Culture of fear

From ArticleWorld

In the discipline of sociology, a culture of fear is a generalized societal climate of unease and even panic, which shapes social interactions and public policy. This effect is seen as a new development by sociologists and other writers in the field, who argue that it poses a danger to society by limiting and simplifying public discourse.


The development of a culture of fear

Spontaneous fear

Sociology professor Frank Furedi, of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, has argued in two books that a culture of fear arises instinctively out of an innate human tendency to simplify and qualify complex social issues. In Culture of Fear and Politics of Fear, he uses examples such as the birth control pill Panic of 1995 to illustrate how terror spontaneously emerges in a population.

Furedi argues that politicians, the media and advocacy groups of all political leanings are guilty of exploiting our inherent fearful tendencies to further political agendas or to keep the public focused on certain issues. However, he sees the root cause of this societal fear as being a sense of disillusionment with current political systems. To him, it is the responsibility of the public as well as the media and other organizations to end the culture of fear.

Controlled Fear

Another view of fear culture comes from writers like Noam Chomsky and Alex Jones. They argue that fear is used by the authorities as a means to social control of the masses. The perceived motives for such panic-inducing social experiments include, but are not limited to:


  • The creation of broad changes in social attitudes that are favorable to a government regime.

The techniques used to achieve these ends are varied. Proponents of the theory of constructed fear culture say that one can recognize scare tactics in play when certain factors are present. In cases where: mass media coverage appears to be one-sided, statistics are inaccurately represented, ethnic or certain age groups are blamed en-masse for criminal activities, small-scale events are inflated and overrepresented, complicated scenarios are simplified and dichotomized, and cause and effect become the same thing, a culture of fear is being constructed.

The other side of fear

Supporters of the idea of government-instigated fear culture also accuse the same government of downplaying issues that are worthy of fear, such as the ill effects of asbestos and lead paint. They say that these issues are ignored, allegedly because they tend to conflict with corporate interests.