The Speed at Which We Perceive Threat: Some Reflections by Richard Godwin
Have you ever feared invasion?
A stranger’s hand on your wife in that quick uncertain moment you realise you may have been considering her your property all these years?
Who is he?
The armies that want to lay siege to your city.
And you are powerless and that powerlessness corrupts you as much as all the time you were in power.
From the founding of the America Republic in 1776 to the present day there has been fear of invasion within American culture: of entry into the body politic and economic and into the body-mind system by forces which might impose change, as well as fears of internal disruption which might subvert the national obedience consensus.
Since the British left in 1814, the national boundaries have been invaded militarily only once until 9/11: by Pancho Villa and forces from the Mexican Revolution, who burned Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916.
To separate out some of the fears, six basic categories predominate:
1) Fears that human beings are not the only intelligent human beings in what Henry Adams called ‘the multiverse’
2) Fears of some form of underground or overground, invisible or semi-visible.
These versions of the Manichean vision in which the world is a battlefield of good and evil forces describe a main location for racial fears and anxieties relating to genetic engineering, secret societies, and so on.
3) Fear of insurrection or invasion from within.
4) Fears of the Mafia which have, under the guise of necessary permissions given to the FBI, CIA and other government forces, masked fears of threats to community and individual freedom.
5) Fears of invasion from without.
6) Ambivalent fear of total surveillance by God, or some god-like authority or demonic ruler, or even of the interlocking surveillance construct maintained by the FBI, CIA, military intelligence, police or Internal Revenue, a complex that would include the Mormon filing system, closed circuit television in public places and bugging.
There are many films about invasion. From ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ to ‘Sleep No More’ this has been dramatised.
In the 1950’s Soviet power and internal tyranny invented a permission to curtail any system other than American-style capitalist democracy and a warrant for vast budgeting on behalf of military-industrial interests.
Thomas Pynchon illustrates some of these fears and concerns in his novel ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’. The novel reads like a nervous collection of interlocking obsessions and parodies of Einstein’s beliefs, an epic plot of the all-enclosing Spenglerian curve – that systemic device which haunts General Cummings’ dream of orgasmic power and American military dominance in Norman Mailer’s ‘The Naked And The Dead’.
Pynchon’s encyclopaedism produces a demonic network: information, puns, acronyms, and paronyms, an inventory of dazzled skills which are intended to delineate chaos.
And isn’t it that chaos which is being guarded against?
Whatever the foreign policies are.
An individual votes a leader in. They may be unaware of what the foreign policies of their party are until that leader is in power.
Politicians need to manipulate our perceptions. They need to manipulate time.
In ‘Speed And Politics’ Paul Verilio writes:
‘In every revolution there is the paradoxical presence of circulation. Engels remarks in June 1848: “The first assemblies take place on the large boulevards, where Parisian life circulates with the greatest intensity.”‘
If we are responsible for ourselves we are responsible for our own perceptions. If not, we have entered the dubious terrain of the legal representations of those who stand outside, those deemed mentally unwell and who fall prey to whatever social structure they inhabit.
Virilio equates lack of speed with freedom:
‘In the 1960s a mutation occurs: the passage from wartime to the war of peacetime, to that total peace that others still call “peaceful coexistence”. The blindness of the speed of means of communicating destruction is not a liberation from geopolitical servitude, but the extermination of space as the field of freedom of political action. We only need to refer to the necessary controls and constraints of the railway, airway or highway infrastructures to see the fatal impulse: the more speed increases, the faster freedom decreases.’
It seems that our perceptions are manipulated by the media we inhabit. And if those media can manipulate time then we are at the mercy of whatever information we are being fed and our own ability to decipher that information.
The fear of invasion may not be exclusive to American culture but it is there.
It is there in the X Files and it involves the reassurance of repelling the alien attackers.
It is there in formula writing.
It is there in every pat on the back we seek.
But is there reassurance any more?
Given the reality of what we inhabit is it something we should have evolved beyond?
The speed we move at may be a key.
And the media we read are controlling that.
I explore these themes in my novel Apostle Rising. The sequel is to follow this year. I also explore it in my second novel Mr. Glamour. And it is prevalent in my collection of stories Piquant: The Mustard Man.