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October 7th, 2006


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02:39 am - Alienation and fear of terrorism
Fear of terrorism is both used as a powerful motivator by politicians and is also clearly something many people feel, since incidents like this one that I overheard in an airport are exceedingly common and sometimes result in innocent people being detained (and to my knowledge have never resulted in the detection of any actual terrorist plots).

On a fundamental level, all of this behavior utterly baffles me. On and immediately after September 11, 2001, I was filled with shock, sadness, and anger, but the only fear I ever felt was of the response of the US government. I was never for a second afraid that any terrorist attack would harm me or anyone I cared about. I occasionally worry about auto accidents or similar dangers if someone I care about is unusually late, but terrorism isn't even on the list. From a rational perspective, the odds are clearly far lower than those of being killed by lightning strikes, snakebite, or choking on a toothbrush, and so the risk is ludicrously small and honestly not worth worrying about. Similarly, from an emotional perspective, foreigners in distant lands do not worry me nearly as much as many of the people in this nation. Patriotism is a completely alien notion to me and I have both little in common with and even less interest in most people in the US (or anywhere else for that matter).

In any case, other than a mixture of racism and being dupes of the right-wing media, I honestly have no idea why so many people are so very afraid of terrorists or Muslims. I suspect that my own lack of fear might have to do with my own responses to alienation and belonging. I find shopping malls to be somewhat alien and uncomfortable environments and most people either prefer them or seem not to notice. More importantly perhaps, the more subtle markers of American life often trouble me. One legacy I have of being a child during the era of Vietnam War protests is a fundamental distrust of the American flag. It is merely a symbol I feel no particular connection to when flown in expected places like schools or other public buildings. However, when placed on bumper stickers or flown in front of houses, I see it was a mild but real threat because my automatic assumption is that everyone who flies a flag is a right-wing warmongers who hates much of what is important to and about me.

Similarly, one of the reasons I dislike visiting the Midwest or the east coast is that gender standards for dress and appearance are noticeably more rigid than on the west coast and so being in such places feels particularly alien to me. When I lived in LA during the early 90s, I regularly rode the bus too and from USC through fairly bad portions of LA and at night I was occasionally nervous standing at bus stops with groups of young and fairly tough-looking Hispanic men who were all talking in Spanish, in large part because I had never been anyplace in the US where speaking anything other than English was common. However, I rapidly got over this fear and these days encountered other languages is hardly an uncommon event.

I have no idea how most people feel in the US feel walking around, but between my shyness and general nervousness around any and all strangers, combined with the fact that I feel like an outsider for a multitude of reasons. I know that my gender identity, my politics, my spirituality, and my patterns of friendship and romance are all sufficiently off normal to make me almost as much of a foreigner in this nation as someone born in a distant land. Instead of worrying about terrorists, I worry about reactionaries in office, and occasionally about bigoted thugs who might decide to make me a target, and the fact that in Oregon (as in much of the rest of the US) when I am out in public, a significant proportion of the strangers all around me are likely carrying concealed firearms (a prospect I find deeply horrifying when I let myself think about it - from my PoV anyone walking around armed is someone both obviously dangerous and ready to kill people at any moment).

Perhaps it is just that in junior high and high school, I, like many freaks and geeks, was sufficiently tormented by my so-called peers that I am more inclined to distrust and worry about people who look like me and live near me than I am about people who live half a world away. Likely the fact that Christianity is just as alien to me as Islam and is far more obviously visible and threatening to me is also important. However, all this is nothing more than speculation. I would be genuinely interested in hearing from anyone reading this who is actually worried in any serious way about they or their loved ones being victims of a terrorist attack.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:eclective
Date:October 7th, 2006 12:02 pm (UTC)
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Not from the US, but I find the contrast between living here in England and living in the US interesting. It might possibly be that I'm overly complacent about it, but my gender identity, politics, spirituality and friendship/romance patterns are probably about as eclectic as yours... yet I don't really feel threatened by the majority. Rather, I get the feeling that the majority here couldn't really care less, provided you're not interfering with their daily business. Christianity isn't this all-pervading force here, the only people who fly flags are extreme right-wingers (who are a small minority) -- I'm honestly kind of blown away whenever I visit America and the houses without flags number fewer than the houses with, and even the houses of the friends I'm visiting have huge flagpoles in the garden, because that kind of loyalty to the country isn't a mindset I really comprehend. I don't know if the feeling that England doesn't care is justified, but I'm certainly not as worried about what they think.
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From:heronheart
Date:October 7th, 2006 01:59 pm (UTC)
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I think in general Americans feel very alienated and fearful. That's part of why they ride around in those enormous moving fortresses called SUV's. Terrorism is just the fear de jour. When that wears thin, they'll find something else to hang their fear on.

In terms of actual fear of terrorism, I occasionally worry about living near a major tourist attraction (the Wisconsin Dells), but then I get passed too closely by some idiot in a Suburban Assault Vehicle and my sense of perspective returns.
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From:heronheart
Date:October 7th, 2006 02:05 pm (UTC)

Patriotism and Nation-States

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In terms of patriotism, I think there's a significant number of people who regard the nation-state as an administrative unit only. I think this deeply worries the people who run nation-states but I would love to know how many people actually think this way and if our numbers are growing.

More and more, I'm coming to think that the city-state is the most effective political and economic grouping and that the nation state is something dreamed up by and in response to military empires. Would the original 13 states have bothered uniting if they hadn't been afraid of France and England?
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From:heron61
Date:October 7th, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Patriotism and Nation-States

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In terms of patriotism, I think there's a significant number of people who regard the nation-state as an administrative unit only. I think this deeply worries the people who run nation-states but I would love to know how many people actually think this way and if our numbers are growing.

I have absolutely no idea. Nationalism (one of the vile well-springs of patriotism) seems fairly strong now, but the internet also has a way of breaking down barriers, and I have no idea which way that balance will shift in 5-10 years.

More and more, I'm coming to think that the city-state is the most effective political and economic grouping and that the nation state is something dreamed up by and in response to military empires.

Most definitely. My ideal vision of the world is a planet of small to mid-sized city sates in a loose EU-like confederation that guarantees both basic rights, coordinates emergency services, helps manage environmental and ecological issues, and keeps borders open for trade and movement between city-states. All non-global problems would be handled at a city-state level and global problems would be handled by the worldgov. This seems by far the most sensible approach and I'd very much enjoy seeing the American flag taken down for the last time ever.
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From:heronheart
Date:October 7th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Patriotism and Nation-States

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I really suspect that nationalism is actually a pretty thin veneer. Otherwise they wouldn't have to drum it into everybody's head as hard as they do.

Pledge of Allegience, English-Only, etc, etc, etc.

To me this all reeks of insecurity, based on a deep seated instinct that nationalism is an artifice that has to be continually propped up.
From:quorpencetta
Date:October 7th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
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Your post echoes my experience of this country so exactly that I wonder how many more feel this way. I sometimes say I was raised an alien. Meaning that being raised a bi-racial Baha'i in Texas seriously imprinted the self-identity of "outsider" in me. I look at terrorism as a symptom of larger political and social issues, and therefore find it hard to hate terrorists without thinking about the larger context of how they got to that point. But at the same time, I can't say I live entirely without some fear. I live in the hometown of Focus on the Family, populated by right-wing christians and career military (often the same people). When I put an anti-bush sticker on my car, it was torn off, and the words "fuck you" were scratched into the paint in its place. Sometimes I fear the good old homegrown hate-crime terrorism so common in this country that its hardly talked about. But we can't let it cow us into silence. That'd only make it worse.
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From:seika
Date:October 7th, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC)
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Popping in randomly from the link in eclective's journal...

I was never for a second afraid that any terrorist attack would harm me or anyone I cared about. I occasionally worry about auto accidents or similar dangers if someone I care about is unusually late, but terrorism isn't even on the list.

Oh, thank goodness someone else felt that way. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who didn't think there was cause to worry. Even on the Internet.



However, when placed on bumper stickers or flown in front of houses, I see it was a mild but real threat because my automatic assumption is that everyone who flies a flag is a right-wing warmongers who hates much of what is important to and about me.

I tend to feel the same way. It's odd, because the flag as a symbol of the actual ideals that America is supposed to stand for, freedom and equality and all that, would be a good thing-- but by now I'm so used to seeing flags flown mostly by right-wingers that that's what I think of when I see them. Which I suppose is a shame; I know people who are able to separate the symbol of the flag from the current administration; but somehow I can't because everyone who flies it lately seems to support it.


one of the reasons I dislike visiting the Midwest or the east coast is that gender standards for dress and appearance are noticeably more rigid than on the west coast and so being in such places feels particularly alien to me.

Hmmmmm, it's interesting; my boyfriend (who grew up in Texas and has lived in California for the past decade or so, apart from a year in Pennsylvania) has said the same thing. Interesting to hear independent confirmation of this. I haven't been in CA enough to make an assessment yet, but I hope to move there, and I hope this is the case.

I too worry more about the reactions of people around me than about terrorists far away. I probably don't have a lot to fear for myself because I'm a woman in a woman's body; I have a boyfriend, not a girlfriend; I'm not Muslim; I wouldn't be a huge target. But I do know that I'm more likely to get snubbed or insulted or otherwise hurt by people who live near me than I am to get blown up by terrorists (I was a bullied child too.) And it seems like random psycho killers are more common than terrorists, anyway, so if I were to fear being shot/blown up/etc, I'd fear it from locals. I would worry about a car accident, but not about terrorism.
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From:rjgrady
Date:October 7th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)
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I am a patriot, but currently, I am an embarrassed one.

"We had relied with great security on that provision, which requires two-thirds of the Legislature to declare war. But this is completely eluded by a majority's taking measures as will be sure to produce war." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1798
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:October 7th, 2006 10:40 pm (UTC)
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I equally loathe Islamic fundamentalists and our current "leaders." But I am not afraid of the former, because they are half a world away, and I have no desire to intrude on their turf. As for the latter, I have a batshit crazy fear of defying it, for fear I'll get arrested and disappear for good, never to emerge from prison again.

As for the American flag, I tend to disregard those flown in front of houses and public buildings, because it's customary. If someone walked down the street and started burning it, I'd sneer at that party and call him an idiot, because he's asking to get his head bashed in by the nearest cop. As for flags displayed in election commercials, I sneer and think "dirty politician!"
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:October 7th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)
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Heron61, I also hate shopping malls as much as you do, but for a different reason. When I enter one, I am acutely aware that EVERYTHING about them is designed to make me spend money impulsively. If I must enter one, I get the one thing I need and get out. I hate shopping, because in excess, it can lead to massive credit card debt, inability to pay the rent, evictions, and things even more unpleasant.
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From:blue_estro
Date:October 8th, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
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My main reply got a bit long, so I posted it here

Re: Nation states -

My idealistic tendencies want to say "That would be great!" but I am not sure that the net result wouldn't be something similar to what we have now, except with the larger cities battling it out with each other rather the unified federal government trying neuter the larger cities.

The good thing about the large federal set-up is that small groups like the Amish can exist. In the polis model, the Amish communities don't get the same economic viability that they have by being just a tiny part of a large state infrastructure like Pennsylvania.

This same thing kinda applies to every other small town that is just a part of a larger machine. Where large cities don't need any one small town to continue existing, every small town needs the investment of large cities for trade, exports, etc. This essential forces the small town (small city-nation) to cater to the beliefs of the larger cities. This seems (to me) to be just as wrong as having liberal urban populations legislated by conservative small-town sensibilities.

The early idea for US infrastructure had more focus on states rights and less on federal power. I am not sure when that started to change, I suspect the civil war was a turning point, but aside from the slavery thing, it seemed to be a really good model. Either that or divide the current US up into smaller sovereign nations. I am all for California going back to being its own republic.
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From:heron61
Date:October 9th, 2006 12:17 am (UTC)
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This seems (to me) to be just as wrong as having liberal urban populations legislated by conservative small-town sensibilities.

Both because cities have been the primary focus of human civilization for many thousands of years and because urbanites typically have values I approve of, I have absolutely no problem with this idea.

Either that or divide the current US up into smaller sovereign nations. I am all for California going back to being its own republic.

I'm all for the US sub-dividing. However, California as a whole is merely a somewhat more extreme microcosm of the US, after having seen much of LA and San Diego politics and the rather horrific racism and social policies of the central valley, I have never been able to understand how anyone could claim that California is more liberal or more anything (except more extreme in general) than the US as a whole. OTOH, Western Oregon, Western Washington, and Northern CA (from SF on north) would IMHO make a fairly good small state that would have reasonable resources, excellent politics, and would be a nation I'd be very pleased to live in.
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From:blue_estro
Date:October 9th, 2006 03:13 am (UTC)
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Both because cities have been the primary focus of human civilization for many thousands of years and because urbanites typically have values I approve of, I have absolutely no problem with this idea.

And the idealist in me worries about the world losing some indefinable and inherently rural treasure.

I was going to also argue that urban decison making is absolutely unsuited for legislating rural/agricultural regions (just as ivory tower wealth tends to be horrible about solving poverty related problems), but I think that would work itself out in trial and error over time. And perhaps the cultural bugs would too.

much of LA and San Diego politics and the rather horrific racism and social policies of the central valley,

True. Although I see SoCal as benighted, but with potential to see the light. This view is probably a result of never having lived there, but having seen many a plastic SoCal child turn into a stinky hippie at UCSC (the ones with obvious breast implants were clearly from southern CA). Monterey and North is probably a better cut-off line.

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