Vacation of the Mind Part 4: Fearful Insights

The next book for me to enjoy during my vacation is the only nonfiction book in the lot.  I’m a big fan of nonfiction of course, but I think mostly for this trip, I was looking to step into other people’s shoes.  Not “escape” as we so often refer to the act, but more just enjoy the new vision other authors’ worlds gave me.  However, I did happen to listen to one compelling nonfiction audiobook on my mp3 player that has left me with a better critical angle to approach informational sources (or maybe just refreshed my already developed sense?).

The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner

The book is a rather interesting look at how our sense of fear is so often misguided.  We get distracted, mixed messages, or not sufficient information to judge something as a legitimate threat while at the same time, rarely take a step back to view the broader context for something we deem a threat.  As Gardner says, our “gut” (or instinct—which in itself is antiquated since it was developed for the world of serious and deadly threats of the wilderness; not what is by far an extremely less threatening modern world) is constantly flummoxed by the information it receives and doesn’t often give “mind” (or abstract thought—the latest developed piece of equipment humankind has been working with and therefore, the least removed from our emergency response question) a chance to impose order before reacting.  We are continually reacting to perceived threats that aren’t real and this happens in large part due to a feedback (and amplifying) loop within society among officials, media, and the public. 

The book in large part brought me back to two of my favorite, influential and thought-provoking books that I read a while back:   Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media by Michael Parenti and The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner.  What Gardner, Parenti, and Glassner do so well is help the reader to deconstruct the numerous messages and pressures directed at a person (usually through mass media, culture/society, or government).  Additionally, they remind the reader that even the most positive-seeming groups (a cancer-research advocacy group, for instance) is still most likely going to manipulate the message (and in doing so, evoke our fear) for the largest effect; to motivate the receiver (the person reading/viewing/listening to the message).  Playing on the emotions can in itself be problematic since there is a continually diluting effect the more a message is used.  The starving child of the 1980s “Feed the Children” campaign   is less effective now than it was then.  A good example is the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s ad campaign of animals suffering the hazards of our plastic pollution.  Human’s extensive pollution of the earth is indeed horrific, but in the video below, by putting it to Queens’ “Who Wants To Live Forever,” it becomes too much.  That is, the languid melody preys on emotions even further than is necessary.  


The commercial is playing on our heart-strings and demanding we act now by using emotional content without much factual content .  It provides no substance for us to contextualize what we’re seeing.  Exactly how many animals of all the animals living in the world right now die by plastic?  What are other devastating means that animals die by human hands (and this question is one of comparison:  After all, if ten times more animals die by human design—say for the purpose of human consumption; then animal death by plastic seems irrelevant)  Their need to manipulate instead of inform also speaks to other issues of humankind with regards to planning, changing, and conscientiousness, but alas, they must compete for our heart-strings as much as others who want our attention (and the potential  revenue that comes with that).  It’s asking us to react; not to think.

Like the others, Gardner’s prose pushes the reader to step back and ask critical questions of the information and challenge the often blatant and underlying assumptions.  It’s worth everyone’s time to take a look at this as it provides compelling insight and means of addressing the things that each one of us fear or just are wary of.



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