POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF GOVERNMENTS
we count down the days to the end of the millennium, and work
ourselves up into a paroxysm of pure paranoia, I am reminded
of Charles MacKay's enduring classic, Extraordinary
Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841),
a book which documents the idiocies of which men and women
are capable whenever they engage in collective action. From
of the 1600's, when Dutch speculators drove the price of tulips
above that of gold, to witch-mania,
and other more modern fads and fantasies, the book documents
the irrationality of the human species when congregated in
numbers greater than one.
there is a crucial difference between the madness of 19th
century crowds and the delusions of the 21st century. Back
then, for the most part, popular delusions bubbled from the
bottom up: the Crusades were the result of the preaching of
the mad Peter
the Hermit, not (at least in the beginning) an edict handed
down from Rome and the capitals of medieval Europe. Tulipomania
and similar financial phenomena, such as the South
Sea Bubble, were truly popular delusions: today,
our delusions are imposed from above, the result of either
corporate or government manipulation.
SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
a glimpse into the ugliness of the future that awaits us on
the other side of the New Year, it is useful to observe the
City of London on the eve of the "celebrations."
The headline in the London Times heralds the dawning
of the Age of Paranoia: "Anarchist
attack fears turn City into no-go area"!
British government has its terrified citizens facing a three-fold
threat not only from homegrown
"anarchists" might not a few of the more
Tories be made to fit this category? but also "Islamic
fundamentalists and Irish
republican splinter groups." The Blairite response
is to "isolate the City" -according to the Times,
"access will be possible only through seven tightly controlled
entrances and exits." A local official is quoted as saying."
"It will effectively be a no-go area."
GO" FOR THE AVERAGE JOE
last comment just about sums up the new era we are entering:
for ordinary people in all countries, much of life will effectively
be a no-go area. The political decisions that affect their
lives, the economic factors they must cope with, the social
and cultural trends that shape their children all are
made by increasingly small and distant groups of people.
QUICK COSTUME CHANGE
a more down to earth level: the power of a Western "democratic"
government to "isolate" its major city and its ability
to so swiftly transform itself into a garrison state ought
to destroy any illusions about the famed Anglo-Saxon devotion
to the rule of law. When it comes right down to it, "democratic"
Britain is no different than some Third World banana republic.
Troops and tanks don't have to be rumbling through the streets
of London for Blair
to have effectively declared martial law.
YOU'RE ON CANDID CAMERA!
same Times piece goes on to describe the recent arrest
of an alleged terrorist, Ramdane Zouabri, who "has been
charged with threatening to kill an Algerian community leader
after he was allegedly filmed making calls from a north London
telephone box." While Zouabri's real crime is that he
just happens to be the brother of Antar
Zouabri, leader of the Armed
Islamic Group, to the casual American readers there is
something odd about that sentence. He was filmed? By
what or whom?
TONY IS WATCHING YOU
this was not mentioned in news accounts, in all probability
he was filmed by one of the numerous video monitors now situated
spots throughout the whole of Britain, which is being
rapidly and systemically outfitted with a national spying
system, a network of what can only be called telescreens
device, right out of 1984,
that served as the omnipresent all-seeing eye of Big Brother.
CAN'T HAPPEN HERE CAN IT?
it couldn't happen here, in the United States, you say? After
all, those Brits don't even have a written constitution, just
a fast-dissipating sense of tradition. We have a Bill
of Rights, a free
press, a strong democratic tradition they could
never get away with that here in the good old USA. This attitude
is, unfortunately, bunk, as is proven by the hysterical preparations
and the attendant terrorist scare reach a fever pitch.
COMING THROUGH THE MANHOLES!
New York City, Giuliani
is welding the manhole covers shut in case the
terrorists come crawling through the city's sewer system,
like in some cheap action thriller. 8,000 of New York's finest
(and their bomb-sniffing dogs), heavily-armed and ready-to-rumble
will descend on the Times
Square celebrants, combing the crowd for Osama
bin Laden or a reasonable facsimile thereof. As if to
underscore the influence of Hollywood
on the minds of our leaders, the operation is code-named "Archangel."
The "complex plan" involves removing all garbage
cans from sidewalks, locking all mailboxes, and banning all
parking with a 60-block area. As police helicopters hover
overhead, three hundred plainclothes "antiterrorist"
commandos will nonchalantly "mingle with the crowds"
although their black ninja suits are bound to be a
Kops aspect of the frantic search for terrorists was illustrated
in the recent anticlimax of the latest "manhunt"
launched by the FBI in New
York City: a three-day search for a mysterious blue van ended
when they found the vehicle and
came up with nothing. As one official put it: "The
vehicle has been located, no one has been arrested, and no
explosives were found." A rather laconic Associated Press
article goes on to report that the FBI alert was prompted
"after a service station attendant near the US
Capitol raised a concern because its occupants appeared
to be Middle Eastern and refused to let anyone near the vehicle
as it was being fueled."
are great levelers. When a lowly gas station attendant can
lord it over his betters, when his "concerns" can
command the resources of the state and cause it to embark
on a three-day nationwide search, you know we are living
in revolutionary times. Although the article states that FBI
officials "declined to say whether the van's drivers
had been questioned," those Arabs who so rudely disdained
an offer to wash their windows certainly paid the price for
their arrogance. More will pay, and the price will be higher.
But anything is justified in the "war
on terrorism," right?
hijacking of an Indian airliner by Kashmiri rebels is the
crowning irony of this orchestrated hysteria for here
is an incident that cannot be blamed on the nefarious Osama
bin Laden, America's all-purpose bogeyman of the moment. Indeed,
a far more likely connection is with the US-backed regime
in Islamabad, which has financed, organized, and armed the
rebels in the disputed Kashmir region since the division
of the subcontinent into separate states. The recent
military coup did almost nothing to cool relations with
Washington, but one can only guess at the response of the
US State Department to Pakistani allegations
that the hijacking was "staged" by India.
foreign minister has declared that, having failed to isolate
Pakistan in the wake of the recent coup, "perhaps the
government of India manufactured another incident in pursuit
of their aim of maligning Pakistan internationally."
Close observers of the ongoing low-level guerrilla warfare
between India and Pakistani proxies will not be surprised
by this somewhat alarming accusation. Islamabad
made similar accusations in 1995-96, contending that India
had organized bombings in the Punjab
province in which 18 people were reported killed. In July,
1996, the Pakistanis arrested one of their own countrymen,
who confessed to being part of an Indian plot: others were
sentenced to death and life imprisonment for involvement in
YOU PAID FOR IT
we enter into the shadowy subworld of Islamic fundamentalist
terrorist groups, the line between governments and private
groups, between our enemies and our creations, becomes increasingly
blurred. That we are now paying the price of our past cold
war interventions in Afghanistan against the Soviets is beyond
bin Laden is entirely an American invention. His cause
was aided and abetted by the Reaganite cold warriors of the
eighties: remember how they insisted on supplying the Afghan
"freedom fighters" with Stinger missiles? The next
time you hear our wonderful President warn against the alleged
terrorist threat, remember that these terrorists were trained
by US personnel and armed by the US taxpayers.
pathetic case of Brahim
Mahdi is typical of the work of our Keystone Kops in action.
US officials seized a couple at the Vermont border, and traced
their car to Mahdi, who was identified as a top leader of
the "Islamic League," an alleged terrorist organization.
When a gaggle of reporters showed up at his door, in Montreal,
demanding to know if he was a member of a terrorist organization
intend on leveling massive amounts of destruction, he was
somewhat taken aback: "No, Mahdi replied with a look
of disbelief, he never heard of the group and didn't belong
to any terrorist network. He was just an Algerian immigrant
in Canada, battling depression that made him drop out of college
in June. 'I don't know anything. I'm a good citizen here."
The bewildered Mr. Mahdi, blinking into the cameras, proclaimed
his innocence: "I don't do anything bad. I live like
anyone else. I want to finish my studies and find work."
This poor dope, roped into the "anti-terrorist"
dragnet and used to rationalize the official alarmism, wondered
if perhaps he ought to get a lawyer. This is a terrorist
mastermind? Poor Mahdi is lucky if he stays out of jail
and all for the "crime" of having given someone
the use of a car and a cell phone.
I related in my
last column, last Tuesday some poor slob was pulled off
a flight out of the Bahamas airport because he had the temerity
to come on board with wires, magnets, batteries, and circuit
boards in his luggage. He
was finally released on Thursday, Dec. 23: no charges
were filed, and his name was not released and I for
one hope he sues the pants airlines and the federal government
for millions. Let him sue on behalf of all of
us, who have to live under the constraints of an increasingly
militarized society, in which hidden enemies are supposedly
hiding in garbage cans and depositing bombs in mailboxes.
In the relentless search for the ever-elusive "terrorists,"
how long before Janet
Reno unleashes the FBI on every falafel
joint in America?
am far less frightened of alleged foreign terrorists who may
commit an atrocity on US soil than I am terrified of the FBI/ATF
ninja-commandos who have committed acts of terrorism,
such as the firebombing
we take the concerns of the whole world into consideration,
as far as sheer numbers are concerned, far more people are
frightened of the terrorist threat emanating from Washington
than they are from the hidden valleys of Afghanistan. We are
currently starving 3,000 children to death per week
in Iraq, an act of terrorism on a scale so vast that it has
become invisible to the Western media, that is. The
Serbs, the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Russians,
the Belarussians, the North Koreans and any number of South
and Central American republics they all live in abject
fear of us, and lash out when they can. That is the meaning
and the root cause of terrorism. Intervention by the West
in affairs best left to the locals leads, invariably, to a
reaction, often violent, and inflicted on innocent civilians.
As we intervene in the civilizational conflicts of the Middle
East, the Balkans, and Central Asia, we are finding that religious
and ethnic factions from other cultures do not necessarily
play by the Rules of the Marquee of Queensbury. If this is
the price we must pay for the dubious privilege of being the
world's policeman, then one wonders how long the American
people will want to play the game of Empire.