Fear Sells, But Who’s Buying?


I flew home from the PASA conference late Saturday night, having been bumped to first class after my regular seat had somehow been assigned to someone else. It was a short flight, and I was tired enough that I wasn’t inclined to accept the attendant’s repeated offers for free drinks and premium snacks, but still I found some pleasure in the absurdity of the situation. There I sat amidst the beautiful people of first class, shod in my “good clothes”: The shirt procured at a thrift store for a quarter, the pants hand-me-downs from a dear, departed friend, so loose around the waist that only my belt (a repurposed cow collar) stood between myself and sheer embarrassment (this simple fact had made security particularly challenging; when the TSA officer ordered me to take my hand off the waist band of my pants before passing through the human microwave, I had to explain that what the ramifications would be and was furthermore forced to admit that no, I wasn’t wearing underwear. He grunted and waved me through), the shoes another thrift store find, and finally, my socks, a product of the annual Darn Tough factory seconds sock sale for a buck-fifty. All-in-all, a five or six dollar wardrobe.

The conference was fantastic. I had the enormous honor and privilege of sharing keynote duties with Charles Eisenstein. If you’re not familiar with his work, I urge you to get thee to your local book seller and demand a copy of his most recent book, Sacred Economics. It will rock your world as surely and profoundly as a digitally remastered copy of AC/DC’s Back in Black turned up to 11. Even better were the conversations that blossomed practically everywhere I went. Although I am often invited to these sort of events to share my perspective, my barely-kept secret is that I almost always return home with so much more knowledge and experience than I arrived with. So, to any conference-goers who might be reading this, thank you.

In my hotel room, on the morning of my keynote, I awoke early. It was partly the result of the inevitable nervous energy that accompanies speaking in front of a couple thousand people, and partly the result of habit. No matter how certain I am that I will sleep in on the rare morning when my chore routine is disrupted, it never happens. So there I lay at 4:30 in the A of M, worrying that my belt would fail in front of the entire conference population, and unable to retreat into slumber. In my weakness, and seeking distraction, I reached for the remote and tuned into CNN, which was embroiled in round-the-clock coverage of Mega-Hyper-Storm Nemo (I hereby proclaim today Windy Monday Wendy), punctuated by repeated clips of the California cop-killer who, it was being said, had transformed southern California into an abyss of fear and rage.

I watched for an hour, transfixed. As you may know, we do not have a television, and the rich saturation of visual and aural stimulation, coupled with the endless mantra of disaster and death, was riveting. Or at least in was in these pre-dawn, hotel-room, keynote-jitters hours.

Finally, I snapped myself out of my stupor and shuffled to the bathroom to rinse myself of both sleep and, I hoped, the toxicity I’d absorbed over the previous 60 minutes. And as I stood there under the hot stream of water, I couldn’t help but think how different my life might be for only that one, simple element. I couldn’t help but think how profoundly I’d been impacted by a mere hour of contemporary television news media. One hour. And I couldn’t help think about how different the world might be if we all just said “no,” if we all resolved to save our attention and emotional space for the people and world at our fingertips, rather than allow them to be hijacked by stories of disaster and tragedy over which we can have no influence.

Yeah, I know: Fear sells. I get it.

So I guess the question I have is this: What if we just stopped buying?