#26 – Dick Bernard: NIMBY – Are we killing ourselves through "fear itself"?

Shortly I will join a webinar sponsored by the Connect US Fund (www.connectusfund.org).  The title of the session “The Fear Factor: A briefing on communication and messaging from U.S. In The World”.   The  suggested readings are listed at the end of this posting.  They are very interesting.


I write intentionally before that session convenes.  Somehow it seems that the title is missing something when it says “from U.S. In The World”.  Might it better be, rather, “among us”?


The internal use of Fear to manipulate us is perhaps our most deadly enemy as a nation.  As I suggest in the title, we buy this Fear and, I contend, we are accepting the role of “killing ourselves”.


Examples are abundant.  Two on the national and international level occurred for me in the past 24 hours


1.  Yesterday, May 20, the United States Senate voted 90-6 against a small budget allocation directed towards the closing of Guantanamo Prison in Cuba.  The vote is not because there is serious disagreement with the data about the prisoners long held there, their possible guilt or innocence, the implications of their release, whether they can get a fair trial, etc.  Neither is it about the need to close this institution which has come to represent the worst of what we are as a nation.  We know we have to do this.  But none of this is terribly relevant.


The sole question seems to be “where should these prisoners go?”  And the stated and unstated answer is, “not in my backyard” (NIMBY).  We are afraid of these people, and legislators are afraid to face down this fear and do what is right.  They are afraid of the political consequences in the next election.


Some of these prisoners, (Many?  Most?), were innocent when they were thrown in jail without any rights, and left to rot there, tortured for information they did not have.  In the tragic irony of such situations, their very false incarceration leads to the near certainty of their continued incarceration in Cuba.  Nobody wants them in their state.


Fear is at work.  Politicians know the value of fear as a motivator.  Nobody wants them, even in the most secure facilities in the United States.   


If only this were the only example of fear run amuck….


2.  The same day the Senate voted I received the draft of a long carefully written letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations questioning the conduct of a recent election in the country of Haiti.  It seems that a major political party was denied placement on the ballot there because its designated leader had not properly signed the required form: a fax’ed signature was deemed improper.  Because this party wasn’t on the ballot, apparently great numbers of people boycotted the election in question, rendering the results invalid: there was no free election.


Since the designated leader of the party “is half a world away, exiled to another continent under international pressure” he could not sign in person the form required.


I have come to know a bit about this country and the sordid long term U.S. relationship with it.  Most Americans likely know little or nothing about Haiti, which makes it irrelevant and invisible to them.  But what we do reflects negatively on us, in relationship much as we impact negatively on it.


The leaders name is Jean-Bertrand Aristide, twice democratically elected president of Haiti, forced into exile by a coup engineered by the U.S., France and Canada in 2004.  Aristide, native born and till 2004 a life-long resident of Haiti, cannot even return to the country of his birth.  He is in another Guantanamo of our making, South Africa, even though he has not been found guilty of anything other than being someone the United States didn’t want to hold office in the desperately poor sovereign nation of Haiti.


For a particular reason, his popularity with the people of Haiti, the United States apparently fears Aristide’s return to his home country.   We fear any sense of empowerment of his constituency, the poor, for whose interests he advocated. 


Unlike the prisoners at Guantanamo, most Americans have probably never heard of Aristide; in fact, during a period of exile after another coup (1991) he lived several years in the United States.  One wonders if he would even be allowed to come to the United States at this point.


We seem mired in a swamp of our own making.  If there is anything we need to fear, it is that we are destroying ourselves.


Here are the readings suggested for today’s web-based session.  They are worth the time.

Detecting Intentions, Managing Fear: How Americans Think about National Security
Produced by the Topos Partnership for the National Security Network
Death Grip: How Political Psychology Explains Bush’s Ghastly Success
By John J. Judis, in The New Republic, August 27, 2007


“Cheney’s Fear Mongering”
Political Cartoon by Morin, in The Miami Herald, April 5-11, 2009


“A Nuclear 9/11?”
By Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation


“Clark blasts GOP terror video”
Alex Isenstadt, in Politico, May 8, 2009