Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Commodification of Fear

Posted by Kim Klein

I was recently in another state to give a keynote address on fundraising. I had dinner with the organizers the night before. We were a group of ten women, mostly white, mostly 50 and up. Someone was talking about a recent raid on a methamphetamine lab which led someone else to talk about the rise in burglaries by meth addicts. We then talked about what could be done to address the problem of meth addiction. I was thinking we would talk in more policy terms but the conversation really focused on personal safety. In what was a great surprise to me, half of the women said they had a handgun, and two had their handgun with them in their purse! Someone asked how much these guns cost and someone else told her the cheapest place to buy them legally. One person said she did not own a gun because she didn’t think she could really use it. But she had recently contracted with a local hardware store which offers discounts to people wanting to make their homes burglar proof. They sell various kinds of locks, security cameras, motion detectors and the like and she has made her home “a fortress.” The conversation went on until someone who hadn’t spoken said, “There is a lot of money in fear.”

I thought back to this conversation after the most recent mass shooting in CT. The debate by the pro and anti-gun control forces is an important one and I am certainly completely on the side of people who want to bring back the assault weapon ban as the least we can do to begin to address gun violence. But we also have to address the marketing of fear which make many normal nonviolent people (my colleagues at this dinner) decide to own a gun.

A fundamental premise of a commons based society is that the people living in it feel physically secure: they feel safe as they go about their lives. People living in the United States don’t feel that and from our giant military budget (larger than the next 15 most militarized nations combined) to our local hardware store, we see the money to be made from exploiting that fear.

In the Christian tradition the time leading up to Christmas is called Advent, from the Latin word for arrival. We await the arrival of Jesus. Similarly, in much more ancient traditions, we await the arrival of the Winter Solstice, when the northern hemisphere begins to get more light every day. These images: the arrival of a few minutes extra daylight or the arrival of a baby are hopeful and joyful . Fear is not present. It is not a coincidence that the command which recurs most often in the Bible (from the Hebrew testament to the Christian testament) is “Do not be afraid.”

In a commons based society, this command would not be addressed to each person: “Stop feeling afraid, you wimp” but is addressed to the society as a whole, “Do not be afraid to build a society in which fear is not a commodity.”

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