Being scared, being scary

Could be a kitten. Could be a face-eating kitten. Photo: Hope Abrams, Creative Commons, some rights reserveda

Could be a cute little kitten. Could be a face-eating kitten. Photo: Hope Abrams, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Having a “good scare” is one of the pleasures of childhood, as our annual excursion into costumery, gluttony, and the dimmer corners of the collective unconscious demonstrates each October 31. Boo! Jump. Nervous giggle. Fun. But as we grow up, we are supposed to become brave and bold, and as we age we are supposed to become wise and level-headed.

So what has derailed that natural progression? There is a new “scare” seemingly every day. So much that I have a hard time now keeping track of all the things I am supposed to be afraid of–flesh-eating bacteria, serial killers, Ebola, child abductors, pandemic flu, terrorist cells, border-jumpers, identity thieves, mass surveillance, home invaders–what’s next?

And there are all the ways the world can end–the zombie apocalypse, the Mayan apocalypse, the climate apocalypse, the nuclear holocaust, the asteroid extinction, the “gray goo” nanotech scenario, not to forget the Biblical end times scenario. Yikes!

I grew up in a time when the term “existential threat” looked a little more realistic and a lot more immediate. On this day in 1952 the first hydrogen bomb was exploded. When I was a child, often the last thing I heard at night was a fully loaded nuclear bomber from Plattsburgh Air Force Base that perpetually circled the North Country, because when the moment came to wipe out the world, it would come too quickly to scramble and launch from the ground. Sweet dreams, son.

So these days I just try to get a grip. Not that there aren’t things to legitimately fear. Will all those cigarettes I smoked catch up with me? Is all this time spent online rotting my brain? Now, whenever someone else is trying really hard to make me afraid of something, I ask the classic investigator’s question–Cui bono? Who benefits from my fear? And the answer is never “Me.”


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