And no one is saying the threats are wholly imagined. Though September 11 was, or could have been, a more isolated historical event than the Bush administration made it into, it's also incontestable that we have entered an age in which terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, and they are particularly liable to happen to the world's last great imperial power. As for the subtler domestic currents of menace--the ones that strike closer to home, like school shootings and Internet pedophiles--there is something real in back of those specters as well. The rhythms and routines of everyday life are less stable now. There are a whole lot more people walking around among us with no human connections and not a single self-interested reason to play by the rules, and that is a dangerous and erratic breed.
It's no wonder that all this reaches down to the deepest places in us. But whatever basis in fact our collective fears can claim, it pales beside the purposeful, hyperbolic cynicism of the Bush administration. I really would not be surprised to learn that some of the Bushies had studied Goebbels sub rosa. He was the first philosopher of modern media propaganda, and he wrote much of the playbook that, consciously or not, they now follow. It is framed by the two most basic principles of all. The first, in Goebbels's own words, is this: "The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious."
And the second? "The masses need something that will give them a thrill of horror."
I haven't written in this space much lately. But you can see what I've been up to by visiting my Bush Wars weblog via tcb.citypages.com. Nearly everyone on the CP staff, and a number of freelancers besides, have blogs there. Check them out and let us know what you think.