American Fear: The Causes and Consequences of High Anxiety by Peter N. Stearns

By Peter N. Stearns

Americans became excessively apprehensive, and manipulation via worry has turn into an important challenge in American society, with actual impression on coverage. through the use of facts from 9-11, this booklet makes a particular contribution to the exploration of modern worry, but in addition via constructing a historic standpoint, the ebook exhibits how and why particular American fears have emerged over the last numerous many years.

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One mother, worried about anthrax, forbade her children, all in their late teens or early twenties, to open letters. Parents everywhere were afraid to send kids trick or treating (exaggerating a longstanding set of anxieties about Halloween that had origins independent of September 11). “Nobody wants to do anything anymore,” a waiter noted six weeks after the attacks, who heard talk of fear while he served tables in a Midwestern town. “Good rational people are frightened in a way they’ve never been,” added a business traveler.

Behavioral history, that explains the current pattern through its emergence over time and relates political manipulations to a broader shift in the outlook toward fear, will help sort through the puzzle. Fear must be seen in a new light if we are to loosen its hold. For we have come not only to fear too much, but also to react with undue resentment when we realize we have to fear at all. Our emotional responses contrast with our own past and with the experiences of other contemporary societies not faced with outright invasion or the deliberate incitements of an outright police state.

In this sense, the statistical contrast—18 vs. 4 percent—masks even greater differences in actual anxiety levels—a point corroborated by the polling data that suggest a near-majority experienced considerable or acute fear in the days and weeks after the attacks. The September 11 stories themselves contain further clues: a somewhat smaller but interesting percentage of the spontaneous stories referred to fear or related emotions only to claim that the emotion had not been experienced. One can, admittedly, wonder why then the emotion was raised at all, and surely some of the deniers were protesting too much.

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