- HOW IT WORKS – Fear is a powerful motivator and is frequently used by the propagandist. Fear of terrorists, fear of burglars, fear of loss of health, fear of growing old.
- Fear works in part, because we have a natural inability to understand risk and uncertainty.
- A scary item, with an extremely low likelihood of occurring often results in panicked and disproportionate responses.
I have been reading “False Alarm” by Marc Siegel, M.D. He reminds us of the “scares” that were created largely out of thin air a decade ago, whipping the public into anxious hysteria.
- Do you remember the Anthrax scare?
- How about West Nile Virus?
- Several “influenza crises”
- The smallpox scare?
- Nuclear “dirty bombs” and stock piling potassium iodine tablets?
- Or preparing for chemical weapon “mass destruction”?
People were calling doctors offices seeking to prescriptions for Cipro as a preventative measure against the very minuscule likelihood of encountering anthrax. When the government decided smallpox was a threat and mandated that soldiers get vaccinated (with a not very effective vaccine), many members of the public thought they too should be vaccinated. For a disease that was eradicated worldwide about 50 years ago!
All of these were blown way outside of proportion (see “False Alarm” for details). But they did succeed in scaring everyone. Many people suffered sleep and other anxiety related disorders. Government response was over the top, and the media quickly blew things up to far worse than they were, losing all context or sense of proportion. As Siegel notes, the media has no memory. Weeks to months later, all of these issues vanished from the radar.
Fear is one of the most powerful motivators used by propagandists. Activists know this, governments know this, the media knows this. A side effect is many of us in the general population are kept in a near perpetual state of anxiety, which is bad for our health and bad for clear thinking.
But good for promoting one’s agenda and good for prescriptions of SSRIs.