Essay on Fear

The only thing we have to fear is the ‘culture of fear’ itself,” by Frank Furedi:

Fear plays a key role in twenty-first century consciousness. Increasingly, we seem to engage with various issues through a narrative of fear. You could see this trend emerging and taking hold in the last century, which was frequently described as an ‘Age of Anxiety’. But in recent decades, it has become more and better defined, as specific fears have been cultivated.

Posted on June 29, 2007 at 6:38 AM30 Comments


bobechs June 29, 2007 8:03 AM

@ Paul Crowley

Thanks for the heads-up, very useful, but I also have to say that when as early as page one of the article I was reading about the “interrogation of fear,” I knew just what I was in for already.

NotANewProblem June 29, 2007 9:47 AM

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.??? (I Timothy 1:7)

even the Bible refers to this problem 🙂 indeed, “there is nothing new under the sun”…

It would be more helpful if Senor Furedi actually stated some suggested solutions to this issue…

jayh June 29, 2007 10:13 AM

“.. even the Bible refers to this problem 🙂 indeed, “there is nothing new under the sun”…

It would be more helpful if Senor Furedi actually stated some suggested solutions to this issue…”

perhaps, but then cherry picking, choosing and interpreting tiny excerpts from a book of mythology to suit one’s opinion does not count as a practical solution either.

guvn'r June 29, 2007 10:19 AM

@Paul Crowley, @bobechs, ???? are you implying that political leanings affect the credibility of ideas and discourse on other topics? Am I stupid to not see anything in those Wikipedia refs to invalidate the exposition in that essay Bruce cited. Or maybe I’m naive in expecting ideas and essays to stand or fall on their merits, not on the political associations of the author?

Guess we should review Einstein’s works in light of his politics eh?

Tim June 29, 2007 11:38 AM


The chances of getting blown up are miniscule compared to, say, getting killed in an automobile accident.

WL June 29, 2007 12:16 PM

@FooDooHackedYou: And yet, we have orders of magnitude more automobile deaths than terrorist deaths. Perhaps automobile accidents are not actually easier to prevent than terrorist attacks.

dragonfrog June 29, 2007 12:50 PM

@WL – an alternate possibility – automobile deaths can be easily reduced by well-known methods that are politically unpalatable in the U.S.

e.g. many of those methods might involve either reducing the revenues of, or imposing costs on, the automobile industry – and so the choice is to allow automotive deaths to continue at their present rate, since no one is putting any pressure on the politicians to do anything about them.

guvn'r June 29, 2007 1:03 PM

@WL, but there’s orders of magnitude more drivers trying to kill you than terrorists…

Relax June 29, 2007 1:06 PM


And maybe there’s one other tiny, inconsequential difference: dying in a car wreck is often an accident.

Getting blown up by a terrorist’s bomb is (often multiple) first-degree murder with malice aforethought.

On the attempted prevention of which activity should your government spend more of your tax dollars?

Carlo Graziani June 29, 2007 2:26 PM

Er, OK, “Relax”, I’ll bite. The government should spend the most money
abating the largest risks, starting with the ones the money can have the
greatest impact on. “Malice” is a noise category, which should be entirely
ignored by anyone trying to make decisions based on risk, rather than
trying to trade on — or being controlled by — fear.

Relax June 29, 2007 3:37 PM

@Carlo Graziani

Opening scene:

A restaurant, lunchtime, patrons seated, about to start eating.

Risk Abatement with Impact Department (RAID) officer appears from behind a booth:

“Drop the burger, fatboy!”

Restaurant patron: “Excuse me?”

RAID: “Put it down, RIGHT…NOW.”

Patron: “Who the hell are you?”

RAID: “I’m from the Risk Abatement with Impact Department, and I’m here to abate the largest risk

to your health, Mr. American taxpayer.”

Patron: “That’s great, but I’m eating lunch. Cou-”

RAID: “Exactly. More Americans die of heart disease and dietary-related cancers than any other

cause of death. It’s your biggest risk. I’m here to abate it.”

Patron: “What? You’re nuts. I’m gonna eat my lun–”

RAID officer knocks the burger out of the patron’s hand.

Patron: “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?!”

RAID: “Obviously you’re not taking these risks seriously enough, and that’s why your government is

here to protect you.”

Patron: “Protect me from myself?!”

RAID: “Precisely. We all know the government should be protecting you from the largest risks, no

matter whether you would voluntarily choose to engage in those risky behaviours or not. Heart

disease, cancer: those are the big two. So here we are.”

Patron: “But what I eat is my business.”

RAID: “Not any more. We’ve got Health Care For All now. You’re covered automatically. But we can’t

have you using up more than your own share of health care resources. So we have to step in to make

sure you stay healthy. WAITER! Can we get a large cucumber salad over here, please?!”

Patron: “I can’t believe this.”

RAID: “Relax. We’ve taken the pain out of decision-making for you. It’s in your best interests.

Obviously you don’t know how to protect yourself on your own, from the looks of that meat burger.”

Patron: “Shouldn’t you guys be out fighting crime or something?”

RAID: “Crime. You civilians! The chances of you being the victim of a violent crime are miniscule

compared to the health risks of a poor diet, or of being in a car accident. Speaking of which,

we’ve protected you from that too.”

Patron: “What? What do you mean?” Patron glances out the window to the parking lot and sees his car

being towed. “My car!!”

RAID: “Cars are dangerous. Car accidents kill a lot more people than crime. But don’t worry.

There’s a safe, state-subsidized bus stop less than a mile from here. It’s free, and if it’s too

full, another one will be along soon. Plus, the walk will do you good. Your salad’s here.”

Patron: “This is insane. I can’t believe this.”

RAID: “You’re welcome! Have a nice day, and remember, your government’s here to protect you!”

Pan in on Patron, his jaw agape in disbelief. Pan down to cucumber salad, and fade to black.

Anonymous June 29, 2007 3:55 PM

Er, OK, Relax, I’m sure that makes sense to you, in whatever space your head is living in. Has nothing to do with risk assessment in the real world, however.

What I’m talking about is (for example) that in terms of demonstrated danger, and saved lives/property per government dollar spent, the government should be making a higher priority of defending U.S. cities against hurricanes than against terrorist nukes.

But hurricanes are impersonal, while terrorists are malicious. So we distort our risk abatement efforts to assuage our fears of terrorists, whilst essentially shrugging off the fact that we’ve already lost a major American city to a hurricane, and doing comparatively little to prevent the next such disaster.

That’s stupid. But that’s emotional risk assessment, in the presence of fear.

Relax June 29, 2007 5:46 PM


Er, usually a somewhat humorous story is enough to get the point across, but it appears I’ll have to spell it out for you.

Life is risky. The crucial difference in determining who shall pay for risk abatement is whether or not the risk arises from someone’s intent to harm others (violate their rights), or whether the risk arises in some other way. The primary job of government officials is to use the wealth they tax away from citizens in the way(s) that the citizen agreed that it would be used. In the great tradition of classical liberalism, that means paying a police force to protect citizens, in their person and their property, from harm INITIATED by other PEOPLE. This is the proper sphere of government, and of the use of the wealth that government officers take from citizens to pay for carrying out this mandate.

So, if the risk to your life or limb, or property, comes from someone else, then government can properly use resources to abate that risk.

If the risk comes from the weather, the ocean, acts of God, or your own choices (like eating rare hamburgers), then government cannot properly use resources to abate that risk. YOU must choose whether you will allocate some of your wealth to abate these risks (by buying fire insurance, or health insurance, for example.)

It makes no difference whatsoever which risk is greater (for if it did, you would have to agree that heart disease is the biggest risk, and should thus be abated by “government dollars”, which are actually your and my dollars, by the way–you forget that).

Government is not to be assessing “demonstrated danger”, nor protecting people from the consequences of choosing to live in a below-sea-level coastal city. That’s what flood and disaster insurance are for. And if no company wants to provide such an insurance product at a price affordable to the would-be beneficiaries, that should be an important bit of info (hint hint) about the weight of risk of living in such an area.

Terrorists seek to violate the most important right you have: the right to your own life. Hurricanes do not seek. If you would like to donate some of your wealth toward preventing the next natural disaster, by all means please feel free to do so. Just don’t feel so liberal with my and others’ wealth. It’s not yours to donate.

The world is full of risks. Believing everyone else should pay for the risks voluntarily borne by the people who bear them, is an emotional moral assessment, in the presence of an egalitarian desire that no one should experience the consequences of their decisions, if those consequences are bad. That’s naive.

You’ve got the stupidity part right, Anonymous. You’ve just pegged the wrong thing. Er, ok?

X the Unknown June 29, 2007 5:51 PM

@Relax: “On the attempted prevention of which activity should your government spend more of your tax dollars?”

Well, since I have limited dollars, and want those that I must spend on taxes to be of maximal utility, I think I want better quality-of-life per buck. In the most simplistic terms, this might be measured as more lives saved per buck…but I’d also factor in such things as lack of living-in-fear (wherein less tax-money spent on promulgating a state of fear is a major consideration), feeling confident my progeny will have reasonable opportunities for a good life, etc. Clearly, some percentage spent on National Defense (including the all-important aspect of maintaining reasonable diplomatic relations with most of the world) is part of maintaining quality-of-life.

Too much money spent on questionable defense, on the other hand, deteriorates quality-of-life, both by taking money away from more-efficacious programs, and by taking ever-more tax-money from me (usually “justified” by whipping up public fear of “evil-doers”).

If you don’t think Automotive deaths -vs- Terrorism deaths is a fair comparison, how about Disease deaths -vs- Terrorism? Diseases, like Terrorists, do specifically “target” us, generally with little regard as to specific people or identities. Both go mostly for raw numbers affected. Both can strike anywhere at any time. Both are very hard problems to “solve”, with political, cultural, and technological aspects.

As indicated in another comment on the “Sippy Cup Incident:

Well, let’s examine the cost-benefit proposition, here.

2003 through 2007, aproximately 150,000 people killed by Influenza. Same period, approximately 3000 people killed by airline-based terrorism attacks of the kind TSA is intended to combat. So Influenza is about 50 times more dangerous over this time-frame.

TSA Budget History:
2003: 4,648 Million
2004: 4,405 Million
2005: 5,297 Million
2006: 5,561 Million

2007: 6,299 Million

Total: 26,030 Million over 5 years

NIH Spending on Influenza:
2003: 57 Million
2004: 113 Million
2005: 164 Million
2006: 207 Million

2007: 222 Million

Total: 763 Million over 5 years

So, we spent 34 times more money on a condition that has 1/50 the fatality rate.

And this doesn’t even take into account the by-now hundreds of billions spent in Iraq, ostensibly as part of the “War on Terror” – which has cost well over 3000 U.S. lives itself (and probably over 100,000 Iraqi lives).

Sorry – I just DON’T see that my tax-money is being well-spent for the benefit of myself, my progeny, or my community in general!

Relax June 29, 2007 5:59 PM

@X the Unknown

“Sorry – I just DON’T see that my tax-money is being well-spent for the benefit of myself, my progeny, or my community in general!”

I agree, X. I think nearly all of us would be better off if people like you were allowed to choose where in your life to spend the dollars that are currently taxed away from you.

Ask someone from Israel June 29, 2007 9:20 PM

British Police Probe Car Bomb Plot in London,2933,287438,00.html

Erik Solheim a convicted criminal –Norwegians Against Terrorism

Who Invests in Terrorism-Sponsoring States?

Northern Iraq exports terrorism to Turkey: Baykal

Expert Testifies on al-Qaida Records

Go2Null June 30, 2007 3:30 PM

I recently visited NY (last time was summer 2001) and the changes were remarkably disturbing. Everything is draped in the flag. People are afraid to say things that could be taken out of context, and to even do so over the phone. It reminds me images of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Not the beacon of Freedom. “Fear” seems to be a fairly accurate description.

WRT the comments above, one topic not mentioned is the active promotion of the “culture of fear” (the topic of the article). It brings to mind the perpetual war of 1984 (

Anonymous July 1, 2007 7:02 PM

FooDooHackedYou: I think that trying to say a single event which didn’t injure anyone (except for the people who were trying to kill people) is more important than some of the many preventable diseases which kill people every day is actually sort of heartless. Are the people who died in terrorism attacks more important just because of how they died? Is revenge for people who have already died more important than saving the lives of people who will most certainly die today, tomorrow and, if we don’t do anything about it, every day?

Christophe Thill July 2, 2007 3:24 AM

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

(HP Lovecraft, “Supernatural horror in literature”, 1926)

Colossal Squid July 2, 2007 3:26 AM

“so what’s your opinion now? unfortunately, people don’t play by your nice little assumptions about risk…”

My assumption is that I’m more likely to get run down by some idiot in a car as I cycle to work than get blown up by a terrorist.

Tarkeel July 2, 2007 6:04 AM

@Tim/FooDoo: Re: Automobile accidents:

“Death and injury on the roads is the world’s most neglected public health issue. Almost as many people die in road accidents – 1.2 million a year – as are killed by malaria or tuberculosis. Around 50 million are injured. Some 85% of these accidents take place in developing countries.”

More of a problem then you would think, apparently.

C Gomez July 2, 2007 8:08 AM

Speaking only about the U.S., I think the culture of fear has only taken hold in the media and elected officials… and even then only at the federal level.

There are usually anywhere from two to six reasons a voter will decide to vote for a candidate. The problem is you get all the other baggage of whatever that candidate is going to stand for (like defend all the supposedly vulnerable groups that add up to more than 100% of the population). I think we haven’t come to a place where it’s enough to vote against a person who pays the standard lip service to defending children, the elderly, women, minorities, etc.

Instead, you mostly end up voting for who is going to hand out more to you. This can either be in the form of cutting taxes, targeted tax breaks, or new social spending targeted to you. So, it’s just “Bread and Circuses”, and it’s pretty much past the breaking point.

FooDooHackedYou July 2, 2007 9:26 AM

@Anonymous – “I think that trying to say a single event which didn’t injure anyone (except for the people who were trying to kill people) is more important than some of the many preventable diseases which kill people every day is actually sort of heartless.”

I’m not saying it’s an either or proposition. I don’t see why you think it is. The US government has many resources and focus on more than one issue at once. Do you have ideas for improving this or do you just want to restate the obvious problems that exist?

The major difference with terrorism is that sentient beings are actively seeking to destroy others to fulfill their wacko agenda. Remember 911, 311…?

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