The embedded mass media have been spinning the massacre at an Orlando nightclub as terrorism, motivated either by Islamic fanaticism or bigotry toward homosexual men or maybe both. Never mind that the killer was a frequent patron of the establishment he attacked and was known to have a hot temper. He was a Muslim of Afghan nationality, and he told some of his victims he was angry at the USA, and that was enough for the embedded mass media to assign him a political motive and put a scare into their audience. Why the rush to judgment?
Because terror sells. We have reorganized our daily lives–travel, school, business, workplace practice–to stem the risk of terrorism, even though by most estimates it’s killed only an average eight Americans per year since 2002. An entire industry has arisen to deal with the threat, so that there are now as many people involved in the prevention of terrorism as there are terrorists. Hundreds of people are imprisoned without trial to prevent terrorism. Tens of thousands of people are forbidden to board a commercial airliner. Each and every one of us has to disrobe, at least partially, to enter a public building. If we took comparable measures to eliminate medical errors, we could save 10,000 lives per year. But the risk of medical malpractice, unlike terrorism, isn’t covered with much enthusiasm at NPR and CNN.
That’s because terrorism is drama, and drama attracts attention, and attention is what the mass media want most from you. If they can get your attention, they can bombard you with advertising, which will motivate you buy stuff, especially stuff like drugs, food and drink that have the power to distract you from the fear elicited in you by the risk of terrorism.
It’s funny that most people are not embarrassed to be terrorized. Beginning in 1942, the Nazi government of Germany launched frequent bombing raids on London and other English cities, but the people weren’t terrorized. They took shelter during the raids, but they went about their normal activities the rest of the time. They were no stronger or smarter or healthier than people of today, but they were harder to frighten. Why?
Because in 1942 the word from the authorities was to keep a stiff upper lip and maintain your composure. Today’s authorities inundate us with an endless flow of terrorizing rhetoric, and we find it hard to resist. Cowardice has become a virtue, and terror, a sacrament. Lucky thing, too, because our modernized rules of engagement now employ tactics like torture and robotic attack, once considered acts of supreme cowardice.
It’s not just the mass media that feed the terror industry. Government officials are direct beneficiaries of a terrorized people. They are privileged in the interest of security to conduct government business in secret, to spend obscene sums and to place themselves above the law. We give them the unfettered right to name our enemies and allies, and we encourage them to punish those among us who resist or defy them. Corrupt officials feed corrupt media with information likely to satisfy their audiences, and the media dutifully suppress information that could disrupt the sanctioned stream.
The terror industry has resources even more powerful than the risk of violence, which is largely fictitious and presented as such hour after hour on television and in movies. The real-life risk of poverty terrorizes us to the point of panic. The terror industry keeps us ever aware that our jobs are temporary and our income altogether conditional. We have jobless and homeless people not because of a shortage of jobs or places to live but so that people with jobs and homes will stay worried enough to work cheaply and pay exorbitantly for whatever social insurance they can cobble together.
How strong is the terror industry? Strong enough to prompt us to abandon common sense. Take the case of the Orlando killings. We know perfectly well that violence directed at nightclub patrons is commonplace and is almost always a matter of revenge magnified by alcohol. Violent man gets treated rudely by some other patron or the bartender or the bouncer and breaks a chair over somebody or burns the place down or shoots someone. Unlike terrorism, this sort of violence actually happens, and there’s every reason to believe it happened in Orlando, but we are willing to believe the killer had complex political motives because NPR and Clinton and Trump say so. We might want to shop around for ways to resist this sort of indoctrination or at least teach our children to resist. It’s weakness to be terrorized, and we can’t afford weakness right now.