At least, that’s what we’re told, every minute of every hour of every day if we care to glance at the news or listen to the shock jocks, or a seemingly innumerable number of politicians.
Fear has become a currency, easily accumulated, quickly spent and foolishly desired.
Our entire news cycle is based on fear:
- First there’s the fear of world events;
- Then there’s the fear of local events;
- Then there’s the fear of financial events;
There’s a little pat on the head if we watch the news long enough – a bit of sports, and some story about an old lady’s budgie that learnt to say “frozen margarita!” Just enough of a pat and a clucking “there, there” to allow the fear to reduce enough that the ratings don’t get impacted.
Our political cycles are based on fear:
- Fear of asylum seekers;
- Fear of financial collapse;
- Fear of hostile governments;
- Fear of different religions;
- Fear of welfare cheats;
- Fear the other side might be lying.
Even the prevalence of reality TV is based on fear:
- Talent shows leave you afraid you’d make a fool of yourself if you tried;
- Weight loss shows leave you afraid you’re fat;
- Modelling shows leave you afraid you’re ugly;
- And the rest just make you afraid you’re boring, plus any number of mixes of the above.
If there’s one truism about all that fear, it’s that it’s aimed to be direct. This isn’t just general fear, it’s personal. Fear that two gay men getting married will make your kid gay. Fear that troubles in the financial market means you’ll lose your house. Fear that an excess of other religions nearby will leave you converted at the point of a sword. Fear that people are unfairly getting more money than you. Fear that you’re being deceived. Fear that you or your family will be drafted to fight some war.
Fear is a potent currency, it seems. And those handing it out know just how addictive and effective it is. It trades on the limbic system, the deep emotional and animal core that’s so easy to manipulate with worry, with anxiety, and so hard to counter with logic and fact.
If fear were a plague our streets would be full of journalists and shock jocks and politicians tolling their bells shouting “Bring out your dread! Bring out your dread!”
When it’s traded on long enough, fear becomes visceral and almost incarnate. It certainly becomes self-reinforcing; fear of X leads to fear of Y, which leads to fear of Z and everything else as well.
And yet, like a ghost in the night that turns out to be a sheet fluttering on a clothes line, fear can be dismissed. It’s dismissed by education – you can’t be made to fear something when you know you’re being lied to. The education isn’t just about the topic at hand, it’s also about he purveyor of the fear – knowing you’re being manipulated gives you the choice to deny the manipulation. Logic alone can’t easily fight the limbic system being tweaked and plucked by fear mongers, but logic and knowledge can.
Fear may be a currency, but that doesn’t mean you have to be bought by it just because someone’s shouting, “Bring out your dread!”