#4 – Panic in Dystopia

You might as well go out and shoot everyone you see and then shoot yourself.
Dwight David Eisenhower

President Eisenhower’s remark was his opinion on what might be a logical reaction in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Do our policy-makers in Washington have “Doomsday” plans, have they thought about how to avoid panic in “dystopia?” They did then. “[In] 1951 the federal government began building a series of secret subterranean lairs in rural Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The first of these, known as  Raven Rock,  is buried under more than a quarter mile of Pennsylvania granite, covers more  than 100,000 square feet and can accommodate around 1,400 people in multiple structures ‘carefully positioned on coiled springs to ease swaying during a nearby attack.’” (1)

In this the fourth in a series of essays dealing with the human condition in the 21st century, we continue building on the theme of the causes and remedies of existential anxiety. We repeat our definition of panic to set the context for this exploration. Panic is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behaviors, and that often spreads quickly through a group.

We have experienced presidential elections which have caused fear and anger in the past but none we know of that has so many Americans in a state of near-panic as that of 2016. It seems that a precedent has been set in the U.S. related to causes of anxiety if not yet the full- blown feeling that we are entering a period of the rule of Big Brother and Doublespeak; the Brave New World of the Donald.

No less a document than the U.S. Constitution ratified in 1788 anticipated the egregious behavior of a greedy Big Brother. From Section 9 of the Constitution (the Foreign Emoluments Clause) we have: No title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatsoever, from an King, Prince, or foreign State [emphasis added].

Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan points out the moral dilemma our current (2017) president is facing with his decidedly “unconstitutional” behavior. “From the moment of the founding until this year, every chief executive has honored these terms. Which brings us to the present day. President Trump has failed to divest his business holdings in any meaningful way. He continues to profit from arrangements with foreign governments, and foreign actors openly curry his favors with their business at home and abroad. His adult children travel at taxpayers expense to expand his brand around the globe. He has never approached Congress for approval to leverage his public office for private gain, and as we learned in May, he is not even tracking the profits earned at his hotels from foreign governments, as he promised to do in January.” (2)

Should we have seen Big Brother coming as anything more than a figment of a science fiction writer’s imagination? Perhaps the fact that 1984 is topping the best seller lists today might indicate that the hero/protagonist, Winston Smith, who resisted the controls and abuses of Big Brother, might again be needed. “By the 1960s, Winston’s struggle was seen as against dehumanization inherent in modern society itself. In an influential afterword written in 1961 (and still included in contemporary editions), the psychologist Erich Fromm called it a warning that ‘unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons and will not even be aware of it.”    (3)

Humankind has been behaving like automatons long before modern times and Big Brothers past and present have not been to blame. We have adjusted to life in dystopia and indeed “are not even aware of it.”

Insight # 4:  We have two worldview choices which we have labeled Paradigm A and Paradigm B. Without learning the distinction between the two contexts, we cannot hope to make a healthy choice.

Links:

References:

  1. Vogt, Justin. “The Deep State.” The New York Times Book Review. June 18, 2017, page 18. 
  2. Wills, Garry. “We the People.”  The New York Times Magazine. July 2, 2017. 
  3. Schuessler, Jennifer. “Thoughtcrime Hits the Big Time.” The New York Times. June 18, 2017, page 7.

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