Tag: R. Sam Michalowski

Trust, truth and community, Pt. Two.

Musings on truth and the corrosive nature of fear.

Yesterday, in Part One, I explored how easy it is to signal to the public that they are not to be trusted.  I used the case of PayPal’s changes to their ‘privacy’ policy which, as Wolf Richter wrote, only partially tongue-in-cheek perhaps, made “the NSA, which runs the most expansive spying dragnet in history, is by comparison a group of choirboys.


Again, back to Roget’s Thesaurus.

truth noun

1. Correspondence with fact or truth: accuracy, correctness, exactitude, exactness, fidelity, veraciousness, veracity

2. Freedom from deceit or falseness: truthfulness, veracity

So that’s all clear then!

If only it was that easy.  So many aspects of our modern lives are exposed to complex issues.  None more complex than, of course, the issue of humans having a damaging effect on the planet’s climate.  Or if one wants something more esoteric then try the origins of the universe. (So far as the former is concerned, then my personal belief is that mankind is damaging the global climate.  But do I have the scientific background to support that belief? No Sir!)

However, one thing that our complex society does offer is the opportunity to spread fear. Indeed, fear pervades popular culture and the media.  I picked up that theme from an essay published by David L. Altheide and R. Sam Michalowski of Arizona State University.

Just a random example of the spread of fear.

The link to that essay is here. It opens, thus:

Fear pervades popular culture and the news media. Whether used as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective, an ongoing study finds that the word “fear” pervades news reports across all sections of newspapers, and is shown to move or “travel” from one topic to another. The use of fear and the thematic emphases spawned by entertainment formats are consistent with a “discourse of fear,” or the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of the effective environment. A qualitative content analysis of a decade of news coverage in The Arizona Republic and several other major American news media (e.g., the Los Angeles Times, and ABC News) reveals that the word “fear” appears more often than it did several years ago, particularly in headlines, where its use has more than doubled. Comparative materials obtained through the Lexis/Nexis information base also reveals that certain themes are associated with a shifting focus of fear over the years (e.g., violence, drugs, AIDS), with the most recent increases associated with reports about children. Analysis suggests that this use of fear is consistent with popular culture oriented to pursuing a “problem frame” and entertainment formats, which also have social implications for social policy and reliance on formal agents of social control.

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. [my italics]

That last sentence offers the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and author from over 200 years ago. So, perhaps, nothing changes in this regard!

In my old country, the British press love to sell their newspapers on the back of fear.  Here are some examples of lurid front pages.

horse meat





However, it doesn’t end there. Fear of the unknown, of forces beyond our control, are behind the incredible number of conspiracy theories, many of them quite famous.  WikiPedia lists dozens of them. One that was voiced by friends of ours concerned HAARP, which is an acronym for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program.  It was a perfectly legitimate research programme, one that was unclassified, albeit a program that was shut down in July, 2013.

But that didn’t stop it being regarded by many as deeply suspicious, “Many conspiracy theories surround HAARP. Some theorists believe that it is being used as a weather-controlling device that can trigger catastrophic events, such as floods, hurricanes, etc. Others believe that the government uses HAARP to send mind-controlling radio waves to humans.”  Taken from here.

As it happens, this was a programme that I was acquainted with back in my UK days.

OK, time to round this off.

This new, digital world allows the sharing and spreading of information in a manner unimaginable from, say, 25 years ago.  It has many positive attributes, as I will touch upon in tomorrow’s post.  But it also has the power to spread fear and misinformation.  In a world that is becoming more complex and more uncertain year by year, it takes effort by every one of us to stop, think and check on anything that has the potential to upset one.

It takes the power of community to keep us rooted in the stuff of our daily lives, to live calmly and stay in touch with the truth.  More on the power of community tomorrow.