make sure we're dealing with real dangers and not being manipulated. Recognizing real dangers and taking proactive steps to deal with them is part of safe living.

One of the magazines put on its cover an illustration of Obama and his wife that has had a lot of people (including the Obama campaign) in a tizzy. She is portrayed as a guerrilla warrior and he as a Muslim. The magazine might say it's done for satire but I have been reading right wing sites today and they say yeah, this is what those two are. People are ready to believe that anything different is dangerous.

The use of monster stories is not inherent to modern cultures. Tribal societies have them also using masks and elaborate plays to illustrate the stories for entertainment but also warnings.

There are real dangers in the world. The problem of the far left has often been not wanting to see the world as it is but rather as they wish it would be. But getting afraid and allowing ourselves to be manipulated into doing things that are against our own best interest and even unethical (torture for instance), is how governments and religious leaders (and those aren't inherent to modern culture either)keep power.