Beach closures, paranoia, history and culture

The beach in Santa Clara, closed by National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC, the lifeguards for which are in orange) with police on hand to enforce that, was closed on November 22. The red flag is a symbol of that, rather than a communist takeover. The order closing all beaches and riverbank bathing spots in Panama, by reference for gringos of a certain age, came 57 years after the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. By reference for those in charge of public safety in Panama, it came on a fairly nice day after several days of heavy rains. SINAPROC photo.

Are they coming to take you away?

by Eric Jackson


Commentary on Facebook about the above situation, from someone in the Coronado area.

Ah, rainy season living in Panama!

Where there can be not too many clouds in the sky, the water at the beach can look calm as glass, and still swollen streams coming down from the hills and emptying into the bay can cause riptides that can — and DO — drown several people every year.

And if the person who goes for a sunset stroll can’t resist and goes in the water, if SINAPROC has to do a late afternoon search and rescue its people may get the choice between saving their own lives by going home as the sun goes down, or working far more dangrously in the dark.

But hey — isn’t the good life the ability to live the fantasy that the universe revolves around one’s self? And if it doesn’t, isn’t that clear evidence of a fiendish plot to control your life? A lot of cultures and subcultures are more fatalistic that this. Those who believe that God can play capricious tricks may have a different attitude from those whose religion is conspicuous consumption, or so on.

And what is it about the thick streak of conspiratorial thinking that runs through US culture, anyway?

As it turns out, November 22 marks an auspicious milestone in the developmemt of that way of thinking. On that day an apparently crazed former marine shot President Kennedy. The gunman had dabbled with communism, briefly living in the Soviet Union and bringing a wife home from there, approaching the Cubans and apparently being rebuffed by them, getting involved with a small Trotskyist faction whose members thought him weird.

But see, in that era the United States and forces allied with it did get into assassinations. A few days before Kennedy took office, the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba was murdered in the most brutal way by Colonel Mobutu, who was a thug dictator and darling of the west for decades afterward. The annoying Rafael Trujillo was taken out in the Dominican Republic a few months into the Kennedy administration. When the Diem brothers couldn’t maintain order in South Vietnam, they were killed in a coup. AND there were all these attempts to kill Fidel Castro, not to mention the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the terrifying Missile Crisis.

Lee Harvey Oswald was quickly dispatched by a mobbed-up businessman, but it was a matter of intense national interest to know the motive. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, was put in charge of a commission to find out what made Oswald’s  mind tick.

A thorough, credible and dispassionate investigation, however, would have posed a mortal threat to the entire planet. Allege that Kennedy and Castro were playing chicken with their respective hit men and Kennedy lost, and that could lead to nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. So certain key questions were pointedly not asked, and an awful lot of people noticed. It was a mother lode of conspiracy theories.

THEN, as the Vietnam War degenerated into an always denied humiliating loss for the United States, the notion that “THEY are lying to us” became a staple of the popular culture, even when  “they” were not. Enough lies lead to the suspicion that everything’s a lie. It’s the moral of the story about the boy who cried “wolf!”

A culture of exaggerated individualism, and history as taught in schools as tales of great men and terrible villains, fed the conspiratorial world view as a common delusion. Donald Trump has played to and amplified that madness.

So it becomes natural to presume that someone is plotting nefarious controls when a weekend on the beach is restricted for reasons invisible to the person affected by the restrictions.

But it’s about the possibilities of undertows and riptides generated by streams coming down from the hills. Those elemental forces can be subtle at first glance, and deadly when they have someone it their grip.


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