If you were to take a snapshot of America’s collective consciousness, you’d see pestilence, apathy, wars and rumors of wars. A nation born in blood and ruled by fear. A bastion of culture and science, yet also a grim manifestation of humanity’s most primal elements. The self-preservation instinct, in particular, is an adhesive that keeps any social contract intact. Unfortunately, it’s also ripe for exploitation.
Fear, you see, is a lubricant; it allows tyranny’s overwhelming girth to impale liberty’s delicate orifices. Keeping this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the latest elections were set to the background music of sheer terror.
We’re All Just Scared Children
The world is full of things just waiting to kill you. On any given year, you’re likely to have countless brushes with death. Maybe you barely avoid a drunken teen taking daddy’s sports car for a spin, maybe you survive a heart attack, maybe someone performs the Heimlich after you begin choking on a pretzel. Point is, death is always around the corner. Yet, societies are engineered to create a sense of security. After all, the main responsibility of any nation is to provide safety for its citizens. If things weren’t so dangerous, there’d be little incentive to fork over cash to tax collectors.
The earth is indeed a scary place, and as a species, we cannot thrive without a central authority, a mass security blanket. Thus, we pay our taxes and offer our patriotism. As children, fear is ingrained into our heads. We’re taught to be scared of strangers, to be scared of germs, and more often than not, told nightmarish tales of misfortunes that befell boys and girls that didn’t behave. All of this is well and good, except for the fact that we never truly outgrow the scaremongering.
The Science of Fear
Fear, much like everything in life, boils down to chemistry. Consider the amygdala to be your brain’s cable news channel, constantly bombarding your body with messages of doom. It processes a lifetime of painful lessons, translating them into powerful physiological responses. There is even a prominent school of thought that insists fear is the oldest instinct, with all of our complex, deeply rooted emotions spawning from that most primal sensation.
Once sufficiently scared shitless, your blood pressure raises, your heart races, sweat drips, and rational thinking is abandoned completely. Yes, everyone reacts differently to fear. Some respond with aggression, others with panic, and a select few even thrive on it. Most of us, however, are rendered the mere equivalent of a deer in the headlights. We’re paralyzed, confused, willing to listen to anyone claiming to offer a solution. Not surprisingly, this is ideal for those looking to boost ratings, raise money, and earn votes.
The Politics of Fear
For better or for worse, humans are predictable. The average person doesn’t care about the intricacies of democracy, the perpetual servitude of the two party system, nor the incessant insults to their intelligence. They’ve tuned out, choosing to focus on their small, limited surroundings — their kids, their career, their sports teams, their food, their sex life. It’s only when these things are perceived to be threatened that they get motivated to take action. As a result, it’s safe to assume the political climate will never improve.
38,000 Americans are killed by flu related complications each year. Drug-resistant infections kill another 23,000, and even acute alcohol poisoning claims 10,000 victims annually. In comparison, Ebola has taken the life of two people inside U.S. borders. Likewise, street gangs and drug cartels slaughter more Americans than Isis ever will.
In the end, it’s the devil you don’t know that keeps you up at night. Ignorance and fear will continue to harmoniously co-exist, allowing the real monsters to roam freely. Cynical, but ultimately true. The American social experiment is forever at the mercy of the lowest common denominator, so progress will remain slow and painful. Still, it certainly beats no progress at all.