The Talking Dog

July 14, 2013, Fear Factor

Was it that much of a surprise that George Zimmerman of Sanford, FL was acquitted in the homicide of Trayvon Martin? You'll recall that originally, police didn't even want to charge Mr. Zimmerman with killing Mr. Martin, who, after all, represented American society's ultimate bete noire, a young Black man. But, you know... the public outcry and all.

I'm not going to comment specifically on the case, or on the outcome. Indeed, this from the Atlantic says it more articulately than I ever could, noting essentially that "we wuzn't there..." Where the only living witness is the alleged perp, "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" could be difficult to prove. And I wasn't even in the courtroom (nor did I follow the coverage); I've been in enough courtrooms where juries have done things that I've personally found inexplicable to add any value in commenting on this particular case... maybe it was just a tough case to prosecute... maybe the prosecution did a horrible job... don't know. [Candace, quoting Langston Hughes, comments even more articulately.]

No... I'll let the public outrage (on "both sides") play out elsewhere. I kind of want to "drill-down" into something else. I'm going to talk about Mr. Zimmerman himself, who I've found fascinating for any number of reasons. Mostly, I want to know just why this man was so scared shitless of everything that he felt the need to play Batman God, and be a well-armed homicidal vigilante volunteer neighborhood watchman... had this been the 1960's, when millions of middle class White people (including most of my own family) abandoned the ever scarier inner cities for the seeming peace, quiet and safety of the suburbs, driven by that force that is now embedded in the American DNA (though it was arguably less apparent then), that being, of course, fear, particularly, fear of "the other," I might have "understood." Clearly I'm missing something... perhaps it's that I live in the seemingly peaceable kingdom of a "mixed" (though just about fully gentrified) Brooklyn neighborhood, while most of my family remains in the suburbs, or even in points beyond... of course, the irony is that I can walk to places without fear of imminent death (mostly by being run down by cars)... and they can't.

Anyway... we find Mr. Zimmerman in an ostensibly "gated suburban community," as, fear (of something or other) seems to reside quite literally in his own bones, he being employed as an insurance underwriter and taking courses toward a junior college degree in criminal justice... but again, I'm just stuck on "reality" (it always gets in the way)... I just was not aware of gated suburban communities in Seminole County, Florida being hotbeds of violence by young Black men... one might think the word "Brooklyn," even gentrified Brownstone Brooklyn, would be more fear-inspiring... But... I guess I'm mistaken.

I admit that I try, superficially at least, not to live my own life in fear. After all, unlike most Americans, I found myself in downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2001, as I still do on most work days, within a football field's length or two of the WTC site... and yet, readers of any regularity know I am nonetheless an absolutist in Ben Franklin's "those who would give up their precious liberty for temporary security deserve neither..." I never accepted the need to become a totalitarian country (which, boys and girls, we have become) in order to "fight terrorism." I'm evidently in a small minority.

Hey, paranoia is patriotic. Obviously, on a macro-level, we are all supposed to fear the ever-lurking swarthy A-rab terrrrrrrrorists of al-Qaeda ... notwithstanding that OBL is dead and that AQ elements in Libya and Syria seem to be on American --or at least American allies'-- payrolls... on a less macro-level, White suburbanites, including presumably Mr. Zimmerman, are supposed to remain scared shitless ever vigilant against incursions by... young Black men. Even those evidently visiting their father, who happens to live in the same gated communities.

In some sense... who am I to talk? I can put on my own brave face, but if my own neighborhood were to see a spike in street crime... what would I do? [Fortunately, and I mean this, I live in a City where it's damned hard for me, and hence, for the George Zimmermans of the world, to get their hands on a gun... but I digress...] Indeed, I hide behind the anonymity of a pseudonym for this blog, as much from fear of possible adverse work implications as from fear of irritation by trolls and those who simply disagree with me. And why is that? Notwithstanding the supposed enlightened state of our democratic republic (for those who believe we have one in anything other than form), most people would certainly agree that the conditions under which most Americans earn their living are far stricter... our managers exercise virtually unfettered authority over us during the six or eight or ten or whatever hours a day of work that we perform, and we self-temper our work behavior (and, more and more, our off-hours behavior), lest we offend someone who might kill fire us, thereby cutting off not merely our self-esteem, but almost certainly, our access to health care, the ability to remain in our homes, or ultimately, to eat (let alone to live with any kind of personal dignity), and casting us to our fate in a country where actual unemployment (as opposed to the official propaganda rate) is, and for some time has been at, Depression era levels.

And I guess I'm going to point out that this fear (of starvation if wages are cut off) is more or less embedded in the very DNA of industrial capitalism... our basic needs can be met in comparatively few hours of work a day... capitalism requires that we generate " a surplus," promptly handed over to our betters who manage us accordingly (while taking the lions' share for themselves). Without going all "Occupy!" on you, my comment is not on the resulting distribution of money, but on the intrinsic distribution of power... in our supposed representative democracy, the basic attitude of our work life is, of course, fear... the fear of living in essentially totalitarian environments. And, surprise surprise, once duly primed, fear can easily make its way into everything else- i.e., the extremely politically useful fears-- such as fear of crime (notwithstanding that crime rates have been declining for years) resulting in an insane level of incarceration (particularly for men of color), or of course, fear of terrorism (notwithstanding its extraordinary rarity), or of course, as has been of note in the recent legislative theater of the absurd known as "comprehensive immigration reform," fear of Mexican people illegal immigrants, leading to various absurdities such as proposals to militarize our Southwestern border to levels comparable only to the border between the two Koreas.

And so, we have this ambient level of fear leading to Florida's outrageous "Stand your Ground" law, making it public policy to favor aggressive behavior likely to result in death... out of very politically useful fear.

With all this fear out there swirling around, including, of course, in the heads of the likes of physically slight, gun-toting, absolutely scared-shitless George Zimmerman hanging on in his suburban enclave ever more fearful of losing ground economically, or of course, giving way to all of the other litany of fears swirling around his head... and voila. Throw in all this fear, hundreds of millions of firearms, and the general racial unfairness in this society (temporarily papered over by the Presidency of not-actually-descended-from-slaves Barack Obama), and you get unfortunate events like the Trayvon Martin killing. Which, had it resulted in a prompt charge and guilty plea to something like involuntary manslaughter, wouldn't have generated much attention.

But the powers need the peasants to turn on each other (rather than their betters in the banking sector, military industrial complex, Monsanto, etc.)... and hence, the fear-mongering, the stand-your-ground-laws, the psychotic numbers of guns circulating...

I think you get the picture. Regardless of your views on the Zimmerman verdict... the picture is still not a pretty one.