November 15, 2005
During my travels last week, I picked up Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. Good book, and a very quick page-turner. The paperback is almost 700 pages, and I blazed through it at about 100 pgs/hour. I highly recommend it. If you happen to have a watermelon environmentalist friend, I also recommend it as a gift. You might just open someone’s mind. Note, however, that I won’t be held responsible for friendships ended over this book!
The title, “State of Fear”, is well explained by the following excerpt:
“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. The 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 the belief in witchcraft, it’s an extraordinary delusion– a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must all 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 in 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 fearin t he population– under the guise of promoting safety.”
“Safety is important.” [Evans said.]
“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 need 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 as all.”
This articulates something I’ve long found impossible to comprehend. Why is it that instead of looking at all the glorious advantages of living in modern times, we spend every minute of our time worrying about all the risks? You see it today with the bird flu panic. Bird flu is a possible pandemic. It is currently not a reality, and while it might have a chance at becoming one in the future, it requires planning, not widespread panic.
Remember SARS? Remember West Nile Virus? Remember mad cow? What happened to those? I remember seeing pictures of people walking around cities with surgical masks over their faces. I remember watching as the news reports would chronicle every time West Nile entered a new state. These were the next big killers, the end of life as we know it. They never happened. But don’t worry, now we have avian flu to worry about. OOOOHHHH… Scary! Hide your children!
We live in a constant state of paranoia about all the bad things in life. People aren’t scared about driving down the freeway every day, but worry every time they step foot on an airplane. They’re not worried enough about being 30 pounds overweight (myself included) to actually exercise and reduce their risk of heart disease, but they’re worried bird flu is going to mean their end. People don’t think about the fact that government has access to just about every little financial transaction it wants to look at, but worry that the feds might be spying on their library acquisitions. LIBRARIES?! About 2% of people I know even visit the library anymore! The rest of us buy our books at Barnes & Noble or amazon.com.
Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I simply can’t get myself worked up over this nonsense. Heck, I’m willing to satiate my adrenaline addiction by jumping out of planes and riding motorcycles. I can do this because I’ve realized one very important thing about life. Nothing is safe. Everything has risk. All day, every day, you might die. It could be a crazed mass murderer. It could just as easily be slipping in the shower. Hell, you could choke on your own saliva while sleeping in bed and asphyxiate yourself. Let me repeat this, because it’s important. Nothing is safe. Everything has risk. Once you get your mind around that little whopper, you can start to live your life again.
There’s a threat of international terrorism. It’s possible that Al Qaeda is setting up a nuclear weapon in Atlanta right now, and I’ll be gone by morning. Am I worried about it? Not at all. There’s nothing I can do about it. Of course, I recognize that Al Qaeda is a threat to us, and we need, as a society and government, to work to alleviate as much of that risk as possible. But I don’t expect the government to keep me 100% safe every day, because they’re not even remotely capable of doing so. In fact, I worry about them trying too hard to make me safe, because the steps they need to make me safe usually carry some extra baggage: control. And I’m not willing to sacrifice that control over my life. If it comes down to it, I’ll do what I need to do to take care of my own safety, thankyouverymuch. And if forces conspire against me, and the threat is well beyond my control? That’s a chance I’m willing to take.
There are people out there everywhere looking to use you for their own ends. And fear is a way that they can get you to willingly sign up to be their stooge. Politicians want you afraid, because “saving” you earns them votes. Even if what you’re scared of is a chimera, as long as they can make you believe they’re protecting you, you’ll love them. The media is driven by ratings, and ratings are increased when you think you need the latest “update” they’re doling out. People tune in for a crisis, so they’ll manufacture a crisis out of minor trouble if it makes them money. The lawyers? ‘Nuff said.
In life, there are very few things that you can control. The odds are heavy in favor of living a long, fruitful life– and dying of old age. There’s a small chance, of course, of dying young, whether it be a nasty disease, a fiery crash, or any host of other misfortunes and maladies. If you never know when you’re going to go, you might as well enjoy the time you have here. And you can’t do that when you’re scared of the very things that make life worth living.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with The Future of Liberty
The Unrepentant Individual linked with More on the State of Fear
Positive Perspectives linked with Positive Carnival #1
Don Surber linked with Carnival of the Vanities
Left Brain Female in a Right Brain World linked with Carnival of Liberty XXI
News, the Universe, and Everything linked with The Nanny State of Fear
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