The political advantages of nervous exhaustion

The usual processes of weighing options and cost/benefits, taking time to recall what one has worked in the past in similar situations, and ethical considerations can fall by the wayside when trying to decide—in a split second—which way to run.

Everyone has faced these terrifying—but one hopes—transitory instances in their life. Sometimes the decision works out, sometimes not.

But what happens when that dreaded decision of whether to jump right or left in the face of an oncoming car is not a once or twice in a lifetime decision, but a daily question? That constant state of trepidation grinds on people, placing humans into a state of making most, if not all, decisions from a place of panic instead of reason.

And it is during that constant state of nervous exhaustion—a state often manufactured out of whole cloth by its potential beneficiaries—when those who wish to wield power in society will strike.

This is far from a new phenomenon or a fact that can only be ascribed to certain political outlooks. A population on edge is, therefore, more susceptible to practically any promise to end the panic and can be rather more easily controlled by being focused on a common outside enemy.

Creating a problem—or a fear—allows those in (or who have the desire to gain) power to claim they know how to solve that problem and assuage that fear. The neat psychological trick in this process is that the problem does not to be real and those touting the problem can have created in advance the “solution” they offer to the public even before they created the problem. That’s because the solution almost always involves ceding power to those who claim to have discovered the problem and, practically simultaneously, then offered the solution.

Clearly, over time, there arise legitimate concerns that should truly worry a society as a whole—the prospect of war, for example, usually stems from an organic process (at least in free societies). But creating—and maintaining—a fear offers potential benefits that go well beyond naturally occurring situations.

Imagine for a moment a leaky roof. A roofer is called, the problem is assessed, and the problem is fixed.

Image by Andrea Widburg, incorporating Stressed woman by wayhomestudio (Freepik license) and MSNBC homepage.

Now imagine that roofer has surreptitiously created the problem and calls you before you even notice the leak. That seemingly clairvoyant roofer then claims that the problem is so bad the entire roof must be replaced or you and your family will die from the dampness. Terribly worried and feeling rather off-kilter, you agree to the repair, a repair that takes forever and never quite seems complete.

The roofer is in heaven while you and your family are miserable and irritable and, quite possibly—because the roofer insisted the repairs must be made using unalloyed platinum due to the local codes and regulations and science—broke.

Now imagine that problem writ large, across an entire society.

From COVID to Climate Change (not global warming—that was changed for PR purposes because, by definition, the climate is always changing so it cannot be readily challenged) to the idea of embedded, virulent, and perpetual systemic racism and then to whatever happens to be the latest thing the paid professional Twitterati are claiming, the never-ending sense of dread created is extremely useful when it comes to societal control.

And with the human tendency to seek out confirmation of belief, during these times people will flock to those information outlets that will reinforce their preconceived notions. On occasion, this impulse continues the spiral by emphasizing the fear. But even when equipped with legitimate opposing facts, the disquiet never quite goes away. That’s because our initial fear can often be replaced with utterly exhausting exasperation and disbelief that others—no matter what, no matter the reason—will continue to be afraid.

By living in a constant state of “pure twitch,” people are made more malleable to accepting (or at least not complaining about) any idea that will make the twitching stop.

But the proffered solutions never quite completely work, in part because they are solutions to problems that either never really existed or have since faded. And, always lurking in the background is the unnerving sense that another “problem” will soon take its place which means the circle of fear—and the faux solutions proffered by the same people in the same, simply re-titled, jobs as during the first problem—is nigh eternal.

To be blunt, fear is a big business, and only by shopping somewhere else can we end the cycle.

Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at You can read more of his work at:

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