On the fear factory

I intended to write some pithy comments about communication strategy in Australia’s federal election (voting is tomorrow) and how the spin from the current government has focused on fear, fear, and more fear. Fear the opposition Labor Party, fear the future economic tsunami, fear the immigrants, and fear the internet. Perhaps fear losing the election also has a bit to play.

But I am now sidetracked by this piece of internet fear from a report last week in The Guardian. The report is called Dork talk and it is full of fear about malicious code spreading with the same apocolyptic speed and danger as AIDS: “Don’t trust those you don’t know. Don’t have unprotected sex with someone whose status you are unsure of and don’t, don’t, don’t click on that alluring headline, that tempting YouTube link, that interesting ad, that funny-sounding birthday card or joke unless you are 100% certain of its origin”.

Now I admit I am careful about things and have harped on previously about digital identity and the digital space. I am also fully aware that there are some bad people out there in cyberworld, as indeed there are in the real world. But should fear be so pervasive?

Well, the media is full of stories telling us all about all the bad people and all the bad things happening next door and all around the planet. Ironically, all this bad news is consumed voluntarily by consumers and feeds business via advertising.

Now fear can be good if it promotes change to a less fearful position or brings about a positive outcome. Fear of the consequences of climate change should be such a tipping point (and let me add here that just the human impact from climate change will mean the potential relocation of millions of people, something the sceptics forget in their claim that the odd increase in temperature won’t mean anything more than a few more hot summer days).

What is not good about fear is “fear myasma” – the climate of fear where fear is the means used to paralyse thinking and inhibit action. Significantly though, fear more often than not leads to helplessness, apathy, and abrogating responsibility. “Let someone else deal with it”, is a common refrain.

Fear happens at the micro level as well, inside families and organisations. Fear usually is not a productive culture to live and work in. Fear inhibits trust and social relationships. Fear stifles creativity. Fear rarely instils confidence in the work one does (although I remember an interview on televison with a Russian chap who had to write speeches for Stalin. He said that fear of writing a bad speech and then being shot were powerful motivators!).

Professor Robert Dawson provides a good overview of the psychology of fear that is well worth a read. Martin Seligman is also someone with plenty to say on the debilitating state fear and depression can have on the individual. The book, Learned optimism is a classic read and I thoroughly recommend it.

How does the fear factory affect you?


One response to “On the fear factory

  1. Like you said – fear sells papers!

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