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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid…Or Fight Back Against Fear-Mongering!

Have you been feeling fearful these days, as though the world has become a much more dangerous place, almost overnight? You’re not alone. Keeping populations in a state of heightened fear and dread is big business these days, and everyone wants a piece of the action.

Corporations who live and die by short-term financial metrics, want to find ways to grind out more profit per employee.  In a challenging economy, continuing layoffs and cuts to hours and benefits and ambiguous corporate communications keep employees from seeking raises or better assignments. Nobody wants to speak up about dangerous or illegal working conditions or crushing demands. Everyone’s just trying to “stay below the radar” and avoid being the next casualty.

Congress, where elected officials pledge their loyalty to the NRA, Grover Norquist, political caucuses, and the corporations that funded their election and re-election, is another bastion of fear-mongering. Truth in advertising suggests that instead of business suits, Congress-critters be forced to wear NASCAR-like jumpsuits with patches denoting each of their sponsors. But… I digress.  Congress likes to focus on vague fears like The Deficit That Will Force Your Grandkids into Economic Slavery, while the obvious, in-your-face fears like Climate Change Which Spawned the Superstorm That Washed Away Part of the Country go largely unremarked upon.  When Americans can be frightened by the looming perils of complicated issues, it’s so much easier to strip them of their freedoms and rob them blind.

Advertisers, always early adopters of any new revenue streams, have launched campaigns suggesting that “you may be eligible for [insert worthless scam here]”, drawing you in to learn about dreadful things that might happen.  Your car might break down. Your identity might be stolen. You might lose out on all life’s possibilities due to low testosterone. If you act now, and part with your hard-earned dollars, you might be able to forestall these apocalyptic outcomes… but only if you’re among our first 25 callers.  

The pharmaceutical industry is doing quite well in FearWorld, and not just in selling more and better anti-anxiety drugs. If you watch television or read magazines, you’ll quickly learn that you’re beset with medical conditions that have been proliferating out of control. From erectile dysfunction to Restless Leg Syndrome, depression, chronic pain, and every other ailment you (or Madison Avenue) can imagine, there’s a cure. Just ask your doctor about Panacea. Sure, it’s got some side effects, like thoughts of suicide, shortness of breath, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death, but do you want to get better or not?

The media, willing to throw your peace of mind under the bus in their quest for ratings, loves nothing better than fear.  Your local ABC, CBS, or NCB affiliate will post little announcements like, “Do you know what deadly danger lurks in your child’s lunchbox?!” and unhelpfully notes that “Dozens of kids have been sent to local hospitals. On Monday’s 10:00 nightly news, we’ll tell you why”.  Home invasions, child abductions, pit bull attacks, criminals on the loose, toxic clouds… it’ WAY too dangerous to go out of your house. Just grab your Snuggie, grab another bowl of chips, and sit back down on the couch and stay glued to the TV.

At the national level, Fox News has elevated fear-mongering to an art form, maintaining millions of perhaps-once-independent thinkers in a state of perpetual dread through their hyperventilating commentary. With the advent of e-mail forwarding, Fox’s army of People Aggrieved That Obama Is Governing While Black can keep their remaining friends and relatives informed of the latest outrage – real or imagined – that threatens their very way of life. Advertisers can easily prey on these folks, particularly since their sane relatives have long since given up trying to reason with them.

Can’t spend your day glued to the television? No worries, talk radio will keep your blood pressure elevated. Between the verbal assaults on women, gays, brown people, public servants, Liberals, foreigners, and anyone other than that handful of Aging and Increasingly Irrelevant Angry White Guys, and the insipid ads exhorting you to stash away gold coins before the coming Crapocalypse, you’ll be maxed out on your med and your credit cards. Hey, keeping fear at bay ain’t cheap.

The NRA is just one of the many organizations who have been able to cash in, big time, on fear in America.  Join with us; we’ll take care of you. Whatever fear resonates with you – immigrants taking over the country, chaos in the streets, nuclear attack, economic meltdown, natural disaster – you’ll be way better off if you’re armed with the latest weapons to protect yourself, your family, your property, and your freedom.  Even though many of their members are willing to work for reasonable reforms, their leader is reloading, ratcheting up the rhetoric. Maybe he’s the one feeling the fear of coming irrelevance.

Last but by no means least, there’s the Internet. Whether you’re Googling your symptoms when you’re home alone with a fever and finding that all paths lead to “Terminal Brain Tumor”, or reading your favorite blog (or checking out the opposition’s crazed rantings), you can work yourself up into a full-blown panic attack. No time to surf the Web looking for things that will fan the flames of fear? Have fear come to you, with Tweets, updates, and alerts. Every time one of your gadgets beeps or buzzes, Something Dreadful Might Be Happening.

So: what’s a person to do in a world full of fear?  Ask yourself: who benefits from my fear? Is it a person or organization that wants to intimidate me into certain behavior? Someone who wants to prey on my fear to sell me some product or service? Someone who is themselves fearful, and acting on the premise that the best defense is a good offense?

Chances are, you can figure it out, and once you do, you can help your spouse, your parents or grandparents, your kids, your friends, your coworkers, or your neighbors see what’s behind that curtain. Together, we’re powerful, and our critical thinking and our faith in the general goodness of our fellow beings ensure that we can face the real perils in the world, and keep the imagined ones at bay.


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, “Outline of Intellectual Rubbish”

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  1. Jk2003

    My husband and I, after seeing a commercial, newscast or anything else designed to drum up fear just look at each other and say “fear!”

    It makes us feel better.  

    Great diary.  Thanks.

  2. Jk2003

    But I am on my iPad due to the comment glitch with IE.  I find typing on this tedious.  As a parent of two young children I see my fellow moms falling prey to all sorts of fear… I heard moms at my daughters ballet class talking about day long kindergarten.  They think that they should definitely send their 5 year olds away all day so they won’t be behind in first grade.  These are stay at home moms.  They are so worried about doing the right thing they forget to parent each individual child.  I have two kids – they couldn’t be more different.  To think that there is a right way of doing it for any group of kids just drives me insane and I sometimes think it is more laziness than fear.  But the way these moms were talking I was reminded that it was fear.  And a complete lack of confidence in their own parenting skills.  

  3. bill d

    irrational fear, doom and gloom gets hits no matter how unreal it may be.

    Not here, obviously, other places.

    This post made me think of that cute little Nasonex bee for some reason. The way he is just fluttering about while the narrator whispers, in sing-song fashion, all of the horrible things that can happen to you if you actually use their product.

  4. There isn’t anything more fundamental in my view of the world.

    We live – to be clear – in the most extraordinarily safe time and place in human history.

    You are not going to be (eaten by a shark/tiger/llama/hacker).

    You are not going to die horribly at an early age from some terrible disease.

    The world isn’t going to end, either from god or man or incoming meteor.

    On Dec 17 I wrote an article about exactly this: Finding Freedom From The Terrible Price of Fear

    We need more than better access to mental health care, though I believe we need that. We need more than fewer guns, though I believe we would be better off without them. What we need most is to stop feeding our fears, stop withdrawing, stop thinking the worst of ourselves and others.

    The world is not getting worse, it is getting better in almost every way. The people we see around us are not intrinsically evil, they are intrinsically good.

    This is the truth. This is what I see around myself. The human race is worthy and wonderful. The future of our species is more full of joy than sorrow. You can trust both those you know and those you do not.

    If you are conservative, do not believe that liberals are evil, they are not. If you are liberal do not believe that conservatives are evil, they are not. Do not believe that mankind is a cancer on the earth, it is not. Do not believe that mankind is doomed, we are not. Do not believe that we cannot solve every single challenge we face, we can. Do not believe you have to fear the world, you do not have to.

    These beliefs we hold and repeat – across and within political boundaries – are lies. They are untrue. They lead to despair, they lead to violence, and they are false.

    The fears we hold are the result of Perception Biases, where we perceive things that are remote and scary as near and threatening, among other flaws.

    You, by any definition of “you”, live in a world that is outrageously, unprecedentedly, irrefutable safe and wonderful

  5. Thanks for putting this out there.

    There is a wave of fear rising in this country and it is insidious. Even I have issues with it, though like you, I realize it is merely a way to sell things to people.  

    Thanks for being a voice of reason here.

    BTW, what really scared me was that I was reading “Cloud Atlas” (a great book) and the vision of Nea So Corpros (South Korea in a Corporate owned world) was easily envisioned. That really is my fear.  

  6. Allan Sherman wrote a song “Aspirin commercials give me headaches” the final line is

    Last night I swallowed the best cure yet

    I ate my TV set.

    I don’t watch TV hardly at all. Maybe 20 hours a year.  

  7. Hedwig

    a nation of cowardly defeatists.

    We can’t go after the guns…they’re 300 million…just too many.

    Can’t do anything about climate change…we’re done…

    So many are so afraid of what they believe is happening, they miss the important things that are actually happening.

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