I’m pretty sure I already wrote a column about the culture of fear in which we live. It had to be a while back because I couldn’t find it on my computer.
Normally, I wouldn’t broach a subject that I could be writing about for a second time, but recent events have compelled me to once again examine the idea that there are people, events and things out there that are conspiring to frighten us as never before.
I begin with the most obvious one. America’s senior citizens have been and continue to be the targets of several calculated terror attacks from within our own borders. They are being lied to on a regular basis about everything from Social Security to health care to the need to respond to unsolicited mail.
I don’t pretend to know everything about the current health-care debate, but sources no less credible than Newsweek and AARP magazine spent a considerable number of pages in their latest issues debunking lies that are being spread by fear mongers.
Our elder citizens are in the crosshairs, and they are being scared spitless by claims such as the government is going to set up “death panels” to determine whether they should be allowed to live.
Political groups are “spamming” the elderly with unsolicited mailings that warn that “you must respond” or bad things will happen. They are being told that Social Security and Medicare are about to go away, when all our grandparents really want is for politicians to go away…far, far away.
And the sad news is senior citizens believe these lies and half-truths. Their golden years are being tarnished.
The tactic of scaring people into compliance is, of course, nothing new. Nor is it only one group that is being targeted.
For example, we are all being told that H1N1 is going to be a huge problem for us this winter. A recent poll by KWCH news asked viewers to weigh in on whether school officials should (1) go on with the year as usual, (2) close schools for a time if their students are affected or (3) delay the start of school indefinitely.
Unbelievably, the third option received a significant percentage of votes, despite the fact that we just had summer vacation.
So, if we had postponed the start of school, wouldn’t that just delay the inevitable? I’m not against people taking necessary precautions. But I am against making decisions based on what might happen. Remember when we were all going to get lyme disease? Bird flu? Bitten by sharks?
Even our computers conspire to frighten us with their questions and messages of doom. “Are you sure you want to exit the program?” my Mac asked me the other day. Well, I was, until it posed the question.
“Are you sure you want to shut down the computer?” I thought so at the time. “This action is permanent and cannot be undone.” Gulp.
My old Bill Gates-engineered PC was no less intimidating when it announced: “This computer has performed an illegal operation and must shut down.”
Oh, my gosh! I’m going to jail.
“What are you in for,” my cellmate will ask.
“My computer accomplice snitched on me. How about you?”
He’ll reply, “I tore the tag off my new pillow, even though it warned me not to remove it under penalty of law.”
In the category of “truth is stranger than fiction” and “you couldn’t make this stuff up,” I offer the most recent example of how bizarre things have become.
You may have heard that our president was planning a speech to students at noon eastern time via the internet and C-Span cable network. Right wingnuts (sorry, I guess that’s the Wichita baseball team) were vehemently opposed to the speech being streamed to high school kids on the grounds that it was a ploy to brainwash our students with socialist propaganda.
The subject of the speech? Asking teens to stay in school. I can see where that could be bad for the country. Next stop: Communist China or perhaps even worse…France.
All of this use of fear would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. History has clearly shown that frightening people into compliance works.
Remember when we crawled under our desks during the Cold War while being led to believe that somehow having textbooks over our heads would save us from nuclear fallout?
Many trembling Americans bought into our former president’s assertion that invading a couple of faraway countries would keep the boogeyman from our doorsteps.
Advertisers use fear almost as pervasively as sex in making cases for their products.
We are led to panic about everything from erectile dysfunction to illnesses even our doctors have never heard of.
Ironically, the things people could do to keep from harming themselves are the most resisted. Despite repeated warnings, humans still take up smoking, ride motorcycles and bicycles without protecting their heads with helmets, lie in the sun for hours without protection from harmful rays, eat far more than they should, exercise far less than they should, ride in cars without wearing seatbelts, skydive, drink and drive, take illegal drugs, text while walking down stairs.
The list goes on.
Ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide what to do when those around us try to scare us. As for me, I believe, as humorist Arnold Glasow once said, “Fear is the lengthened shadow of ignorance.”
So, the best advice I can give to myself and others is to learn all we can about an issue from sources we can trust, whether that be journalists, Wikipedia or our ministers.
The more we know and understand, the better armed we will be when we are assaulted by those who want to scare us into believing their lies.