To be an American, you have to sign on to being scared: “I pledge allegiance to living in fear.”
When you look below our self-congratulatory, feel-good surface, you find a society pockmarked by fear. This creepy feeling has persisted throughout our history to this very day. Fear of blacks. Fear of God. Fear of women. Fear of equality. Fear of communism. Fear of homosexuals. Fear of crime. Fear of the bomb. Fear of science. Fear of terrorists.
Seems like no one can run the country without scaring the hell out of us. Seems like the citizenry cannot live except in fear. There’s always some enemy that our politicians tell us to be scared of. But if you think our biggest fear is the fear that drives our national policy, you’re wrong.
We live our biggest fear in the workplace. That’s the hidden secret of American life. Fear of the boss. Fear of getting fired. In no other country on earth is the workplace so hierarchically fear-based, with supervisors supervising workers, and supervisors supervising supervisors, all the way to the top. It’s the system: everybody watches everybody else. There prevails an ongoing obsequious accommodation with a bright, smiling, cheery hypocrisy, that no one has the guts to expose.
We walk around being major suckups, 24/7. We kid ourselves we’re totally happy and fulfilled in our jobs, but we spend most of our working days in an unexpressed fear, so ingrained we’re hardly conscious of it. That is, until someone gets fired, when our fear jumps right up into our faces, and we avoid the fired person like the plague, because there but for the grace of our boss, go we. There, out of the door, walks the embodiment of our fear. That’s why we’re too scared to talk to the poor fellow. Fear is contagious.
There’s very little we can do about our fear, either. As any union official will tell you, the Bill of Rights stops at the factory gates. In 30 states it’s legal to get fired for being married, for being single, for being pregnant, for being you. You can sue if you get fired on gender and ethnic grounds — but not if you get fired for your politics, for example. A woman got fired during the election because she had a John Kerry bumper sticker. She didn’t proselytize for Kerry; all she did was have that sticker. Her boss wrote memos telling his workers they should vote for Bush. He could do what he wanted. Not her. If she were a Republican, a Democrat boss could as easily have fired her.