Fear Sells

America has entered an age where we are almost entirely slaves to fear. I don’t just mean fear of the local nuclear plant melting down or fear of terrorists, but also fear of unemployment, fear of not having the thinnest iPad, and fear of being caught in last season’s fashions.

The Music Man
Professor Hill understood the power of fear

Marketing has always been about fear.  When Professor Harold Hill rolled in to River City, he used fear of trouble (with a capital “T”, no less) to manipulate the innocents into buying his wares and services.  Over the years, advertising has gotten progressively more sophisticated, but at its core it’s still about frightening you into action.

Somewhere along the way though, advertising and marketing techniques slid out of the commercial world into other venues.  Today, politicians are packaged and sold with all the deft and flair of a new sports car or a light beer.  Even news organizations, once heralded in this country as unbiased and objective, compete for eyeballs by hyping sensational stories to lure you in.

The Trouble is (with a capital “T”), fear is not rational.  That is not to say it’s never justified, but it is an emotional response. It’s a knee jerk to a perceived threat. It is only after the fear passes that one has the peace of mind to actually analyze and evaluate the situation in order to decide a rational plan forward. But the people using fear to manipulate you cannot afford to lend you that time to reflect. It might expose their plans. Fortunately for them, there is a never ending litany of fear mongering at every turn.

Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” But I don’t think what he meant was for us to embrace the fear—to wallow in it, seeking the next reason to run screaming into the night. Rather, I think he was trying to motivate us towards courage by acting rationally in the face of fear.

Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Most of what you fear is irrational.  You are far more likely to be killed by heart disease, homicide, or an auto accident than by terrorists, a nuclear accident, or a government death panel.  Yet chances are you’re still going to munch on the bacon-cheeseburger while driving to the polls to vote down the new power plant and vote for strip searches at the bus station.

There are people of all ideologies saying the country is falling to ruins. To some degree, that’s unarguably the case, but this is not something that’s happened since the last election, or even just in the last decade.  We’ve been on this path for a long time.  And it will be a long time until we hit bottom.  Very little is as urgent as the fear mongers would have you believe.

Professor Hill had one thing right.  He advocated “The Think System.” We need to start using that instead of the feel system we’ve been relying on.  If you’re watching or reading the news and you start to have an emotional reaction, step back.  If a politician makes you angry or scared, walk away.  Do your own research. Reach your own conclusions. Reason through the long term broad implications of the policies and politicians for whom you’re voting.

Don’t react out of fear… think.  The danger the country faces is not from liberals or conservatives nor unions or corporations. The danger is voters who are giving in to fear rather than having the courage to resist and master that fear. We have the power to take our country back… it’s between our ears.

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