Be afraid, be very afraid

The heading is the tagline from Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly, although not a typical horror genre – Geena Davis is horrified by the suffering of the charming Jeff Goldblum as he degenerates. Which doesn’t really segue into this blog’s theme, but is merely excusing a rip of the Cramps * …

In trying to make sense of the Trump era, it is prudent to recall history and Italy’s Berlusconi regime: being another real estate mogul bereft of decency nor having any comprehension of conflict-of-interest. A great philosopher and commentator on that time was Umberto Eco (b. 1932 d.2016) and his fame claim could have been from authoring ‘The Name of the Rose’, made into a movie starring Sean Connery, or else the novel ‘Foucaults Pendulum’. But for me, his essays revealed a timeless wisdom, and I’m drawn to the cyclical themes collected in ‘Turning Back the Clock’ (p. 2005). After expounding on neowar, that is, the asymmetric conflicts against stateless fanatics, his article ‘Back to the Seventies’ describes activities of the communist Red Brigades in particular: “terrorism aims to goad the government in power into hysterical repression, which the citizens will then find anti-democratic and unbearably dictatorial, and hence to spark an insurrection... actually they did a great deal to stabilize things, because a country in which all the political forces commit themselves to defending the state against terrorism has persuaded the opposition to be less aggressive“. No reasonable person or party can be against clampdowns on violence.

Leaders appear stronger when spouting age-old rhetoric such as Pericles used in starting Athens’ war against Sparta in 431BC: “the extension of [our father’s] empire is our work… For our trust is placed more in our boldness in action than in the preparation of defences and in trickery”. Although oppressed, in a lengthy speech the citizens are flattered for their unity, exhorted to follow tradition, and attack – when diplomacy would’ve avoided the consequent 27 years of war that destroyed Greece’s wealth. The domestic law’n’order tactic is played much more often than the ruling party’s popularity gamble of declaring war in some far-off place, but the matter of internal security is a win/win on both counts. The opposition is muted, and must begrudge their assent. All that’s required is a ploy for divisive fear within the community.

Govt ad “If you see something, say something” is a propaganda ruse used in both Obama’s post 9/11 America and in Victorian train stations (coincidentally the month before the 2014 state election!). What matters most is creating fearfulness in the populace, and dependence upon others’ political will to protect us. The railway PSO is a police resource devoted to the task of making us “feel safer“, and numbers are on the increase despite absence of statistics proving their worth. The rest of bureaucracy grows too. Total employees in the State empire grew by 3% last year, which in turn was up 2% on 2014/15. Safety per se isn’t actually on the govt agenda – else the populist demand for harm reduction to addicts by allowing a supervised injecting room in Melbourne would get the go-ahead. What drives policy is the public’s perception of safety, and in that case it behoves politicians desire for a climate of fear to keep drug users invisible, underground. Evidenced only by their damage caused, not the damaged user.

An amusing turn in this argument came from the photo below. Two thrillseekers, circled, went looking for adventure, and found it beyond the safety of Hotham resort, an unstable drift in Alpine backcountry. Emergency services issued a warning alert, and resorts are now tasked with routine avalanche monitoring. Obviously skiing is a risky sport, but focus should be on the real probability of an accident rather than a contrived danger. Risk management is formalised in standard ISO31000 – when both high likelihood of the risk being realised and a severe impact ensues, then mitigations must be found, or else imposed for your own safety. Govt doesn’t prioritise according to likelihood, but per suitability for their own cause.

Australia’s version of an avalanche

The point to be made, is that constantly being fearful does the great majority no good. There will be risk-takers seeking an adrenalin rush in every avenue of life, but responding to every risk with a protective policy simply exacerbates everyone’s tension. Travellers and locals alike have commented on the ‘nanny state’ in Australia, but there aren’t many nannies so obsessed with constantly warning on potential risk. If there are any, the infants in their charge are destined for therapy. Stress activates fight/flight response through the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamus-adrenal axis ramps up cortisol.  It’s harmful though. There was a time that the species being in constant tribal conflict required this hormone go into production ready for repairing battle damage, but now the prescribed therapeutic supply from prednisolone is minimised to as brief as possible – cortisol cures, but toxic side-effects are imminent (even if it’s just the suppression of natural synthesis when using the med.)

The media are very much complicit in scaremongering. The majority of news items aren’t reports, but speculation along the lines of “Fears rise that….”. Or there’s the A Current Affair/Today Tonight tagline in their promos of “A story no parent [taxpayer, motorist, sentient being] could afford to miss”. Why not give it a deliberate miss – since your health’s at stake?

* Psychobilly lost its pioneer Lux Interior in 2009. Bold, brazen, his band The Cramps creation of a musical genre is another expression of adventurous spirit. Best not totally suppress such stepping outside the boundaries, else we’d be all the same.

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