July 09, 2005

Living up to Expectations

One topic I've found endlessly fascinating is how expectations so often lead to people behaving in particular ways. As I wrote in my post about Ken Livingstone's speech, he thanked the Londoners for the calm way they reacted to the horrible attacks and I said that it was precisely because he called out the mature and rational side of them, that they lived up to his words. But there is more than just Ken Livingstone who calls on that aspect of the Londoners.

Listening to the BBC news tonight, I heard another commentator talking about how Londoners have faced awful attacks before and they have always reacted in a courageous and thoughtful manner to these attacks. And, yes, since the great Blitz, the British have been told that they react with courage and rationality when faced with harrowing attacks. After all of these messages, I would be surprised to see the British let hysteria and panic rule their reactions. Some could act that way, but the picture the British have of themselves is they are brave survivors and they will make it through difficult times.

Compare that with the story we Americans are told about ourselves. Since 9/11, Americans have been told that we are right to be traumatized. Starting very soon after 9/11, there were stories about how many Americans, even those far, far away from New York or Washington DC, were experiencing the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. This was followed very soon by the frenzy of fear that gripped the nation (especially the east coast) when the anthrax attacks cleared the Senators' offices and closed down the postal centers. And who could forget the advice of the government for Americans to stock up on plastic and duct tape so we could build our own shelters in the event of a chemical or biological attack? Or the idea that we should create a nation of spies to report on the suspicious behavior of our neighbors? Or the number of times the government raised terrorist alerts that told Americans that we should be afraid - very, very afraid?

Once people are ruled by their fear, it is not too hard to get them to agree that torture is justified, because, of course, we must force the terrorists to divulge their information. Afterall, the rules that govern ordinary times are obsolete and "quaint".

Like Pavlov's dogs, Americans have been primed to be not just frightened, but also paranoid, and impulsively ready to strike out. Because as our government and our media told us again and again, the attack on American soil was had been so horrific that it was right for Americans to take the war to Iraq because Saddam was a frightening man and he would get us if we didn't stop him first.

I remember being shocked at how gullible, how fearful and how vengeful the so-called "liberal press" was during the run up to the Iraq war. When Bill Keller wrote his "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-A-Hawk Club" oped on 02/08/2003, I wrote to ask him what was in the water in New York that made him and other so-called rational people so gullible to the fearmongering and frenzy and obvious lies being put out by the Bush administration. (To see what I mean about something in the water, read Slate's Timothy Noah's piece where he jumps on the bandwagon for war because, you know, if you threaten someone and don't follow through, then you are a wuss and will never have any credibility again.)

Even Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State, expressed the idea that Americans were to be excused for their excesses in reaction to the terrorist attacks. Here was my impression of her comments at last year's International Summit for Combating Terrorism.

Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, conceded that Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib had damaged American credibility, but she thought the Europeans took it too far and that while Americans can learn from European approaches on terrorism, Europeans need to understand how Americans feel about September 11th.

“Well, I think that there’s sort of a general mood that Europe is superior in terms of its approach to things and more sophisticated; that Americans like to see things in black and white terms; and I think that one of the jobs of Americans is to explain that for us it truly has been a traumatic experience. And that they need to understand how different it is for America.”

Indeed, Americans have been told again and again, we must be frightened and vengeful. It is our right and our legacy. And we are righteous in our anger and our fear.

So, I'd like to ask, where would we have been if genuine leaders who reinforced courage rather than fear, rational thought rather than blind vengence, had been in charge on 9/11? And then I'd like to ask, what can we do to help our fellow Americans come to understand that we can be better than what we've been led to believe we are? And that we can and will overcome these adverse times with courage and dignity even while respecting the humanity of even those who are crazed with their ideology. We are better than that America that the radical right believes we are and we are capable of searching for real solutions rather than just vengence.

Posted by Mary at July 9, 2005 12:02 AM | Philosophy | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |
Comments

Mary -- thanks for referencing your piece for me -- we are definitely walking along the same path. Mine was the first part of a larger piece that I was grappling with - and suddenly Spain appeared to complete this section. Not sure if the rest of it will work well enough to publish.

Posted by: Marie at July 9, 2005 04:48 PM

Um, Mary, I don't usually leave replies here, though I check in from time to time, always impressed, but also a little overwhelmed with Pacific Views' thoroughness, extensive links, impeccable intellectuality.

Bush is a made for TV president. But, even with that potential to hone his image, millions worldwide conclude he has no leadership skills whatsoever. Such skills ought to be a prerequisite for the office. Yet, he's forgiven for every misstep, for every bungling mannerism, every reckless policy, shortsighted position and bloody decision.

It is not irrational to conclude the worst, nor fear the indecipherable intentions of the Bush Administration and the neo-conservative agenda.

The administration's every word meant to assuage concerns is so far from reality, they instead heighten tensions and preceed calamity. We have an abominably untrustworthy Office of the Presidency. It cannot be salvaged; endured possibly, but nothing the administration, (or the neo-con agenda), proposes or produces is beneficial to our nation and the world.

Securing all the oil in the Middle East, I suspect, is the object of Iraq War. If another horrific terrorist strike on our nation is what it takes to escalate the war, George Bush will privately view it as a college prank.

Remember when he was overturning furniture in the Oval Office 'in jest' looking for WMDs? He was indeed looking for WMDs. He was looking for his stock portfolio.

That's a little joke he tells his special friends in the after dinner smoking room. It's one of his favorites.

Posted by: Arthur at July 9, 2005 10:40 PM

With competent people in offic we wouldn't be in Iraq, anyway, because the facts did not justify that as a thing to do.

Cripes, even my Republican acquaintences will cop to that.

Posted by: Scorpio at July 10, 2005 09:03 AM

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Posted by: Phany at August 24, 2005 04:51 PM