Fear and Greed: The Two Guiding Forces of Our Society

“Fear will control the local systems….” — Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars

William Golding saw it at the same time that George Orwell did. A little later it was Asimov and Clarke. Then Crichton and even Collins (Suzanne, not Jackie). Western society is driven by two things: fear and greed. The majority is made afraid by the minority who rule because of their greed. The 1% gains control by scaring the 99% into fighting amongst itself while the rich seize more and more control of society — Citizens United, alternate fuel development restrictions, SuperPACs, etc. — and diverts the attention of the majority with fear of everyone around them so that the only people they can “trust” are the ones who are in control of everything. “I have made billions of dollars, so I must know how to run things,” seems to be the motto of nearly every politician, some more directly than others.

Oh, they use greed against us too. “You don’t have the new iPhone? Well, you better get it soon because yours will be obsolete and you have to have an iPhone that has rounded edges because that’s what’s better. You just got the iPhone 6? Well, here’s the iPhone 7. Now you need this one. It’s better because we raised the number by one.”

If we stop and think for a moment about what we are really afraid of we’d realize that these fears are really just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. Terrorists? Seriously? That’s just basic xenophobia being taken advantage of. In the seventies we had more “terrorist” organizations than we have now: the IRA, Black September, the Weather Underground, the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah, the ELN, the Shining Path, and, of course, the KKK, who have been around for over a hundred years. In fact, there have been more terrorist attacks made by Americans on Americans in the US than by any foreign organizations: the Unibomber, the FBI bombing in Texas, various attempts (successful and unsuccessful) of killing presidents, just to name a few. So why are we so scared of ISIS? And what happened to Al Queda all of a sudden? Osama Bin Laden is dead so we don’t have to worry about them any more? Wrong. We don’t have to worry about any of them because if we just ignore them as a public (I’m not saying the government shouldn’t do something about these organizations) they’ll go away from our daily thoughts. Fearing these few people is like being afraid of driving a car. If you stop and think about it, it’s a really dangerous thing to do, you could die!, but we all do it all the time together and completely without any real coordination between us.

We’re afraid of our children not getting a good education? Has anyone else noticed that the RISE in college remedial classes for students who go to college, including elite colleges like Harvard, without proper preparation for college began soon after No Child Left Behind was enacted followed by Race to the Top? “Researchers say that remedial numbers have increased from nearly one-third of incoming college freshmen in 2001, to about 40 percent currently.”

What changed? The 1980s set the standard for my generation (Generation X) to make money — “Greed is good. Greed works” said Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Unfortunately most of my peers didn’t pay attention to the fact that he was the ANTAGONIST of the movie and wound up in jail because of his greed. Instead, we went out to seize as much money as we could and turn this country into a consumer culture like it had never been before. We want more toys because they show how well-off we are and keep us “happy.” We want the big flashy cars, the big houses, the big properties, and anyone who doesn’t have all these things is beneath us. When I first became a teacher in 2001 in the South Bronx — a poor neighborhood of NYC — I had a student tell me he couldn’t afford a one dollar notebook for my class while he was wearing $120 Air Jordan sneakers. Think about what that says about American culture. Don’t you start to hate us just a little? Now you start to glimpse into the eyes of those who are not American.

Now, my generation is in control. We in our forties and fifties are the policy-makers and top earners. And we still want more. So we’ll take it with phony mortgage rate schemes and inflated tech values all of which will eventually blow up, but in your faces, not ours. We’ll just bank the money and buy a new SUV with it. Why are we the county in the world that buys more SUVs than any other? It makes us look COOL to ourselves. We can afford to burn that much gas because we have the money to burn, almost literally. If car companies actually followed the lead of Tesla motors, we wouldn’t have a single gas-burning car left in about ten years. But that won’t happen because our economy feeds off of oil prices. We are afraid of change. We’re afraid of what might happen if oil companies fail. Not to mention that many of those who form policy are connected to oil companies either directly (e.g., George W. Bush and Dick Cheney) or indirectly (e.g., Tom DeLay). They make us FEAR what will happen to the country if we don’t use oil anymore. But really, its out of GREED, because so many people, particularly in Texas, are subsidized by oil, so the US government subsidizes oil.

So the most of us, the average Americans, fear the possible changes to the economy, the possible terrorist attacks, and the possible undervaluing of American education while the financially elite make even more money off of us and our fears keeping the status quo going because they won’t live to be hurt by climate change, bad foreign relationships, or a poorly educated populous. In fact, they want that because they and their descendants will always have enough money to buy technology to protect themselves from climate collapse and to go unregulated private schools that will not be hurt by treating schools like factories.

Einstein included stupidity in the above quote, but I want to ammend that to ignorance. It’s ignorance of what is really going on, which is what I try to write about, at least as I see it.

Have I made you afraid of the future? Maybe that’s a good fear to have. Look at the facts. Think. Learn. Then decide what is truly RIGHT. Not just best for you but for all because you have no idea who you will need tomorrow on your side. “No [person] is an island.” We rely on everyone around us, so do you really want to screw over those around you?

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