Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Panic Nation

Sultan Knish

As I sit here in the sunken ruins of New York City, breathing oxygen through a two mile straw, and shopping by dispatching orders through a helpful school of fish-- I can't help but think that I should have listened to the media when they told me to panic, run to the stores and pay 40 dollars for batteries, and then listen to every weather update while waiting for the end to come.

But of course none of that actually happened. There are places where hurricanes are dangerous, but the city I live in is not one of them. Aside from a few downed trees, some power loss and a little flooding near the river, the same things that happen every few years, there was nothing to speak of. Nothing except a vast media driven overreaction. Hurricane Irene is just another entry in the non-stop shriek of media driven panic. The news cycle is fed by three main types of stories, salacious gossip, horrible tragedies and panic stories. All three are culturally destructive, but the third is the most insidious because it contains a germ of truth that is inflated to spread panic. Hurricanes are dangerous, so are child molesters and the swine flu-- but they are also elements in a news cycle that is intended to induce a state of permanent panic.

Permanent panic is another word for 'helplessness'. Consume enough panic stories and you begin to feel like your life is out of control. And that is the intended or unintended consequence of the media. People who feel helpless are eager to listen to anyone who promises to help and willing to accept any solution.

Media driven panics agitate the public and encourage politicians to cluelessly leap on the bandwagon with bad policies. Then when the policies fail, the media blasts the politicians, feeding a backlash to a mess that it created. And when the politicians go back to ignoring the problem, they run alarmist stories and the cycle repeats itself.

The common denominators in the media driven panics are reports that assume the worst case scenario with only shallow reporting on the nature of the problem leading to general overreactions, rather than intelligent problem solving.

That's how we decided to strip search everyone getting on a plane, rather than profile likely terrorists, or treat any stranger as a potential child molester. Or why a city where weather kills less people than panhandlers, had to shut down over a hurricane. These overreactions create a siege mentality which shuts down critical thinking and leads people to accept otherwise unacceptable solutions without asking questions.

The media often likes to pretend that it is the voice of reason, investigating and asking the questions that the public doesn't know enough to ask. In reality its chief function is to stop people from asking questions and accept its narrative. Panicked people are less likely to ask questions and more likely to do what they're told.

Questions narrow down a problem and its solution-- which is the opposite of the media's presentation that maximizes the possible danger to everyone by keeping the details as vague as possible. Whether it's bird flu or terrorism-- the two questions that most need to be asked,where is the problem coming from and what is the actual risk go unanswered.

Panic is created when people are told that their survival and the welfare of their families is on the line, but are given little information about the real risk to them or how to deal with the threat. Media driven panic saturates the airwaves, the print media and the internet with empty reporting that emphasizes the scale of the threat, but provides little useful risk assessment information. These gaps are filled in with the usual gimmicks, on the spot reporting, man on the street interviews, which are usually pitched to make the state of panic seem universal.

"It's happening in Denver, it's happening in Atlanta, everything is worried and doesn't know what to do."

The media's own political slant keeps it away from the subject of Islamic terrorism, but even without that it is in its interest to keep the nature of the terrorist threat as vague as possible. White people are a larger and less avoidable threat constellation than Muslims. The media works hard to dissuade us from fearing outsiders-- but it works twice as hard to teach us to fear each other.

The media is a vertical top down messaging apparatus and its vertical dominance is almost unchallenged. The greatest threat to it comes from horizontal messaging, peer to peer, and community to community. The internet has made vertical communications much easier and more competitive which has badly rocked the media's boat. And it has compensated for it with more panic. And when the media panics, everyone else is supposed to panic.

Creating public mistrust within a community or a nation disrupts horizontal communications which helps those who control vertical communications. The less people trust each other, the more they are forced to trust the media. It's why Free floating paranoia is the media's drug of choice. And every broadcast injects into their listeners' ears and eyeballs over and over again.

Even when we aren't being taught to fear each other-- we are being taught to perceive other people as incompetent. Hurricane weather inevitably brings a rash of stories that emphasize how unprepared people are. How weak and stupid-- in contrast to those smart people who listen to the media. It isn't really about the hurricane, it's about modeling behavior by teaching viewers that smart means doing what you're told-- and stupid means refusing to listen to the media. This affects much more than hurricane preparation, it's meant to model a response to any and all events.

Citizen incompetence is one of the media's main narratives which teaches us that most people around us are dumb and barely able to cross the street. Again horizontal communications are being torn down to make way for top down messaging. If other people are stupid, then why listen to them? Much better to listen to the wiser heads in the media instead.

This sense of personal incompetence and group incompetence only strengthens the sense of isolation leaving only one voice in the room. The voice of the radio. The voice of the television. The voice of the press.

So a vast nation is whittled down, isolated and shunted off into the highways of conventional wisdom that everyone is supposed to obey. And always kept on the edge, uncertain of what will come the next day and the day after that. There are always a bewildering array of new threats. The oceans will rise if you don't recycle. Planes will explode if you carry baby milk along. It becomes easier to obey than to resist.

A permanent state of panic strains the nervous system to the breaking point, and pushes people into fight or flight responses, a state that makes lateral thinking difficult. False choices are given. If we don't bail out the banks then the economy will be destroyed. Either we raise the debt ceiling or the economy is destroyed. Either we follow the leader or absolute disaster follows.

It becomes easier to frighten people with a threat, than to have a conversation about our options. But the louder the alarm bells ring, the more the demands for action grow. We must raise the debt ceiling because the consequences are unthinkable. But how can they be unthinkable when the public is never given the chance to think about them-- when any debate or discussion is immediately squashed.

The failure to act immediately is branded as irresponsible. Debate becomes obstruction. Asking questions is a felony. Responsible leaders are told, do things immediately. They don't negotiate or debate. They just leap in. Or else everything is lost.

Obama's rule by executive order is an extension of the same media driven state of emergency, if urgent decisions have to be made right away, there's no time to discuss them. And even when we discuss them, all that we discuss is how terrible it would be if we don't make them. If is only the consequences of not making them that are discussed- never the consequences of not making them. "We have to pass the bill to find out what's in the bill."

Panic bridges the values gap between the media and the public. Panic blinds the people to the growth of incremental change that is drastically altering their way of life. A thousand mini-crises are used as weapons of mass distraction to prevent people from seeing how prices have gone up, morals have gone down and the very idea of what the nation used to be is being destroyed all around them.

Enough distractions and the voters with their antiquated notions of personal freedom and values can be kept at bay, while the country is torn down and rebuilt into a perverted mockery of itself. Enough panic and they will go along with it and even cheer the saviors that are presented to them. The men who will save them from themselves.

A permanent state of panic leads people to welcome anyone who will give them a sense of security no matter how baseless it might be. That was FDR's secret, the New Deal was a disaster, but it promised security. As did Obama's confident smirk-- the confident smirk, voters assumed of a man who knows what he's doing. They found out a little too late that he didn't, but there will be more confident smirkers coming along. And more panics for them to smirk through.

The important questions will go on being unasked, because to ask them would topple the empire of panic and the messiah of the confident smirk. If people began asking and answering those questions for themselves, they would no longer need the media to panic them or the smirkers to give them a sense of security. They would own their birthright again.

In other news, a satanic cult of industrialists is melting the ice floes using incandescent lightbulbs and saturated fats.

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