Fear Factor

We watched the New Year coming in around the world, the mass hysteria of no significance that was the millennial New Year’s Eve celebration. Brilliance flaring across the time zones, and none ignited by bin Laden. Light whirling over nighttime London more spectacular than anything since the splendors of colored smoke billowed up from the Blitz. And the Eiffel Tower shooting fire, a facsimile flame-throwing weapon such as Wernher von Braun might have designed for Hitler’s annihilating arsenal-the historical missile of missiles, the rocket of rockets, the bomb of bombs, with ancient Paris the launching pad and the whole of humanity the target. All evening long, on networks everywhere, the mockery of the Armageddon that we’d been awaiting in our backyard shelters since August 6, 1945. How could it not happen? Even on that very night, especially on that night, people anticipating the worst as though the evening were one long air-raid drill. The wait for the chain of horrendous Hiroshimas to link in synchronized destruction the abiding civilizations of the world. It’s now or never. And it never came.

Philip Roth,The Dying Animal

Phillip Roth’s portrayal of the Y2K hysteria, which held our nation hostage, is a remarkable foreshadowing of the culture of fear that we live in today. As soon as we survive an Anthrax scare, or a mad cow craze, or that kitchen sponge suffused with pestilence, another fear-trend dominates the headlines. It’s impossible to escape and even more impossible to determine what fears are real and what are perceived.

In this hour we’ll examine the post 9/11 culture of fear. How it is perpetuated, how we react to it and what in the world we should really be bracing for. FDR once told us, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” but is fear now the force that gives us meaning? Do your fears originate from color-coded threat alerts and ever-growing terrorist cells? Or are your fears the fears of car accidents, bad diagnoses, escalating crime rates in the neighborhood? How does America identify with fear? What purpose is fear serving?
Update, 9/08/06, 5:37 pm

We’re hoping to include voices from the Open Source community, and from other realms of the blogosphere, in this show. If you comment on this thread we’ll consider calling you to record a brief phone conversation, which we’ll play during this broadcast. If you are radio-shy but know someone else whose voice should be heard, please send him/her our way. Thanks.

Robert Jay Lifton

Psychiatrist Author of several books, including Destroying the World to Save It and Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima

Thanks to Potter for suggesting Mr. Lifton

Susan Willis

Associate Professor of Literature, Duke University Author, Portents of the Real: A Primer for Post-9/11 America

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

Conterterroism consultant Contributing Expert, Counterterroism Blog
Extra Credit Reading
Station Charon, The Enduring Power of Fear, Station Charon, August 13, 2006, “‘To live in America is to be beset by fear, anxiety and insecurity, to be surrounded by potential harm, enemies and evil intent.'”

Furyious, Politics, Fear, and Creating a Culture of Scaredy Cats, Lots O’ Stuff, September 7, 2006: President Bush has made “fear” and “caution” interchangeable words in our society.

Joseph Carroll, Americans’ Terrorism Worries Five Years After 9/11, Gallup Poll, September 11, 2006.

Matthew B. Stannard, Alerts aid terror goals, study finds, San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 2006: “‘There are findings suggesting that the administration’s use of the alert system increased inordinately before the election and each time it did, Bush’s numbers went up about 5 percent.'”

Potter suggested: Robert Jay Lifton, Giving Meaning to Survival, The Chronicle Review, September 28, 2001: “The greatest danger in our present situation would be to resort to extreme measures to deny our vulnerability and reassert a sense of superpower invulnerability.”

William M. Arkin, The continuing misuses of fear, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/ October 2006: “A threat that is nightmarish and enduring and can neither be proved nor disproved is a powerful lubricant.”

nother suggested:Archive Search Results: fear, the ONION, September 9, 2006.

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