Monday, October 02, 2017

Author Event: The Politics of Fear

Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream
by Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky will be here at the Buena Vista Branch of the Burbank Public Library this Wednesday, October 4, at 7:00 p.m. to discuss his new book. Jumping at Shadows focuses on our our sense of vulnerability and fear, something that is becoming more central to our experience of modern life. His book brings to consciousness something we all feel these days--some vaguely, some with a greater sense of oppression--but something we are all likely to recognize as familiar.

Many of our fundamental decisions these days, he argues, are being made with “worst-case-scenarios as a psychic backdrop.” We have lost the ability to properly assess risk. We can all name a list of things we have been told we must be on the lookout for: identity theft, terrorists, assault, sexual predators, drones, Ebola, the Zika virus (and countless other diseases ), mass shootings, cyber attacks, school safety, foreign agents, immigrants, and the list goes on, with something new being added every day. In many cases, Abramsky contends, our fears are misplaced, and those misplaced fears have crowded out of our framework those things that should be of real concern. Fear paralyzes us. And if we can manage to act, fear hijacks rational analysis, empathy, and decision making. We have become more susceptible to those who wish to manipulate us for economic and political reasons. We have developed a politics of fear in which we identify groups of “others” as posing danger to us, fears that are presently coalescing around issues of race, class, and inequality. We have started to question the value of what we have long held as our defining national civic virtues. Will fear end our commitment to equality of opportunity?

Picture featured on the website
 Jumping at Shadows, however, is about more than just the current cultural and political landscape of fear and what dangers it poses to us as we try to solve the problems facing our nation: The book is an analysis of how we got to this point. Abramsky’s analysis is built on an exposition of the psychological and social workings of fear as an emotion. He looks at the primal biological function of fear, and shows us how our media and modern technology have given us tools that make it possible to manipulate that emotion more effectively. This is a sophisticated analysis equal to the complexity of the problem, and he points to the way out.

One reviewer has called Jumping at Shadows “a thoughtful, progressive feint against the vulgar fear-mongering of the moment,” but above all this is a passionate argument about what that fear-mongering will cost us, about what is at stake for all of us. Abramsky concludes that “How we work to make our dreams of a fairer, less divisive, less fear-driven world come true will be the defining challenge of our time.” Join us in this provocative discussion on Wednesday night.

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