Will America finally lose its nerve?
Last week, for better or worse, I provided some genuinely absurd newspaper headlines from a Galaxy Far Away known as Britain, and foolishly I assumed that would be enough. But, lo and behold, a reader from that distant star sent me the following message later in the week.
“In the Daily Express a more localized controversy appears, involving a grandmother in a Devon village who had her underwear taken off her washing line and posted through her letter box with a note saying it was ‘total inapropiate’ (sic) to have it hanging opposite the local primary school. The woman’s daughter is quoted by the Sun as saying, ‘the small-minded prudishness of this village is unbelievable.’
“According to the Times, neighbors rallied to the woman’s defense and she has been sent dozens of pairs of knickers ‘to turn into bunting to hang from her cottage gate.’"
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Which all goes to prove that you will never go short of material if you decide to quote weird newspaper stories.
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So as the kettle bombs go off and the mad stabber gets his few minutes of post-arrest publicity, the question on everybody’s mind is, will America finally lose its nerve?
To listen to some people over these recent years, you would think the country had been invaded by Genghis Khan and waves of Soviet tank divisions, with Red Guards posted at every corner. People are so insecure and so scared by everything they see and hear (possibly also by what they read, but I cannot prove that) that there are days when it seems that America’s nerve is within minutes of breaking altogether.
Nobody is in favor of mad stabbers and over-zealous kettle bombers, of course. I say lock ‘em all up in a room with hungry lions and let them take them consequences. But recently something changed in my perspective on these trying times.
Basically, I’ve had enough of the stink of fear.
To begin with, we are used to enemies we can shoot back at, such as Gen. Cornwallis, Pancho Villa, the German Army, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, etc. Enemies we cannot shoot back at thoroughly unnerve us, and I strongly suspect President Shrub decided to invade Iraq simply so we could have a live target.
Without being in the slightest bit facetious, I am forced to think of the people in my family who had to lie in their beds night after night while naughty men in wicked airplanes flew almost unhindered overhead, scattering high explosives in their backyards and on their rooftops.
Five hundred people were blown up the first night these wicked men visited my home city, for example. Mother tells me she felt relatively safe from the night bombers when she climbed into bed with her parents, although the evidence suggests this was not a foolproof method of avoiding death.
With this perspective in mind, I find I am tired of hearing that this country is on the point of collapse due to horrors both foreign and domestic. We simply have no idea how bad it could be. The closest we have come to understanding was in late 2001, and even then we blew our response so badly that nobody could believe us. If we cannot take our lumps in this rotten world with dignity, then we are making a very poor showing.
Surely the American character is better than that?
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The Four Seagulls of the Apocalypse brought home some newspaper clippings salvaged from the city dump last week. I spread them out on the roof of the concrete tower at the foot of Mechanic Street, where I am forced to live, and took a long look. Trumpleton Trumpleton, Trumpleton, all over the place.
These clippings reminded me of another piece of efficient moral self-sabotage we are committing daily, because the news in the 21st century is to a great extent electronically designed to play up to our worst fears and concerns. Yet how many of us are aware of this situation?
Put bluntly, electronic media is now able to intelligently watch what we watch on the Internet, and pretty soon it starts sending us things to look at that it thinks match our prejudices and beliefs. The idea, of course, comes from marketing theory, for as soon as computers could track what we buy they began using that information to start selling us similar things.
This idea pretty soon spilled over into the kind of Internet news we are sent, as well. The news clippings the Four S of the A brought from the dump were of course more focused on Lord Trumpleton’s need for a better hairnet, but the Internet isn’t so far away from a hairnet, inasmuch as Trumpleton needs both for coverage.
The result is that people think they are getting clear and unbiased news, when the truth is we are being directed by the Hidden Hand of Sneaky Methods to read only news that matches our personal prejudices and justifies our own fears. I am not the first to figure this out. What worries me is the question of how many others have still not figured it out.
If I were to set out to destroy the moral character of a large modern country, this is how I would do it.