“The consumer economy depends on the production of consumers and the consumers who must be produced for the consumption of ‘anti-fear’ products have to be frightened and terrified, while also deceived that the dangers they fear so much can be forced to withdraw and that they themselves are able to force them to do so, with the help paid out of their pocket, obviously”, wrote sociologist Zygmunt Bauman.
In the modern scenario, where the “Fight against fears has ended up becoming a lifelong task, while the dangers that trigger these fears have come to be seen as permanent and inseparable companions of human life”, we have to scrutinize our fears with an extraordinary critical sense or, otherwise, we will end up being its hostages, swallowed and manipulated by those shadow monsters that seem to appear everywhere.
In a hyper-connected society fears multiply
In the past the news used to spread very slowly. Many times they were even relegated to the place where occurred the facts. Today, with the Internet, we know immediately what has happened on the other side of the world. That immediacy and interconnectedness are positive, but they also contain a trap. The trap of seeing dangers everywhere. Feeling permanently insecure. Always waiting for what happened on the other side of the world to be replicated in our closest environment.
In this way we end up plunging into what Bauman called “A protracted and unwinnable battle against the potentially disabling effect of fears against the genuine and putative dangers that make us fear.” We fear not only the real dangers that threaten us in our daily lives but also more diffuse and distant dangers that may never come.
In the grip of that feeling of apprehension that condemns us to a permanent state of alarm in which we feel that we cannot lower our guard for a minute, we have no choice but to immerse ourselves in a “Continuous search and perpetual proof of stratagems and resources that allow to chase away, even temporarily, the imminence of dangers; or better yet, that they make it easier for us to shift the concern in ourselves to a corner of our conscience so that it remains forgotten the rest of the time”.
For this we resort to all kinds of stratagems. However, there is the contradiction that the “More profuse they are, the more ineffective and less conclusive are their effects.” Because in reality, the strategies we apply to drive away our fears have only a very limited effect: they hide the fears for a time, until the next news reactivates them.
When fear is diffuse, uncertain and extended to practically any sphere of our life, it becomes a difficult enemy to beat. Then it becomes the “business of fear.”
Caught in the maze of improbable fears
We know that the future will be different, although we do not really know how or to what extent. We also know that at any moment the fragile continuity between the present and the future that makes us feel so secure, can be broken.
The uncertainty of the future makes us “Worry only about those consequences that we can try to get rid of”. We focus only on risks that we can foresee and calculate. And those risks are often the ones that the media emphasize ad nauseam.
As Milan Kundera said, “The scene of our lives is shrouded in a fog – not in total darkness – in which we do not see anything and we are not able to move. In the fog we are free, but that is the freedom of those who are in darkness”.
We can see 30 steps ahead and react to what we have right in front of our noses, but we do not see beyond. Thus we try to foresee the nearest, known and closest dangers. But the biggest and most dangerous, probably the ones that could affect us the most, we don’t see them. In this way, we end up marginalizing the main reasons for concern.
“Focused on what we can do something about, we have no time left to occupy ourselves in reflecting on things about which we could not do anything, even if we wanted to. This helps us to preserve our sanity, to remove nightmares and insomnia. What it cannot achieve, however, is that we are more secure”, said Bauman.
Thus we end up hunting non-existent monsters, dedicating all our efforts and energies to protect ourselves from improbable risks, while our mind wears out in a battle that is lost beforehand. And while we sink into those liquid fears, our rational mind disconnects. Because when the old brain takes over there is produced a full-blown emotional hijacking that prevents us from seeing clearly what is happening and understanding that most of the fears that grip us are irrational or the result of a derivative fear.
In this state, it is easier to sell us solutions to “protect” ourselves from those fears, solutions that are not limited to the commercial level, but go far beyond the alarm system that we install at home to feel safe or medications for anxiety or insomnia that allow us to forget about our anguish for a while, but rather “Appear to us under the mask of the protection or safeguarding of the communities”, to sustain a status quo that conveniently keeps us within the narrow limits set by fear.
And so we fall into the loop of liquid fear referred to by Bauman, a fear that is everywhere, conveniently fed, but impossible to eradicate because it perpetuates itself. Unless we make an act of conscience and understand that these fears are so irrational and their risks so small that we can free ourselves from them to live fully the only life we have.
Bauman, Z. (2010) Miedo líquido. Barcelona: Editorial Paidós.