Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fear and Loathing

My friend Leila forwarded an article on "the market of fear". The basic premise of the article was that fear was somehow becoming a more prominent part of modern culture and politics.

Hmmm . . . I read the article, and I must say that I don't buy it. Not one bit.

If you look carefully through the paper, you will see lots of sweeping generalizations about the current state of affairs and very few specific measurable comparisons with the past. Statements like "during the past 2,000 years we mainly feared supernatural forces" seem patently simplistic and wrong. (We feared death, disease, famine, and natural disaster, the same things we fear today; we just _attributed_ those things to supernatural forces. Our model of the world was different, but our fears were the same.)

Playing on people's fears is timeless. It is happening about as much today as it ever did. If you read any of the common political writings of two centuries ago, you will find them laden with even _more_ dire predictions of disasters should the other guy come into power. To claim (with no factual evidence) that there is more of this now than before shows a stunning lack of historical perspective.

The author thinks that the culture of fear is the result of an internalized sense of powerlessness. This is poppycock. By and large we rich Westerners have more stability, security and control than anyone ever did before. The reason there seems to be so much vague anxiety is because human beings are naturally insecure animals, and if we don't have a specific threat to fear we will cast about for something else to fear.

So, it might be more accurate to say, "People fear as much as they ever did, it's just that there are more imaginary threats than real ones these days." Or, put another way: "We have a heightened sense of just how much we could lose."


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