Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Fear Market

Libertarians tend to look at the world through the lens of reciprocity, or the act of "buying and selling;" hence, our advocacy of "free markets." Even human emotions are subject to market analysis, especially "FEAR." Let's take a look at that "Fear Market."

First of all, fear is an emotion that is manufactured by the the inner-most regions of the human brain. Hence, if the human brain is evolutionarily organized like an archeological site, then other species can also "feel fear" and exhibit "fear behavior," especially mammals. There is a certain body of universality associated mammalian fear, as evidenced by the familiar "fight or flight mechanism." Among human fear is universally recognized as a profound source of human motivation...perhaps even the most prolific source of motivation. It invariably motivates us to either "do something" or "not do something." Many human fears have been shaped by years of mamallian evolution and play a major role in the preservation of life. Hence, we share many fears with other species, especially Bonobos and Chimpanzees...most notably a nearly universal fear of snakes. For most of us, our fear of snakes and be overcome by knowledge of which kinds of snakes bite, are poisonous, and capable of constricting us to death AND where these snakes are most likely to live. We can also learn how to safely handle, even poisonous snakes. So despite our natural fear of snakes, many humans purchase books and videos about snakes and buy them as pets. Similarly, although we are all programmed with a natural "fear of death," we all pay good money to watch horror films, especially those involving zombies and monsters. We also spend way too much money on health care and funerals. In short, imaginary fear plays a central role in the global market. 

Think about much of the global market is based on fear mongering? Here's a few caveats: health care industry (fear of disease and/or disability), banking industry (fear of theft), surveillance technology industry (fear of death and/or theft), weapons industry (fear of death and/or theft), insurance industry (fear of death, theft, property damage), etc. Let's also add numerous public institutions such as: the military (fear of invasion), police departments (fear of crooks), and fire departments (fear of fire) All of these industries and institutions, therefore, have an interest is selling us fear. Thus they all employ marketing strategies to convince us that we ought to "fear X" and therefore purchase products and services that alleviate those fears. Good advertising manipulates fear among buyers to the benefit of sellers. Thus, the fear industry tends to focus on major harms. The greater the magnitude of a harm, the greater the fear, and the greater the motivation. However, today most of the major harms that we face are really low-probability, long-run harms. Therefore, the most effective marketing strategies tends to transform minor harms into major harms, improbable harms into highly probable harms, and/or long-term harms into short-term harms.

Media technology has drastically expanded the fear market. Watch the local news in Cincinnati and most of it involves reporting of crimes, fires, and a host of other local, national, and global disasters. When the local meteorologist predicts "bad weather" regular programming is usually interrupted...especially if tornados are "possible." More importantly, whenever an "act of terrorism" is committed anywhere in the world, it dominates the news global media. One car bomb explodes in Afghanistan we all begin to fear car bombs in Cincinnati. Therefore, the police feel justified in searching everyone's cars for explosives, and all packages found by the side of the road are opened by "explosive experts" that paid to take courses in detecting and disarming explosive devices. One school shooting at one out of thousands of U.S. schools, and we're all afraid there will be one at our school. Hence, the growing market for metal detectors, body scanners, ALICE training at schools, home schooling, conceiled carry classes, and increased scrutiny of the mentally ill.

One of the consequences of the mass marketing of fear has been our growing propensity toward "risk intolerance." Over my 62 years I have seen the gradual rise of risk intolerance. When I was a child: no one wore bike helmets, seatbelts, or locked their doors at night. We all played "Lawn Jarts" in the back yard, broke thermometers and played with the mercury, "rough-tackle football" without equipment, baseball without batters helmets, we played with beebee guns, knives, fireworks and roamed the neighborhood (and further) without adult supervision. We did, however, have fire and civil defense drills at school...we were taught to hide under our desks, if a nuclear bomb was dropped on Syracuse.

Libertarianism requires a minimal degree of courage and a willingness to take at least some risks despite global fear mongering. Therefore, in a world dominated by a global media, we must resist the mass marketing of fear. Let's start by not "buying" imaginary fears concocted by sellers. Let's try to control our natural fight or flight mechanism and limit fear responses to real, major, highly probable, short-term harms. For dinner about a nice greasy cheeseburger topped with some of that nice chedder cheese that Marion gave me?