Bibliophile | ‘How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the 21st Century’

How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the 21st Century
by Frank Furedi
Bloomsbury

The television news headlines were as depressing as usual. This time is was forecasts of “hellish catastrophic weather for Sydney”, “fears that the black plague might return” and surveys finding that “most people are anxious about the state of the economy”.

University of Kent Professor of Sociology Frank Furedi points out that our concern about catastrophic events such as global warming, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are matched by our constant anxiety about ordinary risks in everyday life incorporated in diet, lifestyle and parenting practices … to name a few.

In his latest book, he looks at the historical context for our modern obsession with fear and examines the differences between the past and now. His thorough examination of how fear works is has been undertaken to “point a possible way towards a less fearful future”.

The concept of fear has always been with us as an automatic response to imminent danger or as a culturally generated response to many invisible threats such as the wrath of god and witches endowed with satanic powers.

Furedi investigates how our fears have been redefined and how the media has amplified some fears. People worry a lot about low-probability risks such as children being kidnapped when there is a greater risk to a child’s safety in just crossing the road. Even weather reporting has had a paradigmatic shift to reporting more ‘extreme’ weather.

The immediacy of news does give us a false sense of involvement, resulting in more fear without direct experience of the causes. It’s also become more acceptable to talk about our fears and ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’ sections of the population have replaced people who have capabilities, face adversity and cope with criticism.

Unprecedented prosperity and risk aversion seem to go hand in hand. Furedi sees uncertainty as opportunity, but global uncertainties seem to be reflected in personal insecurities and general disempowerment. Of course politicians and entrepreneurs have taken advantage of fear and anxieties for great gain.

Although the culture of fear is global, Furedi focuses on the Anglo-American world and encourages people to free themselves from its damaging impact to rediscover courage, reasoning and responsibility in order to break free from the disempowering effect of pervasive fear.

How Fear Works is a wake-up call for a society that “needs to re-examine what it expects of its citizens and reflect on the question of what it means to be human”.

Lezly Herbert


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