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Politics

The Economy of Fear is Alive and Well

In December 2007 I wrote:

For every cultural phenomenon, there is an equal and fear-based Christian equivalent. Harry Potter is “bad” (according to some) so let’s make some money by publishing books telling people how bad Harry Potter is! Christian pundit James Dobson has made a lot of money with his catch phrases “an attack on truth” and “an attack on the  American family” or “liberal activist judges.” Just listen to more Focus on the Family and you’ll know how to protect your family from atheism, homosexuals, and judges.

Never mind (sic) the fact that these are the stupidest statements in the world. If something is true you can’t attack it because it is truth. And my family is not under attack if my next door neighbors are gay. (When was the last time you heard of a gay family leading a raid on heterosexual neighbors?) But you sure can make money on telling people to be afraid of stuff like that. Why? Because fear is a short-term motivator. If you scare people they will buy. (Or give to your cause. Or visit your website.)

What’s Changed Since 2007?

Due to recent events and the outlandish fear-based response I was reflecting on this post and had two thoughts:

  1. Fear is a short-term motivator. The reason news agencies and politicians spend so much time sensationalizing each instance of fear is because the internal motivation we have to respond is so short-lived. But fear almost never results in long-term positive change to address the core of the problem. Was there gun reform after the massacre of children in Newtown, CT? Has there been immigration reform after we spent more than $1 billion on a wall? Has anything changed because of protests regarding police brutality? Of course not. Why? Because when the primary motivator is fear… people don’t stay scared long enough to generate change. You’ve just habituated them to wait for the next thing to be afraid of.
  2. People are more susceptible to the economy fear now than 8 years ago. We live in a society where a knee-jerk response to fear has been monetized. Why are Republican candidates stumbling over themselves to say the most un-American things about refugees? They think attention will lead to money for their campaigns. I would argue that this economy of fear hasn’t just been monetized, it’s been weaponized against people who cannot defend themselves. The more vulnerable you are, apparently, the better the target of fear you appear to be from the popular majority.

Where is this Going?

I think we’re reaching a tipping point. You have a generation of young adults that have grown up in a world where fear has become monetized (or weaponized.) And since fear is such a short-term motivator that’ll lead to one of three directions.

  1. Nothing will change. The middle 70% of the population will be just as susceptible to this in 8 years as they are today.
  2. People just won’t care anymore. A certain portion of the population will just cease to care. They will become un-engageable on social issues, even ones that directly impact them.
  3. People will game the system. Expect more violence, fear-mongering. There are people who think, “You want me to be scared? I’ll give you something to be scared of.” What will this be motivated by? A desire for power.

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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