The Influence of Anxiety
by Jay Taber
Phil Williams is a sober, well-informed guy. So when he discusses the chaos likely to envelop the world as modern states collapse and morph into criminal enterprises, I take him seriously. In his recently-published paper From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age, Professor Williams examines the key factors, any one of which could bring on widespread panic, and proceeds to show how the nexus of multiple crises already well underway could literally change the world as we know it. Anticipating such man made disasters in advance may not allow us to avoid them all together, but they can make it possible for us to prepare while some of us still have cool heads. Under these conditions, capitalizing on social anxiety by perpetuating fear as part of consumer advocacy campaigns becomes all the more unconscionable.
Society, as some suggest, is an ongoing experiment: try what seems to work; abandon what doesn't. Of course, what works for some is often detrimental to others. Especially in a winner-take-all capitalist system. The European experiment in the Americas -- beginning with slavery, murder, and theft, and, in many respects, still in that mode of relationships -- is presently foundering on the indigenous resurgence and moral challenges posed by their culturally creative companeros.
Liberals -- like conservatives -- also fear the unknown, fear fundamental change, and fear the loss of privileges ingrained in our society for half a millenium. Their anxiety -- based on a sense of security that is bound up with the existing system of inequality -- places them in a juxtaposition between letting their conscience be their guide, and siding with those who would maintain such inequities. For myself, the challenge -- or experiment, if you will -- is whether we can surmount the communicative barriers of the status quo in order to begin to discuss our hopes for the future.
William Vega, an American public health researcher at Rutgers -- published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1998 -- observed that Mexican immigrants have roughly half the incidence of psychological dysfunction as Americans. After 13 years, though, these immigrants develop depression, anxiety and drug problems at the same level as the general population (32%). Additional studies have extended these findings to other ethnic groups, leading to the conclusion, that "socialization into American culture and society increase susceptibility to psychiatric disorders."
In The only thing we have to fear is the 'culture of fear' itself, author Frank Furedi discusses how fear is transmitted by cultural scripts which inform people of emotional and behavioural formulae which have come to be part of their everyday behaviour and thought. But the transformation of anxious responses into fear, he observes, also requires the intervention of social forces, of what he has labelled 'fear entrepreneurs.'
In my memoir Reign of Terror, I wrote about the influence of anxiety and fear inflamed by some of these entrepreneurs in 1990s Puget Sound, and how traumatic that systematic disruption of social institutions was for those involved. Today, given the multitude of world calamities leading toward widespread social collapse, generating panic is a rather simple matter. Creating spaces of calm, on the other hand, is a colossal challenge.
(Jay Taber -- recipient of the Defender of Democracy award -- is an
author, columnist, and research analyst at Public Good Project.)