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By Scott Sullivan


Variations on Fear

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt. Which is why I was happy to read last week’s Washington Post story saying 70 percent of Americans are stressed out about current news and our nation’s prospects.

So I’m not only stressed by those things, I am further stressed fearing our nation’s psyche is now too impaired to deal with them.

“The report came out,” writes the Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker, “during an acrimonious campaign season, the final weeks of which have been marked with violence.

“Last week, pipe bombs were mailed to a series of prominent Democratic officials and donors, as well as to CNN. On Saturday, a gunman massacred 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“‘The environment is very toxic,’ said American Psychological Association CEO Arthur Evans.

The Chief Shrink could have noted peers’ business should boom as a consequence. Take silver linings where we can get them. But calming messages cut back on couch time. Why do that?

Fear has always been good for business. People in politics, medicine, public safety, insurance, gun sales … Without terror we’d be bereft. Actuaries confirm what we all know anyway: Stuff happens.

There are two base emotions: love and fear. Fear releases cortisol, fight-or-flight instincts, adrenaline, anger and hunger for retribution. Love sends out oxytocin, connectedness, healing and sorrow when who or what we love passes, as all things do.

Both have good and bad points — not the least being they add dimension, much as two eyes give us stereoscopic vision.

Because we love fear and fear love, tautologies — repetitions of an idea, like FDR’s “fear” one — are consoling. It is what it is … Que sera sera … it’s a new beginning … Only a sage can confirm the obvious.

We learn from history nobody learns from history. It is always the best of times and the worst. Why do we think ours is more stressed than others?

When FDR made his fear speech, the world was enmired in the Great Depression, Mussolini and Hitler were pointing Europe towards war and genocide. What resulted — the bloodiest conflict in human history — was about to beget the atom bomb, Cold War, Korea, Vietnam …

Not that the good ol’ days of Caligula, Vlad the Impaler and such were cakewalks. What’s different now? We have new, improved ways to vent hate and fear.

“Acrimonious campaigns” is redundant and even consoling too. What’s good about post-elections is they relieve our greatest source of anxiety: uncertainty. Now, for better or worse, we can anticipate and plan for things that, before, we couldn’t.

The Saugatuck Township recall is case in point. Politics by nature is adversarial. We stress (there’s that word again) differences between issues and candidates hoping to sway voters to choose our side.

Commonalities — that we all want peace and well-being for our families, friends and neighbors, just favor different means to get there — get lost sometimes in the process.

Fear sells in my business too. When the PFA scare subsides we are sure to come up with new ones to keep our consumers appalled and riveted. Some people are never happy unless they’re angry; we can fuel and exploit that too.

If you think we are stressed now about how stressful life is, imagine how it will be if we aren’t stressed enough to fend off the boogeyman. Sooner or later the boy who cries “Wolf!” will be right, Chicken Little redeemed and the world go blooey. Then we can say, “I told you so” … if we’re there to say it.

I’m up for some fun until then. I believe most people are innately good despite evidence to contrary.

I can live being a sap, at least.