Are you scared yet?

Everyone’s afraid of something.  Personally, I hate flying.  The knowledge that I’m trusting my fate to uncounted individuals while I’m thousands of feet in the air, moving hundreds of miles an hour, with absolutely no control over whether I survive to the next airport gets to me every time.  I’m sure that I’m not alone in this fear.  There are loads of reasons why airlines don’t offer parachutes.  I accept these reasons intellectually.  BUT if I were ever to get up to the counter, and the attendant asked “Would you like to rent a parachute for just $50?” my fear of flying would make me think about it.  I’d think twice if she followed that with “There’s only a slim margin that the plane will crash, but here at Blabla Airlines, we believe in offering safety.”  Now, lets add a couple TV’s covering the most recent plane crash, maybe a couple stories about people who’s lives were saved by parachutes in commercial airlines.  Suddenly, my knowledge of why taking a parachute on a passenger airplane and paying for the privilege is dumb becomes a whole lot less important than the fear.  While my knowledge might prevent me from forking over $50 to the airline, there are plenty of people without that knowledge.

Now, any airline that actually started doing this would be dumb on a scale I couldn’t even begin to describe.  First and foremost, you don’t want people to be scared of flying, or they will keep their feet safely on the ground … and do something much more dangerous; driving for example.  See, my brain KNOWS that flying is safer than driving, but I’m not scared of driving (most of the time), I’m scared of heights and falling from them and the long, long wait to hit the ground and the SCREAMS AND THE OH GOD WHY AM I STILL THINKING ABOUT THIS?!

Ahem.

Point is, fear short circuits knowledge. It bypasses natural skepticism and it makes you want to act to relieve that fear.  Fear doesn’t even need to be rational and often it isn’t.  The above example of the fictional, moronic airline is purposefully dumb, but it is closer to a lot of modern advertising, and politics in particular.  I saw a little Google Ad a while ago, advertising about the great American plague, or something like that.  It was a quick little picture, with a medical looking graphic and some symptoms listed.  I saw it, and I thought, “I’ve got a couple of those.”  And BAM! Fear.  I had a disease I didn’t even know about.  I clicked the link.  It was a medical looking site; a foundation I hadn’t heard of before.  I watched their video.  By the end, I was half-convinced that my stomach bacteria were quickly killing me and causing every ill in my life.  They were pretty clever, waiting until the very end of the video to subtly drop information that, even though my gut was full of world ending killers, all I had to do was balance them out, using one of the many pro-biotic solutions, like eating yogurt or taking Brand A probiotics, or even one of the many others.  And then I realized what happened.

After just a couple Google searches I find out that the medical foundations page I had been on was, in fact, part of Brand A Probiotics.  It was subtle.  The video was pretty good, not even mentioning the “disease” I’d clicked the link to find out about until a goodly ways in.  *sigh* It was a long video, and actually pretty interesting but I shouldn’t have watched it for quite so long.  Anyway.  They presented information like a history documentary, establishing credibility, then when the hook was set, they started describing symptoms.  Then they told me the cause.  Then they told me the cure.  The basic plan is to play into everyone’s natural and entirely sensible fear of illness by telling you about a broad range of symptoms.  So broad, in fact, that just about everyone who sees an add will have one of them.  You think you’re sick, so you’re afraid.  What do you need to be afraid of? Gut bacteria.  How do you protect yourself?  Probiotics (preferably Brand A, the most trusted in the business)!  They have science!

They’d used my fear against my reason.  It makes me angry, in retrospect.  Granted, they’d obviously put a lot of that into the marketing campaign, but some googling and reading quickly showed me that while some of what they said was true, certain things were only true or just might be true.  Maybe.

The experience proved to be an eye-opening one.  I’m noticing more and more how fear is used to motivate people, and often how its used to bypass thought and knowledge.  I’m not going to give any examples here, but we’ve got primary elections coming up here in the States.  Listen to what the candidates are saying.  I find a lot of arguments lately are playing to our fears, as a people.  We’re scared of terrorists, so we consent to being monitored to “make us safe.”  We’re scared of losing our jobs so we need stricter immigration laws.  We’re scared that our side isn’t going to win, so we have to vote along party lines because the other side will lead us all to ruin and damnation.  This side is racist!  That side is Communist!  What are you scared of?  That’s what they’ll play on.

Granted.  I’m engaging a little hyperbole, but for good cause.  Do I want you to be scared that you’re scared and people are using it against you?  No.  I was people to gain knowledge and use it against that fear and the people who want to take advantage of them, no matter who or what it is.  Fear is weakness.  Knowledge is power.   Quoting Frank Herbert’s Dune:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain. ” – Paul Atreides, Dune by Frank Herbert