Our fears make us weak and easily manipulated.

Summary: Being fearful and forgetful makes us an easily ruled people. Easily aroused to panic, yet amnesic about it once the news shifts to a new threat — so that we never learn from experience. What a pitiful state for a once-great people. But we can regain our former good sense and skepticism. It takes only the will to do so. Being weak is a choice. {I wanted to write about our latest hysteria, about Russia and Putin. But this post, from three years ago says it well. Here it is, updated and revised.}

“Maybe it will all work out ok, but if you catch Ebola just remember your nice article calling anyone concerned chicken little as your lungs fill with fluid, and you’re shitting and vomiting blood.”
— Comment by Sam posted at the FM website during the Ebola hysteria. One of the many terrified commenters, fruit of conservatives’ fear-mongering about Ebola — which was immediately forgotten after the election.

No Fear

Three decades ago we trembled in fear at accounts of Satanic Ritual Abuse and the millions of missing children in America. Three years ago we quaked in fear about Ebola (see John B. Judis’ article in The New Republic: “Ebola and ISIS Are Making American Voters Go Crazy. Here’s How Irrational Fears Shape Elections.“ Then there was the campus rape epidemic (1 in 5 coeds raped!). Ever more frequently, America becomes a nation of wet pants about a terrifying threat. Then suddenly the threat is gone, replaced by new ones about which we’re just as irrationally frightened. ISIS will conquer! Putin runs a global conspiracy!

All peoples have occasional manias, of different kinds. Today in America their magnitude and frequency make our politics dysfunctional. Best of all, from our leaders’ perspective, we forget the previous ones (and their failure to appear) and eagerly believe the new ones. We are ideal peons. Pleasant peasants. While we run screaming in terror at each new phantom, our elites quietly build a New America on the ruins of the old. One better suited to the desires of our elites.

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

“… the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
— The demon Screwtape describes a popular road to Hell. From C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

A comment posted at Physics Today describes the absurdity of our situation, as people of the most powerful nation in history become so easily manipulated. Hat tip to Steve Harris.

“When a popular foolishness arises in society one may weep for Reason, or laugh at absurdity. Few take notice of the former, and the proponents of the absurdity are greatly offended by the latter.

“It is clearly embarrassing to be exposed on the wrong side of Reality, and to have your favourite phantom hazard deflated. Consider crop circles. Even after the perpetrators confessed and demonstrated how they created them, true believers refused the explanation and vilified both the sceptics and the self-exposed pranksters.

“Phantom hazards are popular with the fundamentally pusillanimous for the ‘threat’ can be confronted with the (perhaps sub-conscious) realization that there is no physical harm for the believer, but provides a cause of great moral superiority – and not infrequently, a generous income. Politically, phantom hazards are ideal tool for manipulating a trusting population. The threat is what the proponents construe it to be, it will never physically materialize, and victory can be declared at any time it loses its persuasive ability and attendant revenue.

“The true danger lies in real damage done to society through misapplication of effort and funds, and the theft of personal freedom …”

We have no excuse for these panic attacks. A combination of common sense (1 in 5 girls raped in college?) and consulting the relevant experts would repel these fear barrages. We have the IPCC to consult about climate change, the US and international energy agencies who advise us about energy, and their medical equivalents to consult about epidemics. While occasionally wrong, the track record of these experts is excellent. But journalists report their words quietly, with greater emphasis to activists, promoters, and doomsters. But we need not be fooled. We can read and listen carefully, sifting the dross from the valuable metal on which we can build our opinions. It’s not that the experts are always right, but that they are a reliable anchor for our personal opinions.

Missouri: the
What happened to these people? America needs them now.

“Note also that there are significant illegal immigrant flows from West Africa into Europe. This is bound to spread the disease, first to Europe and ultimately to us.”
Another comment confidently forecasting doom, another triumph for the Ebola fearmongers.

I see no hope for America until we become more skeptical, so it gets prominence in my posts about Reforming America: Steps to a New Politics. There is a core of good news in this: the first step is the most crucial step, and is the easiest. The rest of the road to reform looks steeper and rougher, long and dark. History shows that a change of spirit can occur almost instantaneously in a people. That’s how revolutions erupt (albeit not always wisely). That’s how religious revivals begin (again, not always wisely).

Redemption is a core capability of each person. It’s easy for America because we are so rich in examples from our past. We’re a nation of becoming, from which we’ve taken a holiday — but can resume any time at will. We need only look in the mirror, decide we don’t like what we see, and resolve to do better.

Girl looks into a mirror.
If only we had a mirror in which to see ourselves, and the nature of our folly.

For More Information

For more about the fear epidemic I strongly recommend reading ”The Pressure to Escalate: The Phantasmagoric World of Washington“ by Tom Engelhardt.

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the fear epidemic afflicting America. Especially see these about the coming dooms:

  1. Spreading the news: the end is nigh!
  2. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off!
  3. Propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island — Jared Diamond warns of the End.
  4. Today’s conservative doomster warning (ludicrous but fun) — America will collapse before 2017!
  5. The IPCC rebukes the climate doomsters. Will we listen?
  6. Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility.
  7. A warning about the end of the world (doomster scenario #137) — “Industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?”
  8. About the warnings of a monster super El Nino coming to you this year.
  9. Will we starve after all the bees die?
  10. Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from failed predictions to have confidence in ourselves & our future.

We can become greater

The first step is to look in the mirror and see what we can become.

Cat sees lion in the mirror
We can be better.


1 thought on “Our fears make us weak and easily manipulated.”

  1. We drink too much and take too many pills. This makes us forgetful and weaker than we realize. The fear comes from knowing that we are unprepared. Unprepared for what? For almost anything, since almost anything might happen. The things we expect are least likely.

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