I keep getting emails from people who live outside the US, asking if we New Yorkers are really as afraid of terrorism as everyone says we are. I’d have to say, no.
We are not jumping at every loud sound, worrying about every large package on the subway, or tossing and turning in bed at night as we ponder escape scenarios for a dirty bomb attack. Really, we’re not.
We aren’t quite normal, either, though. But it has less to do with fear of attack than the overwhelming sense of our own powerlessness. People are freaked out, but it’s not fear of terrorism. What has us so disturbed is the growing sense that none of the democratic, meritorious systems we thought were in place actually mean anything. Our votes don’t count, and may not count for some time. Our opinions and those of our favorite elected officials don’t seem to matter to the administration in charge of our country. Our savings and job opportunities are being sucked away by the rich, and our nation has little to offer the world these days besides military might.
The wealthiest Americans began bracing for this a year or so ago, and won some permanent tax cuts to help them weather or even profit off the coming storm – and now everyone else is catching on. We’re about to kill a bunch of people, lose our standing in the world, then go through some kind of terrible depression or deflation (take your pick), and we feel like we have lost the tools that could help us stop this or initiate a collective recovery. We lost our country.
It’s really the loss of hope that has infected people’s consciousness. There’s no fear, really there’s not – at least not in the crowd I hang with. People are going about their business without jumping at the sound of backfiring trucks. They’re just morose if they stop to think about almost anything.
Don’t worry, though – this is just an up-to-the-minute assessment. I anticipate a resulting widespread shift here towards activism and communitarianism more profound than most of us are capable of imagining.
Relatedly, (how’s that for a transition?) I spoke with Grant Morrison about all this the other day, and he says he’s decided not to think about the war and all this mess, at all. He’s calling it “what the adults do,” and making a strong case for the idea that “we told them this would happen,” and “they never listen to us, anyway.” Perhaps it’s a defendable position for artists – even artists living within a potentially fascist regime – to simply do their art to the best of their ability, as conditions allow. I find the disconnection difficult, however, and am still striving to find a balance between informed concern and pointless obsession. The key to achieving this balance is spending one’s concerned time engaged in activism of some kind, rather than powerless pining. In other words, either educate yourself, educate others, and do something, or not. And when you’re in “not” mode, really go there and nourish yourself.