Monday, April 12, 2010

Freedom from Fear

I don't pretend or presume that the Tea Partiers face the same level of difficulties that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi faces in her valiant struggle to bring representative government to her people in Burma. The Tea Partiers are struggling to restore the measure of representative government that Americans have lost as a result of apathy and folly.
Nonetheless, Aung San's view of the situation in Burma (the name by which she calls her country) can provide us with insights and inspiration into our struggles to regain lost freedoms.

The ruling junta in Burma, like the kakistocracy in America, is a corrupt regime. Aung San's religion (Buddhism) teaches that corruption has one or more of four sources: greed, malice, ignorance, and fear. The most pernicious of these is fear because it often gives rise to the other three sources. (I would add to that observation the notion that corruption arising from any source gives rise to fear.) Aung San observes, “With so close a relationship between fear and corruption, it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife, corruption in all forms becomes entrenched.”
A lesson we can draw from this is that the ruling junta fears the people as much, if not more, than the people fear them. They protect themselves by instilling fear in the people. The people are encouraged to fear not only the regime but other ethnic groups in their country.
Aung San cites the Greek myth of the man who sowed dragon's teeth, each of which sprang up as warriors. The warriors were defeated by tricking them into turning against one another. Similarly, corrupt rulers keep the people down by tricking them into turning against one another.
We see that in America as well. Native-born Americans are turned against new Americans, and the distinction between immigrants and illegal aliens is deliberately blurred. Non-Muslims are taught that Muslims are supporters of terrorism if not terrorists themselves. Government agents are taught that air travelers are to be presumed guilty until proven innocent, throwing the constitutional guarantees against “unreasonable search and seizure” out the window. The list is almost endless. If we're not careful, our suspicion of Wall Street bankers may become corrupted into enmity between the middle class and the rich.
“Loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity,” she says, are, “'divine states of mind' which help to alleviate suffering and to spread happiness among all beings. The greatest obstacle to these noble emotions is...the rigid mental state that comes of a prolonged and unwavering concentration on narrow self interest. Hatred, anger, or ill will that arises from wrongs suffered, from misunderstanding, or from fear or envy may yet be appeased if there is sufficient generosity of spirit to permit forbearance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.” Aung San also urges that we “concede that the other party has an equal claim to justice, sympathy, and consideration.”
Thus far, this article has focused on different religious, political, or ethnic groups that have been divided against one another. What about policemen and military personnel who are from time to time commanded to commit acts of needless violence against civilians at home or abroad (such as Iraq or Afghanistan)?
They, too, are often acting from fear—fear of their superiors. We've all read stories or seen movies such as House on Haunted Hill, in which the power of evil turns people's deepest fears or darkest secrets against them. That's how it is with the few thousand people, mainly in Washington and Manhattan, who turn our fears or weaknesses against us. They have this power because our fears give them this power.
What if we truly supported our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? I don't mean supporting the wars that are decimating the troops with post traumatic stress syndrome and killer diseases that the government denies even exist and later downplays. What if private citizens held the Veterans Administration's feet to the fire used every legal means to get them to “care for him who will have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” which is their job anyway?
More and more servicemen are refusing to return to wars in which their own government refuses to support them. It's only a matter of time before whole units refuse to go. What if the troops were ordered into a third war, in Iran, and nobody went?
For eight years, Dick Cheney, through his puppet George W. Bush, ruled America through fear—fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of a government that was supposedly “of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.” Barack Obama was elected on the promise of change and hope. What we got instead was more of the same under the de facto President Rahm Emanuel.
Fear can serve constructive purposes. I think of fear as the Almighty's way of telling us that something requires our attention. Fear is also the devil's way of telling us that all is hopeless. Hope is the blessed assurance that heaven hears our prayers has everything under control.
If 305 million Americans fear heaven and have learned to set aside their fears of each other, then we have nothing to fear from a few thousand embezzlers and petty despots.

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