Are we frightening ourselves to death?

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – Sometimes it seems like our society is being conditioned to behave like a flock of Chicken Littles.

For example, when the father of a student paid a visit to West-Mont Christian Academy in North Coventry, Pennsylvania, he dutifully checked in at the front desk as all visitors are requested to do. The parent was escorted to the school’s lobby to wait for a meeting with his child’s teacher. At some point, while waiting for the teacher to arrive, the father briefly wandered up the stairs to admire a display of student artwork.

Presently the child’s teacher appeared and after meeting with the father, they cheerfully parted company.

Normally this is where the story would end. But in our fearful new world, the story takes a bizarre and increasingly predictable twist.

Sometime following the few moments when the student’s father was out of view his escort returned to check on him and, when unable to find him, alerted school administrators. The administrators, in turn, panicked and put the school into lockdown mode while notifying police of a possible “unwanted visitor” on campus.

The children were herded into a back building and held there for the next three hours as a heavily armed Emergency Response Team backed by K-9 units methodically searched the school with guns at the ready. Meanwhile, state police, along with fire departments and ambulance crews, contained the surrounding area as nearby schools were also put into lock-down.

Once the “all clear” was sounded and students returned to their classes, school and local officials delivered congratulatory backslaps and compliments on how thoroughly and efficiently the system had been able to respond to the crisis. Wait a minute, what crisis?

Have we really reached the point where a parent, who was known to school staff and was not considered a threat, can spark a pants-wetting circus of overreaction simply by breaking visual contact with his escort?

Why would any rational person swoon when the state flexes its muscle by sending out paramilitary police units in full battle-rattle over nothing? How did our nation ever survive its first 236 years of existence without jumping in fear at every shadow and figment of our imaginations?

Surely danger is not something that is unique to our generation, but how we’ve chosen to react to it is entirely incompatible with a people who desire to live in something other than a police state.

It’s worth noting that in a world where public schools are increasingly ruled by a “zero tolerance” no-thinking-required mentality, this particular incident took place in a private school. This demonstrates that the mindset of utter helplessness and servile dependence upon the state as our savior is finding favor in places other than government institutions.

Apologists for the state’s penchant for dramatic overkill will sometimes attempt to deflect criticism by asking, “What if that parent had turned out to be armed & dangerous?”

But the fact they’re deliberately avoiding is that the student’s father never was a threat and did nothing to indicate that he might become one. In this case, the state’s spectacular show of force served only to encourage those poor souls who have been conditioned to frighten themselves to death. Whose purposes would such conditioning serve?

Former Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, George Gerbner addressed this phenomenon before a Congressional subcommittee in 1981. He testified that: “Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.”

Thirty years later, Gerbner’s words have great relevance to life in post-9/11 America. The evidence can be seen in every school lockdown drill, every Transportation Security Administration pat-down, and every intrusive law that extends government’s reach into our lives, in the name of security.

Virtually every news cycle contains seeds of fear and doubt that are planted in the minds of the public. Will Iran nuke us? Is Al Qaeda planning another attack on New York City? Is someone planning to shoot up my child’s school?

The common thread in these stories is that they seek to alarm us with things that might happen somewhere, someday, as opposed to things that actually have happened in our lives. We are being conditioned to believe that our worst fears are about to be realized and that the state is our only hope. It’s a remarkably effective way for the functionaries of the state, through their media mouthpieces, to constantly remind us just how badly we need them.

What’s desperately needed is a bit of perspective. Most of us still have a better chance of winning the Mega Millions jackpot than we do of dying in a terrorist attack. So why give others power over us simply because they give us demons to wrestle?

Living in a state of fear and dependence is no way to live a happy and productive life.

email: [email protected]

twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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