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June 17, 2024

The Culture of Fear

By Tedi Trindle

There is a behavioral theory which states that frightened people are people who are easily controlled. Although I'm probably giving away a trade secret by sharing this with you, I find this theory to be, by and large, an accurate one.

I've made a career of instilling fear in people. By people, I mean small children, family pets, and, upon rare occasions, the odd husband or two.

"If you cross the road without holding someone's hand, you will be smashed to smithereens by a car which just materialized seconds before for the sole purpose of killing you and ruining my life." This sounds like a lie, but it is not. I am firmly convinced, even after forty-plus years of existence and the successful raising of three live, healthy adult children that the universe not only revolves around me, but it is out to get me if I would only relax my vigilance for even a mere fraction of a second.

"If you poop on the floor one more time, I'm going to sell you to a circus." This is obviously an idle threat. It never worked on the children, and it certainly doesn't work on the dogs. Fortunately for me, my husbands all came into my life fully house-trained, so I've never been called upon to test this threat with grown humans. However, I suspect it would be similarly ineffective. Circuses have no time for basic potty-training and would never pay good money for an untrained performer, no matter how spectacular.

With husbands, it goes like this: "I can't picture my life without you (snuggle, kiss). But, if I did, it would be one of poverty and degradation. I think you need to up your life insurance."

I've known for some time now that our current culture has been trying to frighten us, and thus, consequently, bend us to their will. I understand the operating premise as being an effective and efficient tactic for getting what one wants. But, frankly, the people behind this current enterprise are amateurs. They couldn't scare me into wearing a surgical mask during an Ebola outbreak.

I don't, in the normal course of living, generally pay much attention to the media, even though I'm considered a part of it. I guess it's because magicians themselves really don't believe in magic. They know it is an illusion designed to convince the audience.

But, when the world decides to embark upon a course of action that I find essentially dangerous and risky, I occasionally turn on the TV or open a newspaper to test the waters. What I recently discovered in doing so was a virtual clown college of emotional manipulation. Everyone, and his halfwit brother, is out there hellbent on trying to scare the bejeezus out of us these days. And, regardless of the actual effectiveness of their efforts, the result can only be described as Chaplinesque.

This fact was brought home to me recently by a promo for a local news report which promised to inform me of how local and regional authorities were responding to the possibility of a tsunami on America's East Coast. I was stunned. First of all, to the best of my considerable knowledge, the Eastern Seaboard has never been tsunami land. Armed with that knowledge, it has never occurred to me that a) we might be hit by a tsunami within my lifetime and, b) if we were, we could protect ourselves. Because a) we won't, and, b) if we were, we can't. Some things transcend the limits of human knowledge and ability. This is one of them. If we should find ourselves suddenly killed by a cataclysm of that magnitude, it was the Hand of God?. Case closed. Someone somewhere thought I might buy into it, and, consequently, fork over for a bucket of chicken.

Still, it is this "booga-booga" culture which concerns me, and rightly so. In my fertile imagination, I see the controllers of this world hiding around hallway corners, listening and waiting for my footsteps so they can jump out and make me wet my pants at a moment's notice, and do whatever they ask. They can't.

I was hiding around corners long before they were born. I heard them breathing and fully expected to find them there.

What concerns me is not the million images they confront me with to cow me into compliance. What concerns me is that they are so clumsily effective at frightening others much less familiar with the ways and means of terror than I am.

What I believe has happened here is that we have (deliberately or not) failed to educate the populace in regard to what constitutes a "reasonable threat". Such education requires some basic grounding in science and statistics coupled with a familiarity of the law of cause and effect.

For example, if you light your curtains on fire, it is reasonable to fear that your house may burn down. Conversely, if a senator you have never met and never heard of prior to 9/11 gets anthrax in his mail, it is not reasonable to expect that you will, too. Such concentration of effort is neither efficient nor cost-effective. The idea behind terrorism is not to wipe out the human race, or even a part of it. The idea is to convince you that it is going to happen, so they can get what they want and don't have to go to the bother and the expense. They don't want to kill you. They just want you to believe that they will and for you to behave accordingly.

Sadly, I think the various folks at large are responding all too readily to the various imaginary threats presented to them. We are a gullible race.

My husband (current and future eternal holder of this title) said to me just this morning that "The Fear Factor" frightens him. He wasn't speaking of the current television show, which is a prime example of the problem. He was talking about the smoke and mirrors culture which reigns in the contemporary media. He likened it to the culture of the fifties when horror films like "Psycho" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was all the rage.

It was the time of the Cold War, when we had every good reason to expect that some stupid politician would blast the entire planet to smithereens seven times over in order to protect us. We were building bomb shelters and performing "duck and cover" exercises in the hallways of our nation's schools as a result.

Scary movies were, as Aristotle contended centuries ago, a means to purge our pity and fear. There was a genuine, i.e., realistic, reason to be afraid. We all knew it. But we distracted ourselves by being afraid of things which we knew could not really hurt us.

Such is the culture we live in now. As a long time purveyor of "smoke and mirrors", I know that what they are trying to scare us with is not real. What I genuinely want to know is what it is that they are trying to hide which we should be genuinely concerned about. I believe that there is a realistic reason to be afraid now, but it isn't the one I see on the TV.

Article © Tedi Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-03-20
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