Tag Archives: Fear

The triumph of fear in America

Photo by Ren Rebadomia, Creative Commons

Photo by Ren Rebadomia, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
May 21, 2016

Americans are afraid. Oh, they like to pretend that they are the bravest people on the planet. But in reality, fear dominates America society.

There isn’t a fear that Americans won’t embrace. Fear of blacks. Fear of Muslims. Fear of Latinos. Fear of women controlling their own bodies. Fear of big government.  Fear of a transgender person using a bathroom. Fear of change. Fear of gluten. Fear of vaccines. Fear of GMOs. Fear of growing old. Fear of poverty. Fear of getting sick. You name it, Americans are afraid of it.

Fear controls almost every aspect of America society. It seeps into every part of our lives. Not that there aren’t things that we need to fear. But that fear is being used to manipulate us by a variety of entities.

Fear dominates politics. Politicians use fear in a variety of ways, occasionally like a razor blade, most often like a blunt instrument. Pronouncements about what to fear come of Washington or state capitols as regularly as updates about the weather.  Politicians have learned that fear-based moralizing “sticks” (in the words of linguist George Lakoff) even when it is blatantly wrong or dangerous. Men and women speaking in somber tones or hysterical yelps (normally Republicans but sometimes Democrats too) urge Americans to be afraid of … well, it’s something different every day. ‘Our way of life is at risk,” “The nation is in danger”, “This is a cause for great concern!”, “What about the children?”

That fear is then magnified by the media. American media runs on fear. It’s their biggest money maker. This is particularly true at the local level where “Be afraid, be very afraid” should be the tagline of every newscast. At the national level, media incantations about fear are often shrouded in a fog of authority and technology. The Ebola crisis was the perfect example of how national media encouraged Americans to fear in a way that transcended the actual threat. Levels of fear are coded by how they affect the bottom line. If a network thinks a fear will bring in a lot of viewers, and thus, a lot of advertisers, then they will exploit that fear until they have drained every last drop of terror.

Fear is what motivates us to give up our privacy to state security institutions, far beyond what is needed. And these institutions know that and count on us being afraid in order to control us, to convince us that it’s OK that we are being watched, our emails read, our social media hacked, our private musings screened. These are things we should be afraid of, but not an incapacitating fear — an angry one at these outrageous violations. But fear is used to placate us. We’re told if we don’t allow these intrusions, we and our loved ones will be killed. And if we stand up to these injustices, then we need to fear punishment.

Fear, you see, incapacitates reason. It takes our emotions by the throat and lies to us about what needs to be done, which leads us to make the wrong decision far too often. If Americans could calmly look at what they fear, they would likely dismiss these fears as just so much nonsense, not borne out by fact or study. But they can’t. It’s easier to be afraid than to be brave. Easier to be afraid than to actually invest in understanding or thoughtfulness. As a species, we tend to look for the easy way out, the simple solution. Fear provides us with that option.

Fear is what has allowed the master of fear, Donald Trump, to be one step away from being the most powerful man on the planet. Fear is what allows Trump to say that Oakland and Ferguson are two of the most dangerous places in the world … and have people believe him. Fear is what allows him to paint Hispanics as racists and say that “China is eating our lunch.” Fear is what attracts people to Trump like flies to manure. He knows it, too. He plays Americans’ fears, particularly the fears of white Americans, like a virtuoso playing a violin.

Trump did not, however, invent these fears or make Americans afraid. He is merely capitalizing on how the media and politicians laid the groundwork for him. He isn’t actually promising to “Make America Great Again!” His real message (like all liars and snake oil salesmen) is, “I’m the only one who will make you less afraid. Trust me.”

There is no easy way to move away from these fears, and many Americans never will, for some of the reasons mentioned above.

But you can do it. You can pay attention to how things are said. The internet offers us ways to fact-check fears like never before. Don’t just react. Treat every political or media pronouncement with skepticism. Assume that what they are telling you is either incomplete, propaganda or an outright lie, until you know otherwise.

Years ago, on one of my favorite shows, MASH, a character described a brave person as one who does what he or she is the most afraid of doing. Maybe that is the only answer that really works.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Links:

Fear Dominates Politics, Media and Human Existence in America—And It’s Getting Worse, Alternet.org

http://www.alternet.org/fear-america/fear-dominates-politics-media-and-human-existence-america-and-its-getting-worse

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

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Perspective — and bogeymen

Stuart Anthony/Flickr/Creative Commons

Stuart Anthony/Flickr/Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December, 2015

For many years I have had two particular pictures above my desk at work. One is from the mid-90s, of a Bosnian Serb executing a man in cold blood. The other is of a star, the same size as our own sun, going nova.

I call them my perspective pictures. I have the first one because it reminds me no matter how bad things in my life seem to be, there is always some place in the world much, much worse. The second one reminds me that one day all this (all life on earth, all traces of us ever having been here) is going to go away. So why worry? What does it truly matter in the scheme of things? At both the micro and the macro level, it’s all a matter of perspective.

These pictures have been very helpful to me lately because I currently live in a country that has lost all sense of perspective. The ability of Americans to reason and to calmly take a step back and look at the big picture seems to have vanished faster than Scott Walker’s presidential aspirations. If I may borrow a quote from Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, everybody just needs to R – E – L – A – X.

Let’s take a recent example.

To listen to the talking heads on cable news networks or politicians in Washington DC, the country is about to be overrun by terrorists at any moment. They lurk everywhere. (Muslim terrorists that is … Christian terrorism, like the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, is never included in the “terrorism” category by the so-called experts that bloom on cable TV like kudzu in the South.)

Well, consider this. So far in the United States this year, 17 people have been killed by Muslim terrorists, and 15 people have been killed by Christian terrorists. That’s 32 people in total.

Every year in the United States, an average of 176 people are killed by televisions falling on them. (True fact.)  You are 40,000 times more likely to die crossing the street than in a terrorist attack on a commercial airliner. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 3.5 million. Your chances of being killed in an accident with a deer are one in 2 million. Your chances of being hit by lightning TWICE are greater than being killed in a terrorist attack. I could go on and on. (All of the above statistics come from organizations like the National Safety Council, the CDC in Atlanta, or universities that have done research on this topic.)

Yet under a constant bombardment of intentionally provocative images and often false information, alongside many people’s bigotry and racism, and with a dose of confirmation bias added,  people who will never in their lives, even if they live to be 150, come into contact with a terrorist, act like there’s one living next door, ready to slaughter them in their sleep.

As a result, instead of looking at situations like the current refugee crisis squarely and reaching out a hand to help Syrian families in dire need, Americans allow themselves to be bamboozled. They allow themselves to think all of the people fleeing from terrorism may themselves be terrorists. And while other countries, like Canada, put fears aside and allow their humanity to be the deciding factor, many Americans retreat into dark little holes of xenophobia, quietly muttering the word “freedom” under their breaths while clutching AK-47s.

And it’s not just the so-called threat from terrorism that causes Americans to lose all sense of perspective. Last year the Ebola “crisis,” which claimed the life of exactly one American, had people behaving hysterically.

There always seems to be something in this country that pushes people towards a place where they lose all ability to think rationally.

When did Americans become such fraidy cats? When did their own shadows start to scare them so much? When did they become so gullible that a snake oil salesman politician, or a greasy cable news commentator, can convince them to be so afraid of false bogeymen?

It’s not that these issues are without concern, but they need to be put into (wait for it…) perspective. When you lose all sense of perspective, when you allow yourself to be thrown about on a sea of misinformation and fear like a boat whose engine has failed, then you behave in ways that betray the very values you say you stand for.

How do we restore perspective in a country so sorely lacking it? Take a look at the world around you. Not the world you see on cable news talking head shows. Not the world you hear about on talk radio. The real world. There are more than enough sources at your local library, for heaven’s sakes, that will help you gain better understanding of important issues.

It’s time for Americans to stop being so afraid of everything. There are real problems that need to be solved. Being afraid of things that go bump in the night is not the way to find those solutions.

LINKS:

The Terrorism Statistics Every American Needs to Hear: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-terrorism-statistics-every-american-needs-to-hear/5382818

10 Things More Likely To Kill You Than Islamic Terror: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-12-12/10-things-more-likely-kill-you-islamic-terror

You’re 55 Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/youre-55-times-likely-killed-police-officer-terrorist.html

The 25 most common causes of death: http://www.medhelp.org/general-health/articles/The-25-Most-Common-Causes-of-Death/193?page=1

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Click here for details. 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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