American Paranoia

Image by Justin Mandrell.
Courtesy of Stockvault.

The other day my dad tried blaming the latest budget debacle from Congress on Senate Democrats, in words that sounded like they came straight from Fox News or Info Wars. It was aggravating, because even on its face, the notion that a group of people in minority in Congress could make law without GOP help is logically impossible. RINO’s – Republicans In Name Only – were to blame, and I had to point out that they benefit from GOP association just as much as any other member. Such exchanges fatigue me because I’m dealing with excuses I’ve heard before.

In a different conversation with a friend of mine, I discussed the idea that these excuses aren’t just limited to one party or the other. They’ve gotten louder over the years as media outlets have picked sides in propaganda wars. Deplorable acts by one side get forgiven or minimized while the other side becomes the scapegoat for all that is bad. And I’ve had to get reminded of it despite actively avoiding the news for the past few days.

Then, in a dark epiphany, I realized that terrorism really did win on 9/11.
Twenty-four hour news stations beforehand were kind of a joke. Nobody I knew of paid much attention to them before 9/11. Fox and MSNBC were already on their political swings, but nobody gave a shit about what they had to say.

Afterwards, people started glutting themselves on news. Something about that attack made the American public finally realize that two oceans and a giant military couldn’t make them feel safe anymore. Security and knowing about threats became the national obsession. Police needed to be everywhere, because Al Qaeda could be anywhere. Paranoia set in with people who were afraid of places they couldn’t find on a map.

All of this was foreign to me, because I grew up with military checkpoints. Security personnel with assault rifles checked my identification as soon as I had to get it at age 10. Terrorism already rocked Europe in the 70’s and 80’s, and the U.S. military had planned according to what they learned.

On the flight home to the States from Germany, I thought it was weird that people could just go up and talk to the pilot of an aircraft. My parents got pissed off if I’d distract them while driving. Planes were way larger and faster than cars. When I landed in Pennsylvania, I thought it was especially weird that there wasn’t any major security at customs. Europe was quite different from home. In the U.S., nobody seemed to care about basic security.

We’re now a security state.
People talk about law and order, global threats, foreign meddlers, and all kinds of specters that lurk in the shadows. Information about all of this gets pumped out at such an alarming rate that it’s practically impossible to ignore it. Even if I want to avoid it, I know enough paranoid people that will come at me with the latest conspiracy theory or talking point blaming their pet scapegoat for whatever.

I can think of no better example than when people seriously told me they were afraid of Syrian children because ISIS might have recruited them.

With this level of paranoia, it shouldn’t be a surprise that tribalism has grown at an exponential rate. People who aren’t familiar are threats now. I see more people fall into this trap by the day. Even I have started to fall into it.

Now I want out, and the effort’s worth it.
Looking at everyone as if they’re threats to my personal safety is time-consuming and pointless. People just try to take advantage of that paranoia anyways. Reinforcing it is a pain in the ass, to the point where it is more painful to conform to others than it is to be myself.

I understand that changing my perspective isn’t going to change the world. That’s not the point. For too long other people’s insecurities have fed my own. I don’t have to let that happen anymore.