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When I was visiting my mom, she told me she used to go to Sandy Hook elementary school. It made me grateful that she was born when she was. It made me wonder how many lives turned out differently as all of those children were gunned down.

Late last year, Kim Klein wrote an article called “The Commodification of Fear.” This article talked about the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, which was an isolated incident (indicative of the levels to which our healthcare system has failed us) and while it was extremely tragic, it has led to another behavior across the country.

Now a friend of mine, whose dad lives in rural Oregon, tells me that her dad can’t buy 9 millimeter bullets. The gun store is cleaned out by every afternoon. If her dad wants bullets, he has to go stand in line outside the store before it opens. He’s unwilling to do this, so he doesn’t get the bullets.


Bullet from ChristianUK on Flickr

Why do they keep running out? Not because new people are buying guns. It’s because people who already owned guns are buying more guns, and more bullets. Despite the fact that Sandy Hook was in an elementary school 3,000 miles away. Despite the fact that the person who shot all of those children did not even own the guns he was shooting.

Why are they doing this? Maybe they feel like the new gun laws, when they come into effect, will attempt to take their guns from them. Maybe they feel like everyone else is getting armed, and so they should be armed as well.

We know that when we focus on the fear, and how bad things are in our appeal letters, donors tend to give more. They believe there will be a consequence if they don’t give. The fact that fear sells in the mainstream news context also holds true for the nonprofit sector.

Kim Klein told the story of how she was at a dinner party and many people there were talking about the new security systems they had installed. The security cameras. the fences. the motion detectors. The locks. The automatic doors. And someone said,

“There is a lot of money in fear.”

If you’re seeing more and more fear in the media, you may ask yourself, how do we combat this? I mean, our nonprofits are doing good every day. Why isn’t the media focusing on this? What can we do to make them pay attention? Does there have to be a scandal at our nonprofit to make them pay attention? Does there have to be an oversize CEO compensation package to make them care?

How can we combat this fear?

Dr. Meerloo’s 1956 classic The Rape of the Mind proffers one solution to the problem that you may recognize …

“We must learn to treat the demagogue and aspirant dictator in our midst just as we should treat our external enemies in a cold war — with the weapon of ridicule. The demagogue himself is almost incapable of humor of any sort, and if we treat him with humor, he will begin to collapse.

Yes! If you see a lot of doom and gloom in the headlines and on the news and in the magazines, then why not joke about it? Some news networks seem to be about 24/7 terror. Okay, we’ve got serious global warming to worry about. But sitting here getting worried instead of doing something isn’t going to make anything happen. That’s what happens when we watch the news all the time. We get inundated. I’m not saying don’t be informed about the world. But you don’t have to inundate yourself.

Meerloo goes on: “Humor is, after all, related to a sense of perspective. If we can see how things should be, we can see how askew they can get, and we can recognize distortion when we are confronted with it. Put the demagogue’s statements in perspective, and you will see how utterly distorted they are. How can we possibly take them seriously or answer them seriously? We have important business to attend to — matters of life and death both for ourselves as individuals and for our nation as a whole. The demagogue relies for his effectiveness on the fact that people will take seriously the fantastic accusations he makes; will discuss the phony issues he raises as if they had reality, or will be thrown into such a state of panic by his accusations and charges that they will simply abdicate their right to think and verify for themselves.

What are some false crises we’ve had recently? The “fiscal cliff”? The concept of “death panels” in “Obamacare”? Muslims are terrorists? WHAT? Um, is it any wonder that most of these comments have come from the GOP?

Am I calling the GOP and their media tools demagogues who try to prevent us from thinking?  Yeah, pretty much. And so is Jon Stewart. Some go far as to call it The Republican Fear Machine. I would rather call in the Miami Sound Machine.

The fact is that the demagogue is not appealing to what is rational and mature in man; he is appealing to what is most irrational and most immature. To attempt to answer his ravings with logic is to attempt the impossible. First of all, by so doing we accept his battling premises, and we find ourselves trapped in an argument on terms he has chosen. It is always easier to defeat an enemy on your own ground, and by choosing your own terms. In addition, the demagogue either is, or pretends to be, incapable of the kind of logic that makes discussion and clarification possible. He is a master at changing the subject. It is worse than criminal for us to get ourselves involved in endless, pointless, and inevitably vituperative arguments with men who are less concerned with truth, social good, and real problems than they are with gaining unlimited attention and power for themselves.

In their defense against psychological attacks on their freedom, the people need humor and good sense first. Consistent approval or silent acceptance of any terror-provoking strategy will result only in the downfall of our democratic system. Confusion undermines confidence.”

What are some ways you can fight back against fear-mongering, demagogues, and basically wrong-headed notions about the true state of the world?

Make fun of them. Go on. Things are bad. They are. And joking about them can help us start to talk about them.

What do you suggest?

One response on “Fear sells!

  1. Sun Connor says:

    Mazarine- GREAT POST!

    I agree with you here. There’s a lot of money in fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). As a parent, I can only stomach any form of news…one, maybe two times a week. I’m usually filled with anxiety just listening to the increase in ALL THINGS EVIL.

    What do I suggest?

    I say we all turn our televisions off more-to parent our kids, help out more in the community, spread positive vibes to combat the demagogues with their hate mongering media.