The media industrial complex backed by so-called experts and politicians pushes out panic for clicks, and the only way to avert catastrophe is to back some new government program or expansion of government power. The result is an increasing disconnect between the reality of the threats we face and the public’s perception, rendering us incapable of rational policy.
There’s an old adage that only two things are inevitable in life, death and taxes. If recent history is any indication, we can safely add two more: Spreading fear and growing government, or perhaps more accurately spreading fear to grow government. Politicians, of course, have relied on scare tactics for generations, but the media-industrial complex, built on a foundation of fear for clicks and a progressive ideology that insists government is the answer to everything, has revolutionized the industry. Politicians no longer have to sell this fear themselves, convincing a skeptical media and public. Instead, the media does their job for them, pushing panic on every issue and positioning the establishment as our saviors from the catastrophe of the day.
The result is an increasing disconnect between the reality of the threats we face and the public’s perception. Whatever the issue, chances are the public believes things are far, far worse than they actually are, and, perhaps even worse, becomes impenetrable to the actual facts. Confronted with what is presented as a tragedy or calamity of epic proportions, emotion overcomes reason and a rational policy is no longer possible. This pattern is now emerging on everything from the pandemic to global warming, the threat of terrorism to policing. Chances are if you name an issue, some segment of the populace, spoonfed a steady diet of fear by politicians and the media, will believe the world itself is at risk.
The pandemic itself is a case study in the art. As of July 2020, the consulting firm KEKST-CNS found that Americans believed about 9% of the total population had been killed by the virus. Those who described themselves as more liberal believed about 50% of people infected were hospitalized. In reality, your chances of dying were around 1 in a 1,000, 90 times lower than what people claimed, and your chances of hospitalization after infection were about 10%. Likewise, much has been made about the threat to children in particular from the virus, even as the average age of the victims was over 70, and the under age 17 cohort doesn’t even account for 1% of deaths. According to CDC data, less than .1% of deaths occurred in each of these age brackets, 16-17, 12-15, 5-11, and 0-4. The total deaths among those under 18 are 457 out of 513,167 total analyzed cases. Individuals 75 and over account for 297,575 deaths.
The difference between perception and reality is similarly striking for crime statistics, specifically the notion that police violence against minorities and intraracial violence, particularly white people attacking another group, is endemic. For example, a 2021 study by the Skeptic Research Center found that 54% of Americans identifying as “very liberal” believed the average number of unarmed black men killed by police per year was between 1,000 and 10,000. The actual number last year was 17, orders of magnitude lower. A similar study conducted by Eric Kaufman found 60% of educated white liberals and 80% of black people believed more young black men die at the hands of police than car wrecks. In reality, a total of 1,021 people in 2020 died from police gunshots, about 250 were black, while 38,680 of all races died in car wrecks.
Moreover, each ethnic group is under very little threat from another ethnic group, despite the constant refrain that hate crimes and other atrocities are on the rise. The great majority of violent crime is committed by people of the same race for obvious reasons and has been so for decades. A 2018-2019 Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization report found that 70% of crimes perpetrated against African Americans was perpetrated by African Americans and 65% of crimes committed against white people was by white people themselves. In fact, only about 3% of total crime is made up of white and black victims or perpetrators, 90% of which is black on white crime. This seems excessive until you consider that whites outnumber blacks in the population by close to five to one.
Climate change is yet another topic with no shortage of doom, gloom, and existential threats. Just last week we were informed we had “zero” years left to save the planet and practically every bad thing that happens on this Earth is our fault. In October 2018, the United Nations warned that there was only 12 years left to save the planet, only to update that to “zero” in their most recent report. Scientific American fears that we’ll cross the threshold by 2036. Neither are these claims a new phenomenon, emerging only over the past few years: In 2006, former Vice President Al Gore put the figure at 10 years, making us 5 years too late. In 2009, Prince Charles claimed there were only a hundred months left, putting us a year overdue already. The concern is that we’ll reach a tipping point, where we’re past our ability to stop catastrophic effects. Except, Helmut Hillebrand, Ian Donahue, and others looked at 36 meta-analyses that measured more than 4,600 global change impacts on natural communities and determined that such tipping points are rarely detectable, either within the individual analyses or across the analyses. This is on top of the simple, unavoidable reality that deaths from climate have plummeted over the past century, down 16% over the past 5 years alone. In fact, studies indicate that the slight increase in temperature we have experienced over the past 40 years has saved 200,00 lives per year because cold kills far more frequently than warmth.
Likewise, the threat of terrorism has long been used to justify a far flung military presence abroad and increasingly intrusive surveillance at home. The dust hasn’t even settled in Afghanistan yet, and the experts are already all in on another 9-11. “There’s no question that the return of the Taliban opens up space in this new Islamic emirate for al Qaeda to return, rebuild a base, and for other groups associated or previously associated with al Qaeda, like ISIS, to return to the region,” explained Jamil Jaffer, founder and executive director of the National Security Institute at George Mason University. He added, “Jihadi fighters of all stripes will now once again make Afghanistan their home, as they did in the lead-up to 9/11.” When former President Trump withdrew a few thousand troops from Syria in 2019, the story was the same. Colin P. Clarke, writing for the Rand Corporation, said “President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria could provide the ISIS terrorist group with the time and space to regrow its organization and extend its networks throughout the Middle East.” Combining the fear and growing government into one, Democrat Senator Gary Peters said earlier this month, “If the federal government does not take swift action to address this festering threat, I fear we will see more tragic attacks and lose more lives to domestic violent extremism.”
Of course, fear is not the only thing that unites these disparate issues, bringing us back to the second part of the post, growing government. In all of these cases, the spreading fear is directed exclusively at expanding the influence of government at all levels, even internationally. There is no situation, and I am pretty confident there will never be a situation, when the two are not coupled together closely, meaning no issue will ever arise where the solution to our panic is shrinking the influence of government. The establishment and the mainstream media will never say, “This is a problem, and in order to fix it we need to get rid of this department or program.”
Hence, the solution to the pandemic is a cocktail of government mandated social distancing, masking, and vaccines complete with passports, backed by some $5 trillion in spending so far, complete with booster shots already on the way less than a year after the original vaccination. Further, we’re supposed to pay no attention at all when much of this funding isn’t even for coronavirus relief, and relief bills are magically transformed into efforts to protect the environment or reduce poverty. Likewise, problems with policing can only be solved with a massive federal takeover of local departments, requirements for this and funding for that. The latest police reform bill, passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives earlier this year, runs to 136 pages and includes 20 separate initiatives. There are mandates, grants, and studies, national registries and restrictions, new programs, new projects and powers to collect data, and more.
Fighting terrorism and keeping the homeland safe requires endless wars and troops, scattered in far flung regions, plus massive surveillance powers for the state to track literally every cell phone call in the country and tap your phone without warrants. These powers are reauthorized, renewed, and expanded whatever the actual threat level and, if the danger of international terrorism subsides, a new domestic threat is imminent. In a similar, but slightly different vein, it’s also worth noting how effectively the media spread and promoted fear of Donald Trump, domestically and internationally. For five years, we were subjected to fear he might be a Russian agent, fear he would start a war, fear he would abandon our allies, fear he couldn’t be trusted, fear he had two scoops of ice cream, or form an authoritarian government. We were told that Joe Biden was the safer option, the adult in the room, but less than seven months into his first term, we are witnessing the most catastrophic international event in 20 years — yet there was never any fear of how Biden might handle national security and international relations, despite a poor track record.
Climate Change in particular, is a cottage industry in and of itself, government not just on an American scale, but a global conflagration of bureaucracies, burning ever bigger and brighter. There are mandates for electric vehicles, mandates for reductions in fossil fuels, subsidies for constructing and weatherizing homes, the creation of new government agencies, government purchasing of new and improved equipment, and that’s just in the United States. There are global plans to fund green energy in poorer countries, exchange carbon credits, calculate carbon emissions, all backed by a growing United Nations infrastructure, Intergovernmental Panels on Climate Change, and more. Much of this infrastructure already exists, but the plan is, perhaps needless to say, to add even more and spend even more on a scale the solar system has never seen. At no point does anyone in the media or the broader establishment ever stop and ask themselves, will it ever be enough?
The answer, of course, is no: Fear is the weapon with which the establishment has decided to cudgel the populace into submission to whatever scheme will increase the power and influence of government, regardless of whether the scheme they are promoting even has anything to do with the proximate cause of the scare. Therefore, spreading fear and growing government can safely be added to inevitables in life, safely and unfortunately.