Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Document 9

Just because you’re paranoid
Don’t mean they’re not after you

States have a love/hate relationship with freedom, as with fear.
Freedom is sometimes the freedom to be afraid, isn’t it? Like growing up. It has an isolating or agoraphobic quality. And when you distil that quality to a pure form – let’s say, The [North] American Dream, the most overused and overdefined and murky conception of freedom you’ll find out there – well, what do you get?
A purity fear and isolation. That kind of isolation you might feel in a crowd.
None of this is a particularly original or a particularly eloquent observation; as I say, it has been done to death. But it came into my mind when I read that Hemingway had been tracked by the FBI while he was in Cuba. His paranoia and depression involved the world being against him, shadowy agencies pursuing him, and a sense of entrapment in everyday life.
Did the FBI start that, or contribute to it? Maybe he’d have felt that way even if they weren’t following him. A lot of people feel that way.

But why do so many people feel that way? I say this particular in reference to North Americans, who seem to feel this in abundance. And it’s not only that: it’s a feeling that’s become central to modern US culture.

But let’s be logical for a second. I mean, not that many North Americans believe that the world is about to end, or that lizards rule the White House, or that Barack Obama is a foreign Muslim with a false birth certificate. Not that many. The numbers aren’t important, it’s the mileage that’s so shocking.

And, to take it further: not that many North Americans believe that white people are a superior ‘race’ which needs to exert control over the other ‘races.’ Not that many. Quite a lot but not that many.

However, a great deal of books and films and songs and pretty much the entire internet would make you think that these things – or at least the mutual feeling that they appear to stem from – were definitive. Perhaps that’s why almost everyone in the UK seems to say ‘[North] Americans are weird / greedy / violent / paranoid / racist / militaristic / conservative.’

Well, alright. There is objective justification to some of the generalisations in that list (though they are, of course, sweeping generalisations). But it’s the mileage, the amount that the ideas are talked about – in the US and outside it.

Now, I’m going to focus on a well known cultural products, and talk about the difficulties it brings up because of this agoraphobia, heterophobia, and paranoia that they exhibit. My glowingly problematic example: the writing of Sylvia Plath. A writer of depth, beauty and understanding. But there is racism there, in The Bell Jar, notable and unchallenged racism. Unchallenged by Plath in her style, and always, always, always unchallenged by her readers. Brushed over. ‘A product of her time, despite her progressiveness.’ That sort of thing.

We miss a massive point when we sweep the fear and alienation that racism represents under the carpet. Has there ever been a time when the world was racist? Or should that be, has there ever been a time when the world wasn’t racist, sexist, classist? Should we listen to a Tory politician tell a female politician to ‘calm down, dear’ and, struck by the sexism of his remark, excuse him as the product of his time?

The feelings at the heart of prejudice, the heart of darkness: the horror, the horror. Horror at what is around you.

But the question is, the question we started with is, what role does the state play in it?
Maybe it comes before the state. It is a vehicle the state can ride.

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