Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Existential Terrors of August

For someone with a grandchild due home from the Middle East next week, the State Department Alert about “potential for terrorist attacks” there this month is no abstraction.

“U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” the government says. The safety measures are not specified.

As this warning chills millions of American hearts like mine, Edward Snowden is now free to roam the streets of Moscow, secure in the certainty he has struck a blow at government invasion of our privacy. One may be forgiven for not finding his criminal efforts on behalf of individual freedom vs. communal security heroic.

Once again we are in the grip of irrational fear bequeathed by bin Laden on 9/11 and a subsequent loss of social trust that has leaked into American life over those dozen years and poisoned our confidence that we can wake up every morning and, within existential limits, control our lives.

The news tells us that, beyond our daily existence, nothing is manageable in either the worlds of nature or man. Weather upheavals are matched by the political, and we are transfixed by freaks of nature like Ariel Castro, Anthony Weiner and their ilk.

In the past century, Americans may have been more naïve about the hidden motives of people as individuals or in political concert, but they shared a vision, however flawed, of their ability to fumble through to a better community.

Now, with 24/7 cable news and unlimited Internet gabble, we “know” so much more but have no context and no coherence for any of it.

As we spend this month under an official Travel Alert and no Congress in Washington to pretend that someone is running the country, what will shape our picture of the world is an existential anxiety that will fuel despair over what used to be called the Silly Season for news.

No one will be laughing.  

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