The fear of change is a fickle one. At one moment people are excited and want change and the next instant they are most fearful of it. Individually, men and women seek to cultivate something new and different and at the very same time want to save their familiar image in the mirror.
Fear of the dark unknown, of the possible disaster lurking, is as old as mankind. The threat of an economic meltdown makes people yearn for the status quo. They want to say “STOP” to change. However, change is both inevitable and all around us. We live in a rapidly transforming and globalizing time in which scientific and technological breakthroughs are overwhelming not only our past traditions but also our very mood and thought patterns. The French proverb, “The more it changes, the more it remains the same,” is in many ways being turned on its head. The more discoveries are made in bio-technology or advances are made in robotics, the more we are affected; the more our lives change.
Lucretius, one of my heroes from antiquity, wrote back in 57 BC (at a time of rising Roman power) that “One nation rises to supreme power in the world while another declines, and in a brief space of time the sovereign people change, transmitting, like Marathon racers, the torch of life to some other that is to succeed them.”1 In this way little has changed: The British are becoming accustomed to their fall from Imperial grace, the Chinese are looking forward to global predominance, and Americans are beginning to feel insecure about their iffy-place in the world.
The United States, being a relatively youthful nation, has always been led by people optimistically seeking improvement. However, at present they are expressing anxiety about their direction and the prospects of change: for example, the birthrate of Latino-Americans is altering demographics … which may ultimately alter politics. No matter how the ultra-conservatives oppose such change, in a few years the Latino vote is likely to switch Texas into the democratic column and the Republican party will be facing radical change. Some observers may contend that it already is doing so.
The United Kingdom (which is likely to remain united despite the forthcoming vote on Scottish independence) is an old but rapidly changing country whose citizens prefer to look back nostalgically — even if life in the time of Dickens was far harder for the Brits of that era. A large proportion of the Tory party members are upset by the inflow of workers from Eastern Europe and by the large number of new citizens from India and Pakistan who are not adapting to the British way of life. These conservatives are unsettled by gay marriage and find the speed of change produced by the internet hard to follow. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, tumblr, not to mention the plethora of pornographic options, have arrived too quickly for a nation to digest. Ultimately, even in terms of the physical state of this island, they find the steady erosion of what had made England a “green and pleasant land” unacceptable.
In the US, on matters demanding change, like gun control, the rising prison population, fracking, or even sorting out health care, there is little in-depth debate. Great effort is made to avoid contentious issues in social discourse. Americans want to avoid the confrontations that inevitably accompany change. The media, as they pursue the “new” and the “different”, also do not like doubt and are fostering an “all or nothing”, “with us or against us” mentality. FOX news with its generally slanted approach, for example, is out to get an audience rather than informing one.
I have long been intrigued by the extent to which Americans are exposed to intentional distortion of the facts on issues to which certain groups are opposed, such as global warming or health care. When Obama was trying to push through ways to change the spiraling costs of the health care industry, he was opposed by a most formidable array: the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, a vast assemblage of lawyers protecting the hundreds of thousands of private doctors, Washington’s lobbying industry which was spending well in excess of $150 million a year on this particular issue, large sections of the media controlled by the wealthy opponents to change, and not only the Republican Party but even Democrats in Congress who were in the pay of lobbyists. Faced with such anti-change forces, it seemed incredible that Obama even got a diluted version of his Health Care bill passed.
It was no surprise that given the vociferous scale of these opponents, every effort was made to malign Britain’s National Health Service. The goal was to instill the fear of “godless” socialism creeping in via socialist medical practices. The outright distortions, misrepresentations, and falsehoods of the media as well as those of politicians was astounding. The NHS was portrayed as the home of eugenics, death panels, euthanasia, and a rampant state bureaucracy controlling every aspect of medical care. The forceful negative campaign was not only based on the propaganda techniques of Dr. Joseph Goebbels — it copied them outright. The danger of such practice is that the opposition to change becomes so distorted that this itself introduces change in the national perception.
In this time of economic uncertainty, the same scenario holds true. Criticism capitalism is taboo. Fear of capitalsm’s possible collapse simply freezes the possibility of presenting alternatives which it is feared would inevitably lead to massive change.
So ambivalence triumphs: the need for change, whether it be in the environment, economics, or politics is evident, but the fear of change pervades. So does the uncertainty which presently accompanies the subsequent lack of clear decisions. And the situation is not going to improve. We are moving into an ever more artificial, electronic and computerized world which conflicts with our basic physiological and psychological evolution over the millenia. Irrespectively, the fundamental curiosity, rebelliousness, and the almost built-in desire for change on the part of the young will continue to divide coming generations. Whatever the ultimate outcome, it is unlikely that we shall be able to resolve the wired fears in our genetic make-up as human beings.2
1Lucretius, “De rerum natura II”
2See: Yorick Blumenfeld, Towards the Millenium: Optimistic Visions for Change, (1996)