Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fear-mongers Undermine Society More Than Terrorists Do

David Brooks has a fine column on how happiness has far more to do with good personal relations than it does with wealth, power, or success. For the community-level (as opposed to individual-level) correlates of happiness, he gives this useful summary:

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

The opposite of trust is fear. The acid that destroys social happiness is fear. People who promote fear destroy society more effectively than do the people who commit frightful acts. The terrorist terrifies us once - and then we can pull together. The fear monger terrifies us all the time, undermining the very social asset that best helps us build a strong and happy society.


Anonymous said...

Why do you think everyone hates flying

Black Sea said...

I don't really understand the point of this post. Fear is sometimes a rational response to objective conditions, sometimes not. "Fear-mongers" will find a more receptive audience under conditions in which the society believes itself to be subject to objective dangers. Trust flourishes under conditions in which people feel that they have little objective reason to be suspicious of others.

"The acid that destroys social happiness is fear. People who promote fear destroy society more effectively than do the people who commit frightful acts."

The acid that destroys social happiness is a compound of all of the conditions - rational and irrational - that lead people to fear one another. People who "promote fear" are doing society a great -- and often thankless -- service if those fears are later shown to have been warranted.

Kerri said...

I think there is a difference in fear-mongering and informing others of real dangers that can be avoided and/or mitigated. Fear-mongering distracts communities from the latter.

Black Sea said...

Well, the difficulty is that one often doesn't know until well after the fact the extent to which fear was being "mongered." European Jews who pulled up stakes and fled Europe in the Thirties were thought by many of their contemporaries to have overreacted to the dangers of their predicament. On a more contemporary note, whites living in Zimbabwe in the 1980s would have been well advised to heed the advice of their fear-mongering friends and flee the country.

virginia said...

I think a good recent example of this is the use of the phrase "death panels" by certain politicians to describe what they knew full well to be provisions for helping patients make decisions about end-of-life care. Calling something by a sensational name for attention/votes is, in my book, the kind of fear-mongering that is demoralizing to a community.

And yes, I know that this kind of inflammatory/fear-provoking language happens on the left as well as the right, but my work is related to terminal illness (cancer) and this is the example that came to mind.

Anonymous said...

So I guess that when Winston Churchill warned of the fearsome consequences of appeasing Hitler, he was pouring acid on our social happiness?

Personally, the terrorist actions continue to instill fear in me. Maybe I'm just weak-minded.

Black Sea said...

From an interview with James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia theory:

"Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

When asked for his thoughts about the distortions of climate data at University of East Anglia, Lovelock said he has "little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – "I felt reluctant to pry" – but that their reported content had left him feeling "utterly disgusted".

So, is Lovelock a fear-monger, or a far-seeing Cassandra?

randy said...

i think gruntled probably meant something along the lines of what VA wrote.

but i think a lot of people sort of LIKE to have a good, juicy Fear to chew on.

Global Warming(TM) is an example of this; to me it all seems like an obvious Hype-or 90% hype, anyway-but people seem to need for the End Of The World to be imminent.