July 2, 2007

Be very afraid

Al Gore writes in his new book about the culture of fear (thanks to Mary for our copy, btw) and while I have not explored his explanation fully, I think that has become our watchword in America. It isn't just the politicians who do it, though Rudy Guiliani and Joe Lieberman use it often (Lieberman on This Week) and George Bush and Dick Cheney raised it to an art form. The way they have all used alleged terrorist plots from the ridiculous (the JFK pipeline bombing) to the actual, yet over-hyped plot in London over the weekend, politicians have used every opportunity to scare us senseless.

But it isn't just them. Watching television last night, an ad ran for ADT home security. A woman and her child are awakened by a noise. They run to the box in the hall where a voice asks them if they are ok. They are thankful that ADT is "taking care of their family." Be afraid.

And our local weatherman is part of it. An ad that runs on our CBS affiliate caught the eye of the Daily Show because it is one of the scariest ads promoting a weather department I have ever seen. Be afraid.

Our culture seems to feed on fear, and in no area quite as much as with the children. (Here, I always hear Mrs. Lovejoy (from the Simpsons) constantly asking, "Won't someone think of the children.") One of my friends noted the other day how afraid he was to let his kids ride their bikes in his development. He noted that he rode around his neighborhood all the time at a very young age. But things are different, he said, and he really wondered. Hell, he noted, Halloween was scarier now because we are always worried about razor blades in the apples and poisoned candy bars.

So are we more at risk? Is our society in a moral free fall? Snopes takes on the Halloween story and points out there are no documented cases of anonymous tampering with Halloween candy. There aren't great numbers on child abductions (oddly enough) but the available data suggests that children are much more likely to be abducted in a family dispute or by someone they know than by that vicious stranger down the block. That study places the number in 1999 of stranger abductions at around 115 for the entire country. Roughly the same amount of people who are killed by lightening strikes each year.

Are there risks out there? Of course. But we have to do something about how our culture sells fear. We might start with our politicians. We can do better than these people. And while not an endorsement for the man, let me note that one politician declined to follow the Guiliani/Bush/Cheney/Rove playbook of scaring the hell out of us. Michael Bloomberg, when asked about the supposed JFK plot, noted:
'You can't sit there and worry about everything. Get a life. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist.'

No wonder he left the Republican party. Now it is time for the Democrats to return to the days of FDR and remind us that fear is our enemy, not a campaign ploy.


Anonymous said...

Streak - Thoughtful piece. I really enjoyed it.

-- CIL in Palo Alto. Not in an Apple Store. This time. Too crowded with iPhone purchasers.

Wasp Jerky said...

We just got back from Europe yesterday. It was pretty interesting to fly back from London the day after the attempted bombing in Scotland. If I hadn't seen a newspaper in the airport, I wouldn't have even known anything had happened. Security wasn't any tighter than usual at Heathrow, and people seemed so calm and rational. Watching the BBC news on the plane was the same. No hysteria. No wild speculations. No talking heads theorizing. Just a rundown of what the police actually knew and what they had done. Just, you know, facts.

P M Prescott said...

Bloomberg is the best news the Republicans have heard all year, the sure fire way to split the Democrats votes and keep office.
No matter what he says and stands for he needs to face the reality of his running for office.

ANewAnglican@gmail.com said...

"Fear will keep the local systems in line." --Grand Moff Tarkin