An epidemic of fear – or, why terrorism and witchcraft are surprisingly similar

panic buttonLiving in a constant state of fear is not good for your health on an individual level. But scale up to the level of entire towns, states or countries, and the problem can be exacerbated by the psychology of mob behaviour. [image by krystenn]

According to documents from the Department of Homeland Security, not only is it possible for fear of terrorism to create a contagious psychosomatic epidemic, but it’s also already happened a couple of times – in the US and elsewhere.

Now, that may not be surprising in and of itself. But take a look at some of the comment reactions on this BoingBoing post about a riot in the Congo that was triggered by accusations of witchcraft; quite a few people find it ridiculous that anyone could be scared of witchcraft at all, let alone riot because of it.

And in our world, that’s probably true… but what we fear is a function of the culture we live in. The people of the Congo can blame their witchdoctors and priests for their irrational fears; I suspect our Western paranoia comes from an entirely different sort of story-teller.

4 thoughts on “An epidemic of fear – or, why terrorism and witchcraft are surprisingly similar”

  1. My wife, who works in city government, yesterday attended a Homeland Security briefing.

    She said the message she got is that we Americans should all be afraid all the time and that only Homeland Security can save us.

    As far as real problems on HS’s beat go: Katrina and Hurricane Ike both go to show that people depend too much on the government.

    I can’t quite reconcile those two attitudes…

  2. On the other hand, this post acts as though it’s superstition. Terrorists do, indeed, exist; and are, in fact, a threat. (As to the _extent_ of that threat — that’s a real question….)

  3. Terrorists do exist, indeed. So do witchdoctors. My point – admittedly poorly expressed – was that the capabilities of both are grossly inflated, to their benefit, by hysteria and panic.

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