The Market in Fear

Politics has become a contest between different brands of doom-mongering

| October 13, 2005

The language of fear dominates the contemporary cultural lexicon. People aren't merely afraid of things anymore. Fear itself has transmogrified into an entity of its own that is dissociated from what really makes us quake in our shoes. Furedi writes about fear as a social, rather than individual, problem. Contemporary cultural politics is laden with the language of fear that is 'promiscuously' promoted by 'fear entrepreneurs' who have cashed in on a powerful human emotion to wage political contests and to sell products and services.

People have always feared, but the way in which we fear is now different than it was in the past. In his brief account of the history of fear, Furedi notes that 'fear has lost its relationship to experience.' We are distracted by the climate of anxiety that permeates contemporary politics so that fear itself has gained independence from a direct experience that induces fear. While Thomas Hobbes and Machiavelli noted the political importance of responding to certain individuals and events with fear, contemporary politicians thrive on the cultivation of fear itself.

Fear is a problem in contemporary culture and that problem emerges with many faces: the fear of terrorism, the fear of impending pandemics, the fear of global warming, or retrospectively, the fear of the Y2K bug. Politicians are less concerned with alleviating the center of the most pressing political and social concerns than they are with alleviating the fear of these problems.

The politics of fear, thus far, has been enormously successful. Furedi blames its success on the fact that people 'are presented as individuals who lack the emotional resources to cope with the challenges of life.' We believe we are vulnerable; therefore, we fear. Because fear has such intense resonance in our society, it doesn't take much effort for fear entrepreneurs to exploit its simple vocabulary and strike fear into our hearts.
-- Rose Miller

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