Monday, June 26, 2006

The Culture of Fear

It is amazing how a single book can change my mindset and yet research shows it's almost impossible to change someone’s mind, even with the "truth." I am fascinated with The Culture of Fear by Dr. Barry Glassner. It's not just about the news media, unless you mean just the part of the media that sensationally exploits fear. Glassner argues that just as many reporters debunk fear-mongering.

I guess I’m most fascinated by how fear has been and is being used to perpetuate prejudices. Glassner notes a book that documents that, in fourteenth-century Europe, the dangers of impure drinking water were recognized long before it became convenient to accuse Jews of poisoning wells and people became preoccupied with clean water. In other words, it took people preying on a prejudice like anti-Semitism to get the general public serious about the real life and death fear of illness and death from impure drinking water?

Does it still happen today? Is the obsession about crime, during a period when it is and has been in sharp decline, a perpetuation of bigotry, either intentional or unintentional? Glassner points out that fears are "perpetuated by excessive attention to dangers that a small percentage of black men create for other people, and by a relative lack of attention to dangers that a majority of black men face themselves." He notes that "many more black men are casualties of crime than perpetrators."

Or is it a means to motivate us to do something about the "elephant in the room" called poverty?

Glassner is thought-provoking. I can see his point that there is a lot of money and power underlying our society’s obsession with misplaced fears. Activists use it to draw support to agendas. Editors use it to draw readers. Politicians use it to rally support. Parents use it to reinforce obedience. TV uses it for ratings. Advertisers use it to sell products.

Equally disturbing is why are we so gullible? What is our responsibility as individuals? Are we just pawns or lemmings?

No comments: