Decoding the Age of Fear

Neil Strauss in Rolling Stone:

Around the globe, household wealth, longevity and education are on the rise, while violent crime and extreme poverty are down. In the U.S., life expectancy is higher than ever, our air is the cleanest it’s been in a decade, and despite a slight uptick last year, violent crime has been trending down since 1991. As reported in The Atlantic, 2015 was “the best year in history for the average human being.”

So how is it possible to be living in the safest time in human history, yet at the exact same time to be so scared?

Because, according to {The Culture of Fear author Barry} Glassner, “we are living in the most fearmongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears.”

Inherent in the ways the news is both reported and received are a number of biases that guarantee people are not informed, but rather misinformed. The first problem with the news is that it must be new. Generally, events that are both aberrations from the norm and spectacular enough to attract attention are reported, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings and plane crashes.

But far more prolific, and thus even less news-worthy, are the 117 suicides in the U.S. each day (in comparison with 43 murders), the 129 deaths from accidental drug overdoses, and the 96 people dying a day in automobile accidents (27 of whom aren’t wearing seat belts, not to mention the unspecified amount driving distracted). Add to these the 1,315 deaths each day due to smoking, the 890 related to obesity, and all the other preventable deaths from strokes, heart attacks and liver disease, and the message is clear: The biggest thing you have to fear is not a terrorist or a shooter or a deadly home invasion. You are the biggest threat to your own safety.

It would make logical sense, then, that if Americans were really choosing politicians based on their own safety, they would vote for a candidate who stresses seat-belt campaigns, programs for psychological health to decrease suicide, and ways to reduce smoking, obesity, prescription-pill abuse, alcoholism, flu contagion and hospital-acquired infections.

But our fears are not logical.

I highly recommend reading the full article.


A cognitive scientist and linguist, {Harvard psychology professor Steven} Pinker focused his study of human nature on our propensity for violence — and conversely, cooperation — in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. In the book, Pinker meticulously documented a steady decline in violence over the last several centuries, which he writes, “may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.”

[Steven Pinker:} Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. While we have to be realistic about changes both up and down in rates of violence, we have to remind ourselves that violence is a problem we can deal with, that we have dealt with, and what’s important is to look at it realistically. To keep track of when it goes up, when it goes down, and what causes it to go up and go down and do more of what causes it to go down. We know over the last couple of years that it has gone down, so we should figure out what we did to achieve that and do more of it.


Yes, 2016 was full of some awful news. Let’s not forget all the good stuff that happened in 2016, though. Can’t think of anything? This website will jog your memory.

The site,, is based on an article by Angus Hervey: 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year. The site is a month-to-month list of positive, non-crappy headlines from 2016.

Chin up. Happy new year!

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