Conversations with Fear

Terrorist Attack: September 12, 2001

     "Hey, Chris, I want to talk to you," came Fear's jubilant voice. "Didn't you think the destruction of the World Trade Center was a masterpiece of brilliance—and so easy to do."
     "Well, I'm not sure I want to talk to you! There's no word in the English language to describe the abysmal depths of your deprevity—no, that's the wrong word, you have to be human first."
     "Oh, is Chrisy angry," chuckled Fear.
     "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but anger is not the word. I think you've sunk beneath even yourself. And yes, it was brilliant in a diabolical way, but why did all those innocent people have to die? What had they done to you or anyone?"
     "That's not the point, is it? I need recruits; I can never have enough recruits. And besides, I haven't seen a real panic in this fat land of yours for some time now. So I just thought I'd test your 'mighty' American reactions."
     "But that was the 'World' Trade Center, you slimy apparition, which means it wasn't Americans alone who died in there!"
     "I know!" grinned Fear. "That's part of the genius."
     "Part of what 'genius'?"
     "For Hell's sake, Maser, are you blind? Look at the stock markets around the world; they're quivering like bowls of jello in an magnitude 10 earthquake! Look at the airlines, on the verge of bankruptcy! Consider the underlying terror of every pilot and flight attendant from now on, to say nothing of the passengers—who, by the way, are finding other means of travel. Incidentally, I thought having the flight attendant's throat cut was a particularly graphic display of human depravity, didn't you?"
     "Graphic, yes," I muttered, "and sick."
     "And depravity is the correct word, don't you agree? Why, just think," continued Fear, "with only a handful of men, I've disrupted your entire American society—more than that, I've disrupted the entire industrialized world! Wow! I hadn't thought of it quite like that. I've attack and disrupted the entire industrialized world in one strike, in one place, in one fell swoop. Ah, what ecstasy! What magnificence!"
     "I can see how you'd be pleased with yourself," I conceded.
     "But of course, with a veritable handful of people, I can today disrupt the entire population of the entire industrialized world any time I choose. Thanks to the interdependence of your communications systems and your societies, it's much easier than it used to be.
     "What's more, I can now flood the airways with instant, graphic images of nearly every disaster worldwide, and then have them played over and over to instill my name in everyone's heart—even their worship of me."
     "What are you babbling about?"
     "Chris, you really are blind, aren't you? I see how people all over the world are praying feverishly to God and Love for those who died and to protect themselves from me— ME mind you, but I'm the one most on their minds. They may 'think' about God and 'brotherly Love,' but I'm the one they  feel in their hearts! So, now the world is really focused on me. I'm no longer just some second-rate idol. I'm on center stage. I'm the center of everyone's worship because they're  bowing to me!
     "After all, you've been a nation desperately searching for an enemy to hate. Well, I've just cemented that for you. I've not only given you the Arabs but also all of Islam. You should really thank me. In fact, your president should thank me, as I'm sure your military does. Now they have a secure purpose well into the future."
     "Anyone who condems Islam as inherently violent or inherently anti-Western is chasing phantoms," I countered, "and you know it!"
     "Of course, I know it," acknowledged Fear, "but tell that to the hotheads and the fundamentalist extremists."
     "Islam," I continued, "is one of the world's largest and most diverse religions. Like Christianity and Judaism, there are as many views of Islam as and there are members, and most members opt for non-violent means to achieve their goals."
     "What's your point?" butted in Fear with sigh of exasperation.
     "Therefore," I continued, ignoring Fear's interruption, "just as there's no way to generalize about Christianity or Judaism, so there's no way to generalize about Islam or any other religion, for that matter."
     "That may be," conceded Fear, "but Islam has competing factions, such as Shiites and Sunnis, each of which thinks it has 'the correct' interpretation of its religion. In addition to which, there are Muslims who regard violence as a legitimate tool.
     "And another thing," said Fear, switching subjects completely, "you should thank me. Look how I've boosted your economy. Of course, I've probably altered the New York skyline forever because who any more wants to have all their people concentrated in such ostentatious skyscrapers?"
     "What on Earth makes you think you've boosted our economy?"
     "That's simple," said Fear. "Your capitalistic system is based on the exchange of money, isn't it?"
     "Yes," I answered cautiously.
     "Well, look at all the jobs I've created with the cleanup and rebuilding!"
     "You've got to be kidding," I said in disbelief. "Even you're not that stupid!"
     "No!" said Fear, "I'm not stupid! But can you say the same thing about your precious economic system?"
     "What are you driving at?" I asked with some trepidation.
     "I'm driving at the obvious fallacy in the notion of 'Gross Domestic Product,' that's what."
     "Well, what about it?"
     "Your 'Gross Domestic Product,'" began Fear with a huge grin, "is nothing more than a measure of total output, the dollar value of finished goods and services. It tells little or nothing in and of itself because it assumes that everything produced is, by definition, 'goods,' including people—including dead people because they cause money to exchange hands. Why, even William Bennett, who was President Reagan's Secretary of Education, understood that, while socialism treats people like a cog in a machine of the state, capitalism treats people like commodities—alive or dead.
     "As such, the Gross Domestic Product, which is known euphemistically as the GDP," quipped Fear with a flourish, "is an intellectual measure of the size of the your economy, the amount of money that exchanges hands in a strictly additive sense, like an adding machine that can't subtract. It thus makes no distinction between benefits and costs (credits and debits), productive and destructive activities, or sustainable and nonsustainable activities, in addition to which there is no allowance for the declining quality of human life in the face of environmental degradation—or my recent spectacular display of power in New York City and your national capital.
     "The reason for this disregard of human welfare is simply that the GDP treats everything that happens in the market place as a positive gain for humanity and thereby de facto ignores everything that can't be converted into money as being unimportant to social well-being, such as the toppling of the World Trade Center, which, nevertheless, is causing money to exchange hands—and will for a very long time—and thus counts as a plus in the valuation of the GDP, even though more than 3,500 people died, and my name is on everyone's lips."
     "You really think you've got this nailed down, don't you?" I asked.
     "Of course, I've got it 'nailed down' as you put it. That's easy because most, if not all, of your politicians, in all levels of government, see the decaying quality of human life through a well-worn ideological lens that accepts the economist's notion of economic growth as necessarily good even as it cannibalizes the quality of your miserable lives. Why E. F. Schumacher unlocked that economist's dark secret years ago when he said: 'Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations, as long as you have not shown it to be 'uneconomic' you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper.' The problem is that you people are so focused today on the money chase that you just don't listen.
     "So you see, I've been a boon to your economy."
     "Ya, sure."
     "Well, stocks in the military apparatus are up, aren't they? Oh, I'm sorry," said Fear with mock remorse, "I mean the defense industry."
     "So they say," I acknowledged uneasily. "Are you telling me that this totally illogical calculation of economic activity revolves around the Gross Domestic Product as the primary indicator of our economic growth, our the economic score card, as it were, from one year to the next?"
     "Not only that," came Fear's cheerful answer, "but when growth in the GDP exceeds three percent, it's usually favorable for incumbent politicians."
     "Now, that's a comfort," I said sarcastically.
     "Why act so surprised?" chided Fear. "Even you know that money itself as a measure of success is a serious flaw in thinking and valuation because the bottom line in business is always pleaded as the truly important figure."
     "In what way?"
     "Chris, are you just acting dumb, or don't you really know anything? The bottom line, which shows how much profit has been made, is used as a measure of how well a company performs. Too little profit, and a company is deemed inefficient, or its management is slack, or the full potential of its workforce is not harnessed, or its products are out of date, or, most damning of all, the company is not competitive in the global economy."
     "If I understand what you are saying, the danger hidden within the calculation of the Gross Domestic Product as a real measure of economic growth is that it creates a false sense of prosperity and security, especially when growth is rapid, like in the 1990s, because it ignores costs (adding only the benefits) and thus ignores the major problems confronting our society."
     "Exactly," agreed Fear, "it's like adding up all of the inflowing cash from a shopping mall while ignoring both short-term costs (such as physical wear on buildings and equipment and the human labor involved in maintaining them) and long-term costs (such as replacement of computer systems, resurfacing parking lots, replacing roofs, and so on).
     "In a world where money is the only acceptable measure of success because of the power it wields, all these considerations count as naught because traditional economists assure you that a notion of progress, which means full steam ahead in the strictly linear, material sense, is always the right course of action—in fact, the only course of action. In the scenario of full steam ahead, the quality of the products and the welfare of the people are all irrelevant in the face of a bottom line that is not performing as desired. The irony is that the bottom-line profit actually accounts for only the last 10 percent of the total income earned, whereas the 90 percent of the monies that have been paid to earn the 10 percent are overruled and overshadowed by the 10 percent bottom-line profit."
     "If you're correct," I said thoughtfully, "this type of valuation clearly points out that market economics places value on that which is scarce instead of placing value on the real work and worth of people and their potential for being loving and caring and for being an honest, just, and thoughtful person and neighbor."
     "Precisely," agreed Fear. "That's why I've been a boon to your economic growth."
     "You do flatter yourself, don't you?" I asked rhetorically.
     "I don't know about that," said Fear with a sly grin. "But tourism creates jobs, so why not terrorism. After all, they have a lot in common."
     "And what might that be?"
     "They both begin with a 't' and end in an 'ism,'" came the reply as Fear's smug face began to fade.

© chris maser 2001. All rights reserved.

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