AAAAARGH! (I’m afraid)

Cue the cello music! Quick get out of the water! It’s (Aaargh!)… One Shark! Yup, the headline said it all. ‘Jaws 2’ warned the Sun last week, describing the second sighting of a shark, which had just horrified people on the Cornish coast by a merciless rampage in which it… swam around a bit. Er… we’re going to need a bigger boat? Apparently Great White sharks are unknown around Britain. So The Sun, as part of its ongoing ‘Everybody Calm Down There’s No Need To Panic’ campaign, ran with that headline. A move which I’m sure will prevent the shark from being killed. Of course, even if sensationalist headlines do spark shark-attacks (attacks on sharks, not attacks by sharks who read The Sun – though that would be cool), The Sun wins. Picture the headline: ‘Great White Murdered. Is your child at risk? De-fin your toddler. Details inside.’

Alright, that probably won’t happen. And I would have been stumped to come up with a better headline. But that’s really the point, isn’t it? In order to sell newspapers, the impartial arbiters of free information sometimes manufacture horror. ‘Gums – The Revenge’ is a rubbish title for a movie or a news story. Which is probably why there was less hype about the second major whale-in-a-river story than both the previous whale sighting and the second shark incident.

Fear, of course, sells newspapers. Not as much, admittedly, as half-naked celebrities, but well enough. You, of course, are a discerning person, having rejected the tabloid sleaze and horror-mongering in favour of this publication’s altogether more sober and integrity-based approach. We don’t need to sell our souls to fear and sex to sell our paper. In fact next week’s issue will discuss that very topic on the front cover. Right next to the photo-story about an immodestly dressed (but recently born-again) Paris Hilton exiting a London taxi. Covered in killer African bees. And surrounded by paedophiles. Radical Islamic paedophiles.

‘Fear,’ as Frank Herbert wrote in the Sci-Fi classic Dune, ‘is the mind-killer.’ When we are afraid, we revert to what evolutionary biologists would think of as our ancestral animal instincts and what Pentecostals would call carnality, the flesh. We literally have the beJesus scared out of us. Be it Nazi Germany terrified of Jewish plots or McCarthy’s America, worried about the reds under the bed, good people can be frightened into doing very bad things.

The McCarthy example is particularly relevant now, as last week four students were jailed for ‘possessing material for terrorist purposes’.  The material in question was not fertilizer or gas canisters, not semtex or pipe-bombs, but propaganda. It was nasty propaganda, to be sure. Much of it, if reports are to be believed, morally reprehensible. And yes, among the propaganda were apparently how-to instructions for terrorist attacks. But since anyone can get such instructions from the internet, The Anarchist Cookbook or similar how-to urban warfare manuals, without much fear of being nicked (tens if not hundreds of thousands of readers, downloaders and buyers still walk free), one must assume it was the content of the propaganda that sealed their fate.

And while they may well be guilty of plotting and may rightly be serving prison time, I think we are on dangerous ground when we start imprisoning people for political beliefs with which they have sympathy (or just curiosity). If it makes me scared to visit Al Jazeera to get another perspective on the news or to read Hamas press releases for myself (rather than the regurgitations of our tabloids or politicians), how much more afraid must young Muslims be? And if anything is more dangerous than a society living in fear, it’s a society divided by fear.  


2 Responses

  1. I like your line “good people can be frightened into doing very bad things.”

    Oh! how true.

    Fear is the new bond that will gel segments of society in a congress of preservation and for the destruction of the other. Whatever other happens to be.
    Great thoughts you have here!

  2. When it will be continued?

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