Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why they need us

[This musing assumes you have seen the film V for Vendetta. If you have not and wish not to view "spoilers," go watch the darn flick and come back later. You've been warned. You're welcome.]

Towards the climax of the great movie about violence and the state V for Vendetta, megalomanical leader Adam Sutler declares the time has come for the rulers of totalitarian England to remind the peasantry "why they need us." What follows is a montage of news reports clearly intended to cow the citizenry into a state of fear, reminding them that the government is the only thing standing between their security and utter chaos.

A civil war drags on in the former United States. Water shortages are reported and predicted because of a lack of sufficient rain for two years. Police arrest nine suspects who were hoarding vaccine against the deadly avian flu. Twenty-seven people have died in the wake of the discovery of a new airborne disease. New evidence links the terrorist V to an attack on London 14 years earlier - reminding them of the attack that made citizens turn to the government for protection in the first place. A skeptical bar patron says out loud: "Can you believe this shit?" Of course we can't, and we shouldn't.

The truth revealed by the movie is that the state is the source of the chaos. The titular character V, either a freedom fighter or a terrorist depending upon point of view, helps detective Finch uncover the reality that the central terrorist attack of his age was staged by government forces seeking control of citizens' lives under the cover of providing more security. V himself is the product of secret government medical research gone awry.

A central theme of the movie is the same as mine: Refuse to be afraid. The standard political script has been unchanged for decades now: Remind people about something they fear. Offer yourself as the solution to that which they fear. Once elected, strip people of freedom in the name of fighting that which they fear. Rule with an iron fist or a velvet glove, but rule; do not let people live for themselves in freedom.

I would like to dig one notch deeper: V himself preys upon fear, as well. He manipulates people's fear of the state and their fear of losing their freedom - a healthy fear, no doubt, but a real and palpable fear. Notice that V's agenda is first vengeance against the people who conducted the secret medical research on him - hence the title V for Vendetta. He justifies his vendetta by wrapping it within the more worthy cause of freedom: "People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people." But this little proverb betrays his agenda: Someone should be afraid.

Fear is the great irrationalizer. People do stupid and terrible things when they are afraid. Therefore governments, comprised of people acting as a collective, do stupid and terrible things when operating out of fear. It is one thing to be aware of danger; it is entirely a different thing to be so afraid of that danger that you do or allow stupid and terrible things.

Being aware of the state's incomprehensible assault on our freedom is a healthy thing. Allowing yourself to become afraid of the state, and acting based on that fear rather than rational awareness, is unhealthy.

The state wants you to be afraid. Refuse to be afraid of their straw men and speculations. But go one step beyond: Refuse to be afraid of the state itself. When folks like me show you examples of the state's fear-mongering, use the information to think for yourself - don't be afraid of the state's power, because fear is part of the fuel of their power. We do not need the state to take care of us; the real truth is about how much our leaders need us to believe we need them. And that brings us to the second half of my mantra above: Free yourself.

The character Evie is unable to think clearly until she has no more fear. She reaches that condition of bliss only after a lifetime of horror and several weeks of torture - not a regimen any of us would like to undergo. Perhaps the best we can do is acknowledge our fears and refuse to allow the fear to control our actions and decisions. But that is the key - defeating the fear and living free.

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