Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The neurotic American presidential security

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Many of us have known what the ideology of national security has meant under military dictatorships in Latin America. State security was the first value. In fact, it was about the security of capital so that it could continue with its business and its logic of accumulation, rather than specifically about the security of the state. This ideology, basically, assumed that every citizen was a real or potential subversive. Therefore, they would have to be monitored and eventually arrested, interrogated and, if they resisted, tortured, sometimes to death. Thus the bonds of trust, without which society loses its meaning, were broken. One lived under a heavy veil of mistrust and fear.

I say all this with respect to the security apparatus surrounding the visit of the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to Brazil. There the full security ideology -- not national, but presidential -- was operating. There was no confidence in the capacity of Brazilian organizations to ensure the safety of the president. The whole U.S. security apparatus accompanied him. Immense helicopters that were so monstrous in size that there were few places where they could land, armored limousines, and soldiers lined with so many technological devices that they looked more like killing machines than human beings, came. Special shooters were positioned on rooftops and in strategic places along with intelligence personnel. Every corner through which the "imperial court" would pass, the neighboring streets, houses and shops, was monitored and reviewed. For security reasons, the speech he was going to give to the public in downtown Rio, in Cinelandia, was canceled. The people invited to hear his speech at the National Theatre had to first pass through a thorough review.

What does such a scenario show? That we're in a sick and inhumane world. Before, the forces of nature, against which we did not have much defense, threatening demons and vengeful gods were feared. Today we are afraid of ourselves, of weapons of mass destruction, of wars of tremendous destruction that some central countries are waging. We are afraid of the assaults on the street. We are afraid to go to the mountains where poor communities live. We even fear the street children wo might threaten us.

What are we not afraid of?

And the classics taught that the laws, the organization of the State and public order exist basically to liberate us from fear and so that we can live together peacefully.

Formalizing the thinking, we can first say that fear is part of our existence. There are four basic fears: fear that our individuality will be taken away and that we will be made dependent or merely a number; fear of being cut off from relationships and that we will be punished through loneliness and isolation; fear of changes that may affect the profession, health, and, at the limit, life itself; fear of inevitable and final realities such as death. The way we face these existential fears marks our process of individuation. If we do so with courage, overcoming difficulties, we grow. If we run away and try to avoid them, we end up weakened and even ashamed.

Despite all our science that creates the illusion of omnipotence, we become afraid of the Earth and its forces. Who controls the collision of tectonic plates? Who stops an earthquake and slows down a tsunami? We are nothing in the face of such uncontrollable energy, exacerbated by global warming.

Fear, then, is part of our human condition. It becomes pathology and neurosis when one seeks to avoid it in a way that disrupts the entire social reality and makes space a kind of battlefield, like the one put together by U.S. security forces. If a president visits a country and its people, he should bear the risks that are part of life. Otherwise, better the authorities on both sides should meet on a ship at sea, safe from fear and danger. The security strategies only reveal what kind of world we live in: people are afraid of other human beings. We are hostages of fear and, therefore, without freedom and the joy of living and welcoming a visitor.

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