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?






16 thoughts on “Fear Sells, But Who’s Buying?”

  1. I have to admit that during Nemo I turned on the Weather Channel which I really dislike. I got a semisadistic pleasure out of listening to those meteorologists proclaiming this as another northeast disaster. The reality is the farther you get from the population centers the more in stride people took the storm. Contagious hysteria seemed to be the product of the day.

  2. I think for me that removal from “engaged gawker” started with the tabloids. I decided in one moment, at the grocery check-out that what was on the shelf as I stood there waiting my turn simply wasn’t worth my attention. Then I quickly figured out that my local organic food store had everything I needed and NO magazines. Then I cancelled my newspaper subscription because I used it more to line my garden and could get that from neighbours. Cable disappeared with a reno to the part of the house that the dish sat on. Discovered we didn’t miss it. My children don’t like my radio station – too much talking. And so it happened. By attrition we are tragedy free. My husband listens to local talk radio in his truck so I get bits of hot topics up for discussion. The only thing that I think of sometimes is breaking news on events that would genuinely impact us. But my guess is the community would be pretty chatty about those topics and I’d get it anyway.

    What? You can’t get underwear second hand?

  3. I heard you speak at PASA and went to the Q&A session following. I feel you have a way of putting into words what I have felt in my heart and innermost being for years, but I have never been able to articulate. I have 3 children. We homeschool – perhaps with a bit more structure than others, but I wouldn’t trade having my children at home learning through our daily life and our upkeep of a 3-acre urban farm in Pittsburgh and our growing, measly 3000 square foot permaculture “farm” on our own small plot for anything. So thank you for being a voice and for helping others not be afraid or not have the power or will to be a simple voice for change. Even if it mostly just through our actions. (perhaps the most important voice.)

    1. Wow, Alyssa, thank you so, so much. You know, I truly expected that no one would show up to that session, and then I thought “what are we possibly going to talk about?” But wow… what a conversation we had.

  4. You crack me up, Ben – I loved this post! I’m just finishing your book now (both funny and informative – though I knew much of it already, just not the highly researched details you shared) and have Chris’s on my table already, next in line. I, too, am one of the lucky ones who came back up here nearly 7 years ago to our sane (insane?) VT world and decided to live without a TV. What a difference an un-brainwashed mind can make! Without the ‘box’ emitting garbage 24/7 (save for the few morsels of PBS shows or the HISTORY channel), a person can find clarity of thought, desire for community, inspiration for a more creative life, groundedness, and the innate desire to create a more compassionate, caring world – both within and without. Food safety and the health of this planet (thus, ourselves) are the most important topics to be worked on today by every human that exists. Unfortunately, the political atmosphere that exists currently has served only to muddy the waters and create a division amongst our greater population (deliberately, I would conjecture, to prevent an uprising as intimated (suggested?) by our fore-fathers), so that most people don’t think clearly about what they are doing or how they are adding to the mess of our world. And, so I thank you for being the voice of sanity (insanity?) for bringing this information to the masses in a way that will get the message through. It’s time for people to WAKE UP and say ENOUGH! and to step into their birthright (role) as an activist instead of a changeling of the corporate beast. We CAN change things – if we simply TURN OFF all the noise that distracts us. We can also quickly change things by becoming an UNCONSUMER of all things new made by the huge corporations who simply concern themselves with increased profits and not with their environmental or social impacts. It’s up to us now – to be the change we want to see.

  5. I heard your keynote and your Q&A at the PASA conference but was a little overwhelmed by the experience to comment to you in person. I am one of those folks whose lives are dependent upon many of the things that envelope modern society. Living right outside DC in our bungalow house with the maximum mortgage really effects your perspective on both the helplessness of living in a world controlled by corporate greed. My family also is controlled by the health care system through my son’s Cystic Fibrosis. I do still think that I can slowly back away step by step from at least some of these influences through eye opening speeches like yours and Mr. Eisenstein. For some of us, it’s the most we can do. I appreciate your perspectives and the way you include photos of your kids as ways to let a little light into the lives of those not quite as free as your own.

    Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel trapped by forces that one can’t control. In my family’s life, it’s the health care system more than the mountain of debt we have but I do understand that we all have a cross to bear. I wish you continued success and hope you realize that although we can’t all emulate your life, just knowing that it exists in spite of the all of the crazy things happening in the world helps to lessen my burdens.

    1. Jim, the point is not to emulate Ben or anyone else, but do what you can, where you are with the circumstances you are living. Being the change you want in the world is a very democratic thing. And little things count–over the years they add up. Best wishes.

  6. Ben, my 15 year old daughter and were in the audience for your keynote at PASA as well. We were riveted! I read The Town That Food Saved a few years ago; I had her read it before we came to the convention. It is a title that continues to be in my top book recommendations. We’ll be getting your others as well. We live on 14 acres south of Pgh (hi Alyssa!), and my girl and her 4 other sibs are learn-at-homers, and always have been. So much of what you said resonated beautifully with us. And we found ourselves checking out the hay in your pics, whispering to each other “Man, that is some great-looking hay.” I check out hay like some people check out the opposite sex. I too never feel richer than I do with a loftfull in November. We raise sheep for pastured lamb, laying hens, and are looking forward to building a dairy goat herd and to the first calf this summer from our first cow. Our kids are active in 4-H, and in the world of our home, and community, which we love and love to care for. Thanks for your writing and your words at PASA. We count on the conference to re-charge our tanks with much needed optimism,enthusiasm, and determination. Thanks for your contribution of fuel.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. We had a perfect summer for making dry hay. Everyone’s a hay-making hero when you get entire weeks with no rain.

      1. Last summer was such a dirty trick. We got a gorgeous first cutting ,then drought killed the second, and any first that people were unfortunate enough not to get cut before the end of June. Then we were drowned in November and December. The vagaries of the weather are enough to drive the hay-maker and hay-buyer insane. Now with Global Weirding, I find myself wondering if the rain that bums me out in February is the rain we’ll need in May so I can feed my sheep next December.

  7. Ben, I attended my first PASA conference this past weekend and I also heard you speak for the first time. I just wanted to thank you for your thought-provoking, engaging, interesting, and at times amusing speech (I could probably go on, but I’ll spare you my attempts to describe the thoughts going through my mind both during and after your speech). You are inspiring and have caused me to think about my life and how I want the way I live, my actions, and my words to reach those around me and to reflect what I truly believe to be most important in this world in which we live.

    I can’t wait to read your books and I’ve begun to read your blog, both current posts and older posts. I enjoy the glimpses of your life (and love the pictures of your adorable boys!) and the way your stories reach out to your readers, sometimes to convey profound ideas/thoughts, and other times, to simply display your joy in life and your family. So, thank you, again!

  8. For 16 months, I lived in my granddaughter’s computer room while I prepared for hip replacement surgery and post-op recovery…without a television. Fast forward another 16 months and I have rehabbed a small house, moved in, and still no tv. All I can say is…the silence is golden, I read a book a week, and I no longer need anxiety meds. Keep spreading the word!

  9. Windy Monday Wendy….hehehehe…you crack me up. We were commenting over here in NH how now we’ve got to name storms so everything can get so personal to everyone. Can’t just be a nor’easter anymore, it’s gotta have a name. Something you can pinpoint to disdain as you’re shoveling those 30″ of snow we got. And we weren’t even snowed in for long, as you know, we in New England have snow removal pretty much down. Yet if you turned the tv on during it, well the world was coming to an end right along with it. Yep, I don’t watch a whole lot of TV myself for the exact reason you named. After 9/11 happened and I saturated myself in everyone else’s fear and anger I learned my lesson. I had my own grief to deal with at the time, and didn’t need to take on everyone else’s through repeatedly beating that dead horse day after day.

    I love to see the jump in comments when you speak somewhere. And that’s how I found you myself, after all. Fun stuff. ~Vonnie

  10. perfectly said! i truly would love love love to live in a home without television, unfortunately the other four members of my household (being my parents, not my children) would not have such a thing. live would certainly be a different place without it.

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