The attacks of September 11 provided the masters of this world with a splendid opportunity for carrying out their most repressive projects with little dissent. It also provided their propaganda machine with the opportunity of promoting the ideological agenda of those who rule us. Almost from the start, the various “experts” were on hand to analyze, to theorize, to tell us what to think. The propaganda of a united America and of a world divided simply into “good” and “evil”, the “good” again all united in the fight against “evil”. This corny mythological worldview pushed by the politicians and the media though had more to it than a simple promotion of mindless patriotism. The attacks were, in a sense, of epic proportions. It was easy for the authorities to convince us that as individuals we were helpless in the face of something of this sort, that we needed to be protected. And, of course, this protection could only come from the experts in protection—the state.
This is, in fact, the fundamental lesson that those in power have been promoting since the attacks: we are not capable of defending ourselves; the dangers of the world are beyond our control; we need to rely on the authorities, the experts to decide what to do for us.
Last month, another voice joined in this chorus. When the first anthrax-laced letters were discovered, people began to investigate possible natural remedies that they could acquire for themselves without reliance on the medical system—which many in this country cannot afford. Information about methods of strengthening the immune system, herbal antibiotics and similar natural and easily accessible methods of dealing with the potential of anthrax infection was spread through a variety of means that did not require going through an authority. But such self-reliance does not serve the interests of those in power, and so last month a government scientist, Dr. Stephen E. Straus, director of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, declared that people should not rely on such alternative remedies, but should rather have “an unwavering trust in the currently approved drugs and vaccines”. Straus offers no evidence that the natural methods do not work. He simply describes them as “unproven remedies”. In other words, the experts have not yet tested them in their laboratories on captive animals or on prisoners. In fact, Straus is just another voice—a government voice—telling us to put our faith in the authorities. And when fear gains the upper hand in people’s minds, they are easily swayed by such voices.
But another interesting bit of news came out a few weeks after Straus made his call for people to remain faithful to the experts in medicine. Tests on the anthrax powder that had been found in mail here showed that it was a form of anthrax developed in military laboratories here in the United States. The very authorities in whom we are to place our faith are the real source of that which threatens us. But those with an understanding of US foreign policy, those few who know the history of US involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, were already aware of this. The government that calls us to unite behind it holds at least as much responsibility for these attacks as Al Qaeda. But this too is simply a minor bit of news, a banality about how states function. This entire social order, dominated by capital and the state is a string of disasters, none of which can rightly be called accidents. We live our lives on the edge of catastrophe and turn the other way, hailing those who have placed us there as our protectors, simply because a few stopgap measures have maybe put off a particular catastrophe for a short while or because our masters meet a catastrophe with bellicose rhetoric and calls for the proper apportionment of blame (which never seems to fall on them). In fact, the catastrophe is this social order with its top priorities being profit and social control, with its specialization and division of labor that guarantees that no one fully understands what is going on, with its dependence on authorities and expertise that steals away people’s capacities for self-determination, with its cumbersome technological apparatus which provides the authorities with a tool for controlling people, but which is itself beyond control. It is not by relying on experts that we will put an end to this existence on the edge of disaster, but by taking back our lives and destroying the present social order.