biweekly links 10-25-2017: the fear edition

These first two links refer to Chapman University’s Division on the Study of American Fears’ report America’s Top Fears 2017. My extremely broad takeaway is that fearful people do and say stupid things, but it’s more complex than that (isn’t it always?) Do check out the site for more details though – it’s a fascinating, if sobering, read.

What do Americans fear most? Researchers release 4th annual Survey of American Fears: the top three are actually pretty rational: corruption of government officials, Trumpcare, and pollution of water. Once you get into the weeds though things get…contradictory. For all the fear of natural disaster, most citizens have no clue what to do in an emergency. Almost a third think Americans need to give up civil liberties to protect themselves from terrorism while an apparent completely different third think exactly the opposite.

From the same study we get Paranormal Beliefs. Roughly 3/4 of the population believes in some unexplainable phenomenon, the top 3 being ancient civilizations, hauntings/ghosts, and ancient aliens. I could be glib and blame the History Channel but:

How America Lost Its Mind: The Atlantic breaks down the reasoning for these apparent irrational fears and beliefs far better than I ever could. There’s a lot to unpack here but the gist is: the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos and conservative fear of the same combined with American exceptionalism to create a present in which subjective belief is considered on a par with objective reality. No one is immune, either, not even the “reality-based community” derided by Karl Rove.

I’d like to think myself a champion for the validity of subjective experience, but I have one strong caveat: those experiences are only valid to the experiencer – you can’t demand everyone else play along. In order to do anything in this world people have to work with an agreed upon “baseline reality”, if you will, and that doesn’t include that which can’t be proven. Belief in something doesn’t make it so.

But yeah, we live in a world where that needs to be said aloud.