From moral panics about immigration and gun control to anxiety about terrorism and natural disasters, Americans live in a culture of fear. While fear is typically discussed in emotional or poetic terms—as the opposite of courage, or as an obstacle to be overcome—it nevertheless has very real consequences in everyday life. Persistent fear negatively effects individuals’ decision-making abilities and causes anxiety, depression, and poor physical health. Further, fear harms communities and society by corroding social trust and civic engagement. Yet politicians often effectively leverage fears to garner votes and companies routinely market unnecessary products that promise protection from imagined or exaggerated harms.
Drawing on five years of data from the Chapman Survey of American Fears
—which canvasses a random, national sample of adults about a broad range of fears—Fear Itself: The Causes and Consequences of Fear in America
(NYU Press, 2020), offers new insights into what people are afraid of and how fear affects their lives. The authors--Christopher Bader
and his colleagues-- also draw on participant observation with Doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists to provide fascinating narratives about subcultures of fear. Fear Itself
is a novel, wide-ranging study of the social consequences of fear, ultimately suggesting that there is good reason to be afraid of fear itself.
In this interview, Bader and I discuss Americans’ greatest fears, conspiracies, preppers, and fear of crime. We then discuss how xenophobia and the media perpetuate fear. Lastly, Dr. Bader reviews the consequences of fear and how to ameliorate some of the negative effects of fear and how people can best manage their fears. I recommend this book for students, professors, and anyone else interested in crime and deviance, religion, collective behavior, and the social components of fear.
Krystina Millar is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University. Her research interests include gender, sociology of the body, and sexuality. You can find her on Twitter at @KrystinaMillar.