|SOCIOLOGICAL LEVEL OF ANALYSIS|
The fact that various institutions have a vested interest in fear mongering has been well documented. Barry Glassner summarises the evidence in his classic book - The Culture of Fear [GLASSNER]. Religious institutions contribute to a climate of fear by capitalising on our fear of death. They assure us that life does have a happy ending - at least, for those who behave well in this life. Ernest Becker argues that our entire life is spent in The Denial of Death [BECKER]. Politicians also use fear as a means of social control. Totalitarian governments do so blatantly, with the familiar apparatus of secret police and network of informers, surveillance and control of media, removal of Civil Rights and persecution of dissenters. Democratic governments have to create fear by more subtle means, by Manufacturing Consent [HERMAN & CHOMSKY]. Noam Chomsky argues that mass media is part of the industry of fear since it prints only what fits the purposes of the American corporate culture of which it is a part.
Another factor contributing to the climate of fear is that history is the story of conflict told by the winners. The daily newspaper - the first draft of history - also focuses on conflict. During a decade spent in California, the only news I got of Quebec was of conflict between the "two solitudes". Back in Montreal, I attended the International Jazz Festival, with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets enjoying music together with little sign of police presence and no incidents of conflict. But that's not news.
Plane crashes are invariably reported with "interesting" pictures of wreckage and grieving relatives and "interesting" stories about the person who, for whatever reason, "missed" the plane. Thus many people fear travelling by plane, even though there are vast statistical records which demonstrate that you are safer sitting in a plane that sitting on your own veranda. But statistics are not "interesting" and therefore they are not news. One anecdote told by a distraught mother about how she had lost her daughter because of a vaccine for whooping cough gets more coverage and credence than the substantial evidence that such a possibility is infinitely remote. The vaccine is removed from the market and whooping cough returns. Media feeds on our macabre interest in the misfortunes of others, which in turn is fuelled by our mistaken belief and misplaced relief that misfortune for others reduces the probability of that misfortune visiting us.
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