This week, Rolling Stone absolutely kills it with an October 20, 2016 article from Neil Strauss on “The Age of Fear.” In short, the article asks how it is that Americans can be living in the statistically safest place at the safest time in human history and still be so scared, to which my general sense is that it’s because of how well off we are–i.e., those who have much to lose are constantly in fear of losing it. Rather than generalizing, however, Strauss sticks to facts and possible symptoms, speaking with neurobiologists about the way in which the brain, a “stress-reactive machine,” can be easily manipulated into fear. One author calls this “amygdala hijacking,” in which inflammatory content bypasses the logical parts of the brain and attacks the emotional part. Another suggests that this isn’t fear at all so much as anxiety: fear is an immediate response to a clear and present threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of the future. The former is hard to manipulate, although it can be triggered (by scary movies, haunted houses, etc.), but the latter is dealing with uncertainty, and while a physical assailant may be dispatched, the imaginary monsters unsettlingly persist.
Perhaps that’s why politics is so scary: when running for office, a candidate can do nothing but talk about the future, about the things that might happen, and it plays to their strengths to get people nervous about what will happen if they aren’t elected. In many ways, politicians are running a psychic protection racket: “Nice country, it would be a terrible thing if something were to happen to it.”