Pensées on Fear and Loathing in America

Great op-ed piece worth reading by perhaps America’s foremost security expert, Bruce Schneier, on the DHS security warnings (Department of Homeland Security, for the non-US acronym followers) and their actual effect in terms of security (zero) versus the effect on the populace (fear). Short, pulls no punches and questions the political motivation of the entire system.

There are two basic ways to terrorize people. The first is to do something spectacularly horrible, like flying airplanes into skyscrapers and killing thousands of people. The second is to keep people living in fear.

I find politicos dance around the issue of whether the DHS is doing anything, so as not to be accused of being against public safety (remembering the brewhaha the other week when DC was on terror alert and they closed the NY bridge and Howard Dean accused the President of manipulating the terror alerts for political gain and every Democrat took a big step away from the guy).

I don’t know whether just stopping watching TV (particularly nightly news) has made me less susceptible to it or something, but I notice this whole culture and discourse of fear thing around me now, rather than just in the US (of course, I could just be overly self-absorbed… =p ). Fear-mongering has become TV’s daily diet from network news to Cops. (do try to watch Outfoxed about how the Fox News network manipulates this fear to push the Republican platform. Scary… And of course, I think Michael Moore has also said some very salient things about how fear is used in media now.)

And the thing I really hate is that with the Americanization of Canadian politics it is beginning to happen here in the True North as well. When did we start to become such a fearful culture ? And what does it mean to a country that embraces diversity and multiculturalism as much as Canada being constantly exposed to propaganda about how we should fear the Other, those different from us and the stranger you don’t know ?

Is it simply a mass media phenomenon? Perhaps the market drive towards if it bleeds, it leads means it is inevitable. A new kind of market failure where news has become entertainment rather than information which is what we presume the “news market” provides.

Since mass media only allows you to react, perhaps it will be pushed aside in the future or become a less important channel than actual discourse and the ability to question and clarify as newer media like blogs and social software allow relationships of many to many and few to few, rather than simply the 1 to many (broadcast).

If anything, intelligent, reasonable people seem unwilling to constantly live in an unjustified atmosphere of fear (or sadly develop a form of learned helplessness a la Seligman). Much as we are beginning to see dissatisfaction and defection from the current democratic process as simply not allowing public participation in any meaningful way, maybe the same thing will happen with a mass media seemingly bent on keeping people afraid.

In fact, maybe a reduction in the importance of single voice media outlets is what needs to happen generally in order to fix the problem of public participation generally. And why tools like blogs seem to be on the forefront of people participating in resurrecting public discourse and working on fixing social problems again.