Entries Tagged "fear"

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Elite Panic

I hadn’t heard of this term before, but it’s an interesting one. The excerpt below is from an interview with Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster:

The term “elite panic” was coined by Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. From the beginning of the field in the 1950s to the present, the major sociologists of disaster — Charles Fritz, Enrico Quarantelli, Kathleen Tierney, and Lee Clarke — proceeding in the most cautious, methodical, and clearly attempting-to-be-politically-neutral way of social scientists, arrived via their research at this enormous confidence in human nature and deep critique of institutional authority. It’s quite remarkable.

Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don’t become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface — that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn’t actually happen; it’s tragic.

But there’s also an elite fear — going back to the 19th century — that there will be urban insurrection. It’s a valid fear. I see these moments of crisis as moments of popular power and positive social change. The major example in my book is Mexico City, where the ’85 earthquake prompted public disaffection with the one-party system and, therefore, the rebirth of civil society.

Posted on April 8, 2013 at 1:30 PMView Comments

Government Use of Hackers as an Object of Fear

Interesting article about the perception of hackers in popular culture, and how the government uses the general fear of them to push for more power:

But these more serious threats don’t seem to loom as large as hackers in the minds of those who make the laws and regulations that shape the Internet. It is the hacker — a sort of modern folk devil who personifies our anxieties about technology — who gets all the attention. The result is a set of increasingly paranoid and restrictive laws and regulations affecting our abilities to communicate freely and privately online, to use and control our own technology, and which puts users at risk for overzealous prosecutions and invasive electronic search and seizure practices. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the cornerstone of domestic computer-crime legislation, is overly broad and poorly defined. Since its passage in 1986, it has created a pile of confused caselaw and overzealous prosecutions. The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security manipulate fears of techno-disasters to garner funding and support for laws and initiatives, such as the recently proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, that could have horrific implications for user rights. In order to protect our rights to free speech and privacy on the internet, we need to seriously reconsider those laws and the shadowy figure used to rationalize them.


In the effort to protect society and the state from the ravages of this imagined hacker, the US government has adopted overbroad, vaguely worded laws and regulations which severely undermine internet freedom and threaten the Internet’s role as a place of political and creative expression. In an effort to stay ahead of the wily hacker, laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) focus on electronic conduct or actions, rather than the intent of or actual harm caused by those actions. This leads to a wide range of seemingly innocuous digital activities potentially being treated as criminal acts. Distrust for the hacker politics of Internet freedom, privacy, and access abets the development of ever-stricter copyright regimes, or laws like the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which if passed would have disastrous implications for personal privacy online.

Note that this was written last year, before any of the recent overzealous prosecutions.

Posted on April 8, 2013 at 6:34 AMView Comments

The Psychological Effects of Terrorism

Shelly C. McArdle, Heather Rosoff, Richard S. John (2012), “The Dynamics of Evolving Beliefs, Concerns Emotions, and Behavioral Avoidance Following 9/11: A Longitudinal Analysis of Representative Archival Samples,” Risk Analysis v. 32, pp. 744­761.

Abstract: September 11 created a natural experiment that enables us to track the psychological effects of a large-scale terror event over time. The archival data came from 8,070 participants of 10 ABC and CBS News polls collected from September 2001 until September 2006. Six questions investigated emotional, behavioral, and cognitive responses to the events of September 11 over a five-year period. We found that heightened responses after September 11 dissipated and reached a plateau at various points in time over a five-year period. We also found that emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions were moderated by age, sex, political affiliation, and proximity to the attack. Both emotional and behavioral responses returned to a normal state after one year, whereas cognitively-based perceptions of risk were still diminishing as late as September 2006. These results provide insight into how individuals will perceive and respond to future similar attacks.

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 9:22 AMView Comments

Fear and How it Scales

Nice post:

The screaming fear in your stomach before you give a speech to 12 kids in the fifth grade is precisely the same fear a presidential candidate feels before the final debate. The fight-or-flight reflex that speeds up your heart when you’re about to get a speeding ticket you don’t deserve isn’t very different than the chemical reaction in the brain of an accused (but innocent) murder suspect when the jury walks in.

Bigger stakes can’t lead to more fear.

And, in an interesting glitch, more fear often tricks us into thinking we’re dealing with bigger stakes.

Posted on August 24, 2012 at 6:27 AMView Comments

Fear-Mongering at TED

This TED talk trots out the usual fear-mongering that technology leads to terrorism. The facts are basically correct, but there are no counterbalancing facts, and the conclusions all one-sided. I’m not impressed with the speaker’s crowdsourcing solution, either. Sure, crowdsourcing is a great tool for a lot of problems, but it’s not the single thing that’s going to protect us from technological crimes.

If I didn’t know better, I would say it was a propaganda video.

Posted on July 30, 2012 at 12:40 PMView Comments

Nuclear Fears

Interesting review — by David Roepik — of The Rise of Nuclear Fear, by Spencer Weart:

Along with contributing to the birth of the environmental movement, Weart shows how fear of radiation began to undermine society’s faith in science and modern technology. He writes “Polls showed that the number of Americans who felt ‘a great deal’ of confidence in science declined from more than half in 1966 to about a third in 1973. A main reason for misgivings about science, according to a poll that had studied the matter in detail was ‘Unspoken fear of atomic war.'”

Even more, Weart suggests that nuclear fears have contributed to increasing mistrust not just in modern technology and the people and companies and institutions who control and regulate those technologies, but even in the societal structures that support them. He cites a widely read anti-nuclear book in the late 70s that warned that “the nuclear industry is driving us into a robotic slave society, an empire of death more evil even than Hitler’s.” He notes how strongly these underlying anti-establishment cultural worldviews informed a 1976 article opposing nuclear power by energy expert Amory Lovins, who wrote “reactors necessarily required high centralized power systems, which by their very nature were inflexible, hard to understand, unresponsive to ordinary people, inequitable (my emphasis), and vulnerable to disruption.” Weart observes that “people with a more egalitarian ideology who thought that wealth and power should be widely distributed, were more anxious about environmental risks in general and nuclear power above all than people who believed in a more hierarchical social order.” “By the mid-1970’s,” Weart writes, “many nuclear opponents were saying that their battle was not just against the reactor industry but against all modern hierarchies and their technologies.”

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 8:50 AMView Comments

Top Secret America on the Post-9/11 Cycle of Fear and Funding

I’m reading Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin. Both work for The Washington Post. The book talks about the rise of the security-industrial complex in post 9/11 America. This short quote is from Chapter 3:

Such dread was a large part of the post-9/11 decade. A culture of fear had created a culture of spending to control it, which, in turn, had led to a belief that the government had to be able to stop every single plot before it took place, regardless of whether it involved one network of twenty terrorists or one single deranged person. This expectation propelled more spending and even more zero-defect expectations. There were tens of thousands of unsolved murders in the United States by 2010, but few newspapers ever blared this across their front pages or even tried to investigate how their police departments had to failed to solve them all over the years. But when it came to terrorism, newspaper and other media outlets amplified each mistake, which amplified the threat, which amplified the fear, which prompted more spending, and on and on and on.

It’s a really good book so far. I recommend it.

EDITED TO ADD (7/13): The project’s website has a lot of interesting information as well.

Posted on June 27, 2012 at 6:35 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.