While the tabloid media are best known for playing the fear card, politicians now seem to be trying to trump them. The Greens proclaim that devastation will soon be wrought by dangerous climate change; the Coalition foretells the doom that will befall us from the carbon tax; and the ALP warns about the apocalypse that will come with the ascension of Prime Minister Abbott.
Added to this, we’re cautioned about mining magnates, asylum seekers, newspaper proprietors, rabid Christians, vampiric bosses, a burst housing bubble and another global economic meltdown.
It’s no wonder the Australian citizenry has become anxious and seeks solace amongst the glittering halls of Westfield Plazas scattered thoughtfully around the country. Perhaps the public’s whinging and wringing of hands, attributed by many to our selfish sense of entitlement, actually arises from our confidence being battered by fear-mongers on a daily basis.
Some of the fear campaigns are clearly for our own good — such as the graphic health warnings on cigarettes — while others are more dubious, like pre-paid funeral infomercials on daytime television. Either way, fear campaign proponents are trying to manipulate our behaviour.
Fear mongers know how to push our buttons. They use “outrage” factors to ignite or intensify our anxiety. People’s anxiety can escalate to outrage if they feel they have no control over a situation; if it involves something foreign to them; if it’s considered to be unfair or immoral; or if it’s imposed by big government or big business.
The online campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide is a good example of how easy it is to push outrage buttons. For those not familiar with this naturally occurring chemical compound, it: is the major component of acid rain; contributes to the greenhouse effect; may cause severe burns; is fatal if inhaled; contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape; accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals; may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes; and has been found in excised tumours of terminal cancer patients.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used: as an industrial solvent and coolant; in nuclear power plants; as a fire retardant; in many forms of cruel animal research; in the distribution of pesticides — even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical; and as an additive in certain junk-foods, baby food and other food products.
Described in this way, dihydrogen monoxide (otherwise known as H2O) is guaranteed to hit at least a couple of outrage buttons. If you consider the Australian community impervious to such transparent manipulation, here’s some other outrage buttons to consider: queue-jumpers, big polluters, hate media, imported workforce, and foreign land grab.
Fortunately, an effective way to counter fear is to use INFORMATION. Just as a light shone into a darkened room can transform a menacing shadow into a hat stand, information can dispel fear, particularly when that fear is built upon ignorance or unfamiliarity.
With information, outrage buttons can be transformed into issues that are admittedly complex but less threatening than political combatants want us to believe.
With information, fear has less chance to take hold and mutate into prejudice, belligerence or aggression.
And with information we can learn, for example, that there is no queue and that asylum seekers are fleeing persecution or war; that we are all polluters and must each play our part in tackling climate change; that our predisposition for conflict and sensationalism has encouraged shock jocks and other tabloid media; that skilled workers are needed to fill a gap in the Australian workforce, not replace it; and that only a small proportion of Australia’s arable land is owned by overseas interests.
So it’s time for us all to stand up to the fear-mongers. Next time someone tries to arouse fear in the community, ask yourself who benefits from the actions that may arise. If it’s the community which benefits, then it’s probably worth paying attention.
But if it’s the fear-monger, deny them the benefit of their attempted manipulation. Demand, or even better provide, information which sheds light on the threatening issue they are promoting.
Don’t unquestioningly accept the demonisation of a person or group without knowing the facts. Don’t accept an impending doom without examining the evidence. And don’t run cheering to the town square simply because the accused looks like a witch.
Blind fear can drive behaviours which too often undermine our humanity. Challenging fear-mongers and rejecting their biased agendas can help to restore it.