Monday, July 03, 2006

The War on Everything

Notice how we seem lately besieged -- at least in popular discourse -- with large, global-scale threats to our well-being? Terrorism, global warming, overpopulation, bird flu, vanishing oil and natural resources ... each can lead to massive loss of human life, destabilization of our society, and the end of life as we know it. Without disputing that each of these has the potential to be every bit as bad as we can imagine, if not worse, it's an interesting phenomenon, sociologically speaking. Why, at this juncture in our history, are we fixated on large, almost insoluble threats? (And for the literal-minded among you, yes, I've heard all about Al Gore's new movie on global warming, and I think I remember hearing something about 9/11, too.)

Frank Furedi at Spiked points out that when we talk about these threats and what to do about them, we now use, almost exclusively, rhetoric about our "security" to do so. Everything -- overpopulation, bird flu, and so on -- is made to fit under the security rubric, implying that these problems require military or security solutions, rather than technical or political solutions, or adaptive changes. That our discourse has become so warped by "security" is to some degree a reflection of the current administration's insistence on its importance, and the diversion of funding to "homeland" security (does no one else feel any authoritarian chill when they hear that phrase?). But it's also a fascinating case study in how dominated our society is, right now, by fear -- and, I suspect, by fear of massive social change brought on by globalization and the speed at which technology is changing our lives. This is not to say that the threats being waved in our faces aren't real, but the narrow way in which we conceive of them -- strictly through the lens of security -- reveals how limited our ability to deal with them really is.

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