It seems to me that the world is caught in a spiralling nosedive of anxiety, more so than ever before, and the numbers of those diagnosed with anxiety disorders has certainly risen over the past few decades, but should this really be a surprise to us? Do we really expect it to be any different?
As well as our bodies slowly becoming little anxiety generators fueled by the processed and highly sugared crap that many of us call food these days, we also can’t deny that our society itself has become conducive to anxiety. Everywhere we look people are purposefully building anxiety in others for their own gains, and we all get swept along for the ride whether we like it or not. Even the people who are supposed to look out for us are in on the act:
It is no secret that people have been using fear and anxiety as a tool of control for centuries. In the middle ages, for example, there was a climate of fear created by the Catholic church to keep the masses under their control and subservient to their wishes. They instilled an almost blanket fear of the pitch-forked wielding devil, of a fearsome afterlife for “sinners” that involved a lot of fire and whatever the hell brimstone is, and, of course, the ubiquitous everyday house demons that were always ready and willing to leap into your body and make you talk funny. This, eventually spawned the less-than-friendly institution that was known as the Spanish inquisition (and let’s face it no one expected the Spanish Inquisition) and their oft-favoured pastime of burning witches (or anyone that happened to have a mole or a crooked nose). It was a time of great fear and anxiety, and a time that eventually led to the more “enlightened” age of the renaissance as a hopeful release from it all.
After the control of the church diminished, and the burning of witches became unacceptably passe, it was the opportunity for governments to take over and continue using the same techniques for their own ends. It was now state sponsored enterprises that took it on themselves to control the masses through fear. It might no longer have been the fear of a rather unfortunate afterlife that was on the cards, but a fear of a much more unfortunate here and now. The most obvious example of this in recent history is, of course, the rise of the Nazi party. The rise of Hitler was allowed to happen by the German people because it filled a void of anxiety, an anxiety that had been created through carefully designed nationalistic fear propaganda.
All that may seem like old news to most people, and it surely couldn’t happen these days, right? Well we don’t have to look that far back to see more examples. More recently we have the cold war as an example, where governments spread the fear of communists and the proliferation of the communist ideal to keep their people anxious and in fear and under their control. Just the mention of these insidious red men running around their back yard, was enough to get citizens doing whatever the government wanted.
What about today? Well, In today’s culture we might not have demons or witches, or the completely unexpected Spanish Inquisition, or even communists, to fear, but we do have terrorists and refugees, and the fear spread around them is the same as it has always been. It is the same tactic, same goal, different leaders.
So what makes this any different to the middle ages? Why did I begin this piece by saying that anxiety has increased, if the tactic is the same? The answer to that is the media.
You see, for centuries fear and anxiety have been the tools of leaders to be instilled into their populaces for control and manipulation, but it is only the past few decades that the fear has been 24/7. Today, the media networks battle each other for ratings by making their news more and more shocking. Shock and awe is now a tactic as much for news as it is for warfare. BREAKING NEWS! Is becoming a standard opening to a regular news show. If the news can instill anxiety in its viewers, then the viewers will be forced to come back for more news in the hope of alleviating the anxiety. Which of course never happens. It is a constant progression of shocking and disturbing open loops that they never close. It is a never ending supply of cliffhangers that never get resolved. A non-stop merry-go-round of anxiety that they want to keep you on day, after day, after day.
And then, of course, there is Big Business: In todays world of cut throat commercialism and rampant consumer manipulation, the standard tactic for selling merchandise has become to intentionally generate anxiety in potential customers. They spend millions of dollars each year finding the best way to advertise their products in a way that will produce the most anxiety in you. They purposefully create a feeling of wanting and needing more. A feeling that somehow you’re not complete without their next big thing, and that you are worthless without it. Wouldn’t your life be so much better if you just had that red dongled bludgeon bopper? Wouldn’t you be more attractive? More confident? More happy?
It is no longer just a fear of death or the afterlife, it is a fear that you will never be as good as Trevor next door. You will never be as happy as Kevin and his mail order bride. In our minds, it is just as powerful an anxiety as that which we feel when under physical threat.
Is it any wonder that we are all anxious wrecks?
We have to understand we are being manipulated from all sides. For power and money.
But that does not mean of course that we should all sit back and scream victim. That is exactly what it has all been designed to do. We are all responsible for our own lives, and once we recognise that there is a problem, it is our responsibility to change it. Nobody else’s. All screaming victim does, is let others know that we are easy prey.
The first thing we all need to do is stop letting people create anxiety within us. This means cutting out the media that try and scare us into tuning in. It means not believing the propaganda that you hear or read online. It means taking a step back from the staunch partisan political or religious views you may have held that divide people and nations. It means being accepting of others and not hating or fearing them just because you read somewhere that they may be dangerous. It means not envying your neighbour because they have a bigger house than you. It means not comparing yourself to the rose tinted Facebook posts in your feed, or putting down Carl because he likes to wear tweed. It means removing all blame from your life –blame for your parents, your friends, your partner, your government, or even yourself. Blame is a destructive thing, but the only one it destroys is you.
There are better ways to live than in fear, but you have to make the decision to stop letting fear in. They won’t stop trying to scare us until we stop being scared.
This is just the beginning, of course. There will still be plenty of work to do on cleaning up the food you eat, doing more exercise, and working on the anxieties that are already in your head, but it would be a good start. And if everybody did it, it would possibly be the start to a much more beautiful, more open, more loving, and much less anxious world.
Doesn’t that sound like a better place to live?