Fear, as in "State of"


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State of Fear

I am starting this thread to discuss a syndrome I found in the book State of Fear by Michael Crichton. I am probably pushing the limits of fair use, but this is very important. I broke it up to make up for the length and I hope this use sells more books for the author and publisher. Please buy the book. It is worth every cent.

The excerpt speaks for itself. The quote is from a crazy professor-almost-prophet type (Hoffman) who showed up suddenly and the hero (Evans). Hoffman starts. (pp. 453-459)

”If you study the media, as my graduate students and I do, seeking to find shifts in normative conceptualization, you discover something extremely interesting. We looked at transcripts of news programs of the major networks—NBC, ABC, CBS. We also looked at stories in the newspapers of New York, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. We counted the frequency of certain concepts in terms used by the media. The results are very striking.” He paused.

“What did you find?” Evans said, taking his cue.

“There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as crisis, catastrophe, cataclysm, plague, or disaster. For example during the 1980s, the word crisis appeared in news reports about as often as the word budget. In addition, prior to 1989, adjectives such as dire, unprecedented, dreaded were not common in television reports or newspaper headlines. But then it all changed.”

“In what way?”

“These terms started to become more and more common. The word catastrophe was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. It is doubled again by the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on feat, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic.”

“Why should it have changed in 1989?”

. . .

“At first we thought the association was spurious. But it wasn’t. The Berlin Wall marks the collapse of the Soviet empire. And the end of the Cold War that had lasted for half a century in the West.”

. . .

“I am a leading to the notion of social control, Peter. To the requirement of every sovereign state to exert control over the behavior of its citizens, to keep them orderly and reasonably docile. To keep them driving on the right side of the road—or the left, as the case may be. To keep them paying taxes. And of course we know that social control is best managed through fear.

“Fear,” Evans said.

“Exactly. For fifty years, Western nations had maintained their citizens in the state of perpetual fear. Fear of the other side. Fear of nuclear war. The Communist menace. The Iron Curtain. The Evil Empire. And within the Communist countries, the same in reverse. Fear of us. Then, suddenly, in the fall of 1989, it was all finished. Gone, vanished. Over. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a vacuum of fear. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something had to fill it.”

Evans frowned. “You’re saying that environmental crisis took the place of the Cold War?”

“That is what the evidence shows. Of course, now we have radical fundamentalism and post-9/11 terrorism to make us afraid, and those are certainly real reasons for fear, but that is not my point. My point is, there is always a cause for fear. The cause may change over time, but the fear is always with us. Before terrorism we feared the toxic environment. Before that we had the Communist menace. The point is, although the specific cause of our fear may change, we are never without the fear itself. Here pervades society in all its aspects. Perpetually.”

He shifted on the concrete bench, turning away from the crowds.

“Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing the culture of Western society really is? Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average life spans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can’t even see—germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful, and depressed. And even more amazingly, they are convinced that the environment of the entire planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like to believe in witchcraft, it’s an extraordinary delusion—a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must live in fear. Amazing.

“How has this world view been instilled in everybody? Because although we imagine we live in different nations—France, Germany, Japan, the US—in fact, we inhabit exactly the same state, the State of Fear. How has that been accomplished?”

Evans said nothing. He knew it wasn’t necessary.

“Well, I shall tell you how,” he said. “In the old days—before your time, Peter—citizens of the West believed their nation-states were dominated by something called the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower warned Americans against it and the 1960s, and after two world wars Europeans knew very well what it meant in their own countries. But the military-industrial complex is no longer the primary driver of society. In reality, for the last fifteen years we have been under the control of an entirely new complex, far more powerful and far more pervasive. I call it the politico-legal-media complex. The PLM. And it is dedicated to promoting fear in the population—under the guise of promoting safety.”

“Safety is important.”

“Please. Western nations are fabulously safe. Yet people do not feel they are, because of the PLM. And the PLM is powerful and stable, precisely because it unites so many institutions of society. Politicians need fears to control the population. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media needs scare stories to capture an audience. Together, these three estates are so compelling that they can go about their business even if the scare is totally groundless. If it has no basis in fact at all.”

. . .

At the very least, we are talking about a moral outrage. Thus we can expect our religious leaders and our great humanitarian figures to cry out against this waste and the needless deaths around the world that results. But do any religious leaders speak out? No. Quite the contrary, they join the chorus. They promote ‘What Would Jesus Drive?’ As if they have forgotten that what Jesus would drive is the false prophets and fearmongers out of the temple.”

He was getting quite heated now.

“What we’re talking about is a situation that is profoundly immoral. It is disgusting, if truth be told. The PLM callously ignores the plight of the poorest and most desperate human beings on our planet in order to keep fat politicians in office, rich news anchors on the air, and conniving lawyers in Mercedes-Benz convertibles. Oh, and our university professors in Volvos. Let’s not forget them.”

. . .

“What happened,” he continued, “is the universities transformed themselves in the 1980s. Formerly bastions of intellectual freedom in a world of Babbittry, formerly the locus of sexual freedom and experimentation, they now became the most restrictive environments in modern society. Because they had a new role to play. They became the creators of new fears for the PLM. Universities today are factories of fear. They invent all the new terrors and all the new social anxieties. All the new respective codes. Words you can’t say. Thoughts you can’t think. They produce a steady stream of new anxieties, dangers, and social terrors to be used by politicians, lawyers, and reporters. Foods that are bad for you. Behaviors that are unacceptable. Can’t smoke, can’t swear, can’t screw, can’t think. These institutions have been stood on their heads in a generation. It is really quite extraordinary.

“The modern State of Fear could never exist without universities feeding it. There is a peculiar neo-Stalinist mode of thought that is required to support all this, and it can throve only in a restricted setting, behind closed doors, without due process. And our society, only universities have created that—so far. The notion that these institutions are liberal is a cruel joke. They’re fascist to the core, I’m telling you.”

I am very grateful for reading this book if only because of this passage. I have perceived an excess of fear here in the USA that is not present in Brazil and I have been perplexed as to what it is. When I look, I see what Crichton says is true. The world is essentially a much safer place than years ago, but people are sheep and scared out of their wits.

I read George Reisman’s 1990 essay on environmentalism, where he said environmentalism was the migration of leftists after the collapse of Communism. I find Crichton’s analysis much more compelling. Maybe there are many leftists in it, but fear is the product being manufactured.

Also, Objectivists, who had been fed a diet of doomsday scenarios ever since the founding (“the world is perishing in an orgy of…”), are especially susceptible to this perpetual State of Fear. Now I understand their bigotry against Muslims. They are crapping in their pants. This has bothered me because Objectivism is not a philosophy of cowardice or collectivism.

I even see this in how the Iraq war was sold to the USA. There is an article that probes the media’s complicity in spreading false information. If you look underneath, you see that the media was spreading fear and was not very careful on sources when the fear was good.

'Devastating 'Moyers Probe of Press and Iraq Coming

by Greg Mitchell

April 19, 2007

Editor & Publisher

From the article:

The most powerful indictment of the news media for falling down in its duties in the run-up to the war in Iraq will appear next Wednesday, a 90-minute PBS broadcast called "Buying the War," which marks the return of "Bill Moyers Journal." E&P was sent a preview DVD and a draft transcript for the program this week.

While much of the evidence of the media's role as cheerleaders for the war presented here is not new, it is skillfully assembled, with many fresh quotes from interviews (with the likes of Tim Russert and Walter Pincus) along with numerous embarrassing examples of past statements by journalists and pundits that proved grossly misleading or wrong. Several prominent media figures, prodded by Moyers, admit the media failed miserably, though few take personal responsibility.

The war continues today, now in its fifth year, with the death toll for Americans and Iraqis rising again -- yet Moyers points out, "the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush Administration to go to war on false pretenses."

. . .

Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply.

The program closes on a sad note, with Moyers pointing out that "so many of the advocates and apologists for the war are still flourishing in the media." He then runs a pre-war clip of President Bush declaring, "We cannot wait for the final proof: the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Then he explains: "The man who came up with it was Michael Gerson, President Bush's top speechwriter.

"He has left the White House and has been hired by the Washington Post as a columnist."

I am not claiming that the war was a bad thing. I am merely pointing out that it was sold on the basis of fear and that this was way too easy, even with the lack of hard evidence.

I started this thread because the State of Fear (not the book, the syndrome) is so wide-ranging that it transcends this topic or that like global warming, the Islamist threat, gun control, etc. I believe it needs a separate discussion.

I am duly impressed.

Disasters strike the few, not the many. It’s a wonderful world, folks. We are lucky to be alive at this time. We should enjoy it and stop letting fear rob us of our happiness. We can deal with serious problems without doing that. We most definitely can.

Michael

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Damn, thank you, Mike! I'm so glad somebody else sees this! I've really kind of given up watching the news because it's so dreary. Everything is doomsday. "Could apples give you cancer? Find out at 10!" Everyone's in a frenzy and I cannot stand it. :blink: Calm down, people. Take a deep breath...and just live. *sigh* I will be purchasing Crichton's book. Sounds badass.

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This was such a great book. Although I have not lived nor can I sufficiently remember a long enough time span to have experienced what they were talking about, I certainly got the gist of it. So how does one go about making society less fearful? Sounds like another process that has to start with the populace not responding to what the uppers say, or chastizing them for saying it.

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So how does one go about making society less fearful? Sounds like another process that has to start with the populace not responding to what the uppers say, or chastizing them for saying it.

John Stossel is out there making a fine stab at it.

Judith

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Michael,

By quoting this passage, you've convinced me to read Crichton's book.

Marlo Lewis (in his repsonse to Al Gore's book and film) quotes H. L. Mencken on how governments are always promising protection from "imaginary hobgoblins."

There's a book, now out of print for quite a few years, called News and the Culture of Lying by Paul Weaver. Weaver argued that "Pulitzerian journalism" (the pseudo-objective style that replaced the old openly partisan American journalism in the 1890s) pushes most stories into a "crisis and response" format--where, usually, government is expected to provide the response. Worth digging out of the used book pile, should you happen to come across it.

As for the attachment to hell-in-a-handbasketude that still prevails out in Rand-land, I just finished mentioning it in my post about Robert Tracinski's effort to blame Karl Popper for sticking us with bad theories of climate change.

Robert Campbell

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Robert,

(sigh)

Some of that stuff just doesn't stop. I have read in several places where people are certain that the VA Tech massacre was the fruit of Islam. They base this on the guy's pseudonym. The fact that he did not spout Islamic ideas on the tapes, did not frequent a Mosque, was a virtual loner, hated the rich qua rich, etc., does not make any impact on their thinking.

They are terrified and like being that way. It is easier than thinking.

Michael

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I do not have a settled opinion on the global warming matter. However, I have seen in other issues the use of alarmism to whip up a public feeding frenzy. The antarctic ozone hole story is a complete fabrication. Antarctica periodically has winters when it is cold enough to form nitrogen ices and heterogeneously catalyze full ozone destruction over the Antarctic without man-made chemicals.

Jim

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Michael; Thanks for the comment about the shooter. I have had to listen to one friend on that subject. You showed I was on the right track. Radley Belko had a post on his blog about that topic.

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I havent read the book yet but I must say that analysis is extremely incisive. However, the Politico-Legal-Media complex is not seperate from the Military-Industrial one... Politico has to include military at some point (and remember its the politicians who control the defense-funding purse strings). Certainly, it is correct that Politico-Legal-Media does have interests in scaring the population with false terrors for laws, lawsuits and current affairs programs on each, but is this really a conspiracy of conscious intent?

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Certainly, it is correct that Politico-Legal-Media does have interests in scaring the population with false terrors for laws, lawsuits and current affairs programs on each, but is this really a conspiracy of conscious intent?

Andrew,

I don't see this as a formal conspiracy of any particular group, but the result of interests of the private members of each group. All this is made possible because of the power of the information revolution, which is very visible when wielded. The public reactions are almost immediate and the wealth generated is immense. Once a man becomes aware of a certain power he holds, he will use it.

I think there is a corollary to this analysis that is not in the book. I call it the "remote control mentality." I often see people impatient with the development of situations because they are used to changing the channel when some bombing or scandal (or whatever) becomes boring. They don't understand why things need focused concentration and a medium-to-long-term period to fix or complete.

For instance, I believe that the public acceptance of global warming on extremely limited science is a reflection of people's impatience arising from the wish to change the channel. This remote control mentality is part of the mix along with the fear. Hell, even the idea of solving the problem quickly by emitting less CO2 (and not thinking about much anything else) reflects this impatience.

"Global warming? Do less CO2. Something about greenhouse. Gotcha." (click) "Oh yeah, the Muslims..."

Michael

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...is this really a conspiracy of conscious intent?

Mistakes of this size are not made innocently, Miss Rand said. So the answer to your question is 'yes.' In previous writing I described CBS as a predatory force, for instance. I like MSK's perspective and always read his posts with great pleasure. I'm willing to be wrong, but I see a continuing, irresistible slide to disaster. Atlas shrugged in factual reality long ago IMO.

W.

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  • 1 year later...

The new Presidential administration certainly gives many people much to fear. It would not have mattered who was elected, but in this case, the upcoming Obama Administration is chum for the feeding frenzy.

On Robert Campbell's recommendation, I found News and the Culture of Lying by Paul Weaver in my university library. I already understand the antecedants. Newspapers were never expected to be objective. Then, as a result of the Pulitzer Prize, they came to be perceived as such. Interestingly, I found a nicely constructed negative review of this book from the Columbia Journalism Review, the Columbia School being the origin of the Pulitzer Prize. Another thread is Max Weber's view of bureaucracy. In his book, Bureaucracy, he says that those machineries are objective processes of government, not subject to personality, caste, etc. Thus, if the government department in charge of something reports a decline or an increase or neither of those, that report is accepted as objective. It may well be. But it is not infallible. Truly objective reporting -- pursuing facts, rather than quotes -- is hard work.

That applies to the consumers of fear. "The financial markets are melting down." What does that mean? If trading actually ceased for lack of communication, that would be a "meltdown." Actually, falling prices are great news. The so-called "Long Depression" 1873-1892 was a period of economic expansion, the heyday of capitalism, the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons. Yet, it was called a "depression" because prices were falling. IN truth, with the world's governments going to the Gold Standard, prices were falling because the money supply was stable and yet there was much to buy. So, prices fell.

The current market is great for anyone who had short positions. In the movie, Wall Street, Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook) says that anyone can look smart in a bull market. So, now, a lot of people look stupid. This is not the end of the world... or even the ends of their worlds. The downturn does have concrete consequences, of course. There is less work right now. The cost of labor is steady or falling. That much is real. On the other hand, to reduce inventories, prices are falling. So, there is that.

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Where there is a fear of the unknown, the media does a good job of fingerpainting a face for it. It wouldn't be such a burden if there was a balance, say a Good News Network (GNN). Life is a spectrum of both good and bad and all the in-between. Where media has such an influence over the populace, news would be newsworthy if it reflected that spectrum. People usually tune in to see what's going on around them to get a feel for state, national, and global events (mainly anything outside their circle of influence). Life happens, so why not report it as such?

Michael,

The book sounds like a great read. Any book of Crichton's that I've picked up was an "experience." Thanks for that snippet. Another book I'll be adding to my collection (whenever I finally get to reading Ayn's titles, of course...lol).

~ Shane

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I saw a report with someone that people are not spending. My reaction is that this is a great idea yet the person commenting seemed to think this was awful.

I have to add that I think the world will miss Michael Crichton.

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There is a perhaps "natural tendency" to avoid threats in preference to seeking gains. We tend to be conservative creatures. So, paying attention to bad news is more rewarding than following good news.

I point out, however, that there is a "natural tendency" to racism -- our family versus all strangers -- and yet we attempt to educate past that. The same can be said for sexism. It is true that every society divides work by gender, but they all do it differently. So, we educate around the tendency to accept our norms as "natural." In fact, in sociology, we call that "the naturalistic fallacy" -- the belief that your social behavior is required by physical reality.

So, too, with fear.

Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein makes the point that every society has traders and every civilization has had wealthy merchants, but that "capitalism" was possible only after a shift in worldview that perceived risk as calculable. The point here is that even if there is a "natural" tendency to avoid losses, it is fully possible to educate toward measuring and taking risks. We do it every day. Successfully.

If you want to be bathed in good news, subscribe to a trade journal. Go to any business -- plumbing, electrical, insurance, wholesale food -- and ask to see the magazines in their lobby. Those publications print success stories -- and they put risk in perspective. Over the past 25 years, I have written and sold about 50 articles like that for The Greater Lansing Business Monthly, Midnight Engineering, Credit Union News, Albuquerque Business Journal, Northwest Michigan Business News, and Plane & Pilot News, among others.

In a wider context, doom and gloom is just the psycho-epistemology of mysticism and collectivism.

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There is a perhaps "natural tendency" to avoid threats in preference to seeking gains. We tend to be conservative creatures. So, paying attention to bad news is more rewarding than following good news.

....

In a wider context, doom and gloom is just the psycho-epistemology of mysticism and collectivism.

Everything has its place. Calculating risks, for example, can pay off big or not doing that can be disastrous. When the World Trade Center was designed it was with steel beams protected by asbestos insulation. In 1971 in the midst of construction, this was changed to a grossly inferior substitute which contributed to the eventual collapse of the twin towers. Mismanagement of risk assessment. When their design and construction details were announced in the 1960s I asked myself--thinking of what happened to the Empire State Building in WWII when a B-25 plowed into it--what if an airplane accidentally crashes into one of them? How will the fire be fought? I imagined that there should be large indoor swimming pools at the top with plumbing that could be used to massively flood any fire. I don't know if this was practical or the best way, but it illustrates my basic mind set which is to seek out the possibility of potential trouble to avoid it. By way of contrast, I do not have an entrepreneurial mind set. Division of labor.

I don't get this psycho-epistemological remark. Ayn Rand's father failed to get his family out of Russia while he could. I guess he wasn't a doom and gloomer. Kudos? Jews fleeing Hitler were? Am I missing something here?

--Brant

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