Thursday, September 20, 2007


The Culture of Fear

A frightened population is a docile, submissive population. Nobody knows this better than politicians, who use fear to push policies that serve powerful constituencies but are against the interests of the general population; and mass media, who know that a frightened public is riveted to stories about predators, terrorists, and natural disasters, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of fear upon fear.

The success of this strategy is nowhere more evident than in a recent poll (pdf) conducted by the NYC Office of Emergency Management in which NYC residents were asked about the likelihood of certain events happening in the city in the next ten years. The answers to questions about terrorism were not surprising, but what really stuck out is the fact that 27% of the residents of NYC felt that an earthquake was likely to strike New York in the next ten years and 37% expect there to be a fire in the building in which they reside. These fears are so exaggerated that they can only reflect a general sense of fear that is so pervasive that it almost doesn't matter what you ask - people are scared shitless of the world around them.

If this were simply a socio-cultural phenomenon, it would be sad, but these fears are being exploited every day to expand surveillance and to restrict fundamental constitutional rights in ways that a confident, optimistic population would never tolerate. Frightening indeed!

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