Scared Of Everything

I sometimes wonder how it is that so many people in the Western world seem to have become scared of almost everything. They’re scared of tobacco smoke, scared of alcohol, scared of sugar, scared of fat, scared of red meat, scared of climate change. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why has this happened?

It could be that they’ve just been told by ‘experts’ of one sort or other that they ought to be scared, and so they’ve become scared. But I think it has to be a bit deeper than that. I think they must also be in some way predisposed to be scared. They have somehow become more easy to scare than people usually are.

I wonder if soldiers are like that? I get the impression that they’re not. And also the last thing any of the scared people would do would be to enlist in an army. After all, if they’re frightened of tobacco smoke, then they’re going to be a lot more frightened of bullets and bombs.

I read somewhere a delightful little story from the First World War a week or two back. It began with a British soldier who had been captured by the Germans, and as he was being led into captivity he had the feeling – for the first time in the whole war – that he was going to survive it. And, after all, he was most likely to spend the rest of the war in a POW camp, and so he probably was going to survive. But the flip side of this was that, while he was a British soldier sitting in a trench somewhere, and being machine-gunned and shelled by the Germans, he had not expected to survive. In fact, in such circumstances, every morning he woke up, he may have been surprised that he was still alive. And there must have been many occasions – like the middle of a bombardment, when shells were exploding all around him – when he was convinced he was going to die.

Someone in such circumstances is unlikely to think about what he’ll be doing in year’s time, or 10 years time. In fact, he might not even think about what he’s going to be doing in a week’s time. Very often, he just hopes he’s going to survive the next 10 minutes. He was scared, very scared, but he was scared of something that could happen right now.

But once he had been captured, and penned in a POW camp somewhere in Germany, he probably stopped thinking that he was going to die any second now. Instead he probably thought about what would happen next month, and even next year. He might have wondered when the war would end, and what he would do after the war was over. Would he marry his girlfriend? Would he raise a family? Would he be able to go back to his old job? But he probably wouldn’t be able to think much further than that.

For much of my life, I’ve operated with a similar sort of time horizon. I’ve looked a year or two ahead, sometimes more. I’ve usually had enough money saved so that if I lost my job I’d have enough to last a few years. And so these days, when I’ve got rather more money than I used to have, I wonder what might be happening in 10 years time.

But what about people who are much more well-to-do than I am? Their time horizons – the furthest they can see ahead – must be accordingly greater. They most likely are looking 25 or 50 years ahead, maybe even further. And the things that they worry about are things that might happen in 30 or 40 years time. Unlike the soldier in his trench, who doesn’t expect to survive until tomorrow, such people may expect to survive to the age of 100 or more, and so they tend to dwell on the things that might happen over the next 25 or 50 years.

And this is where fears about smoking and lung cancer start to creep in. Because that’s supposed to take 30 or 40 years to develop. And it’s the same with alcohol and sugar and salt and fat and red meat and aluminium saucepans and all the rest of it. And global warming is something that’s always 50 years ahead. And so it’s people who fully expect to be around in 50 years time who start worrying about these sorts of dangers, because they’re looking that far ahead.

A soldier in a trench isn’t going to worry about the health threat in the dim and distant future posed by smoking, or drinking, or eating sausages and chips – because he doesn’t expect to live that long. He’s just glad for a relaxing smoke now and then in the middle of the mayhem around him. And glad of a beer or two. And glad of a plate of hot sausages and chips, and a mug of tea to go with it.

So maybe this is where the modern growing terror of more or less everything arises. It comes from the fact that people expect to live long lives, and their time horizons are accordingly long. They’re not so much worried about what will happen tomorrow, or even next year, but instead what might happen 10 or 20 or even 50 years in the future. And, because the future becomes ever more uncertain the further anyone tries to see, the greater the number of things are found that could potentially go wrong over such time scales. And so people – and usually quite well-to-do people – become scared of everything.

If you think that you might live forever (and these days quite a few people seem to think something like this), you become frightened of everything. But if you think you could die in the next five minutes, you’re completely fearless.

The old pagan homily, “Eat, drink, and be merry – for tomorrow we die,” loses much of its force when it becomes, “Eat, drink, and be merry – for in a century’s time we die.”

I didn’t finish the story of the captive British soldier. He did indeed find himself in a POW camp in Germany, well away from the fighting. And a few days after he had arrived, a German officer came and asked the POWs whether any of them were Roman Catholics. Three or four of them raised their hands, and their names were noted. And the next Sunday, to their surprise, they were called for, and were marched out of the camp to the local Catholic church to attend its service, alongside ordinary German people. And when they were marching back again, and they were passing a hostelry, the German officer who was leading them asked if they would like to have a beer. To which request they promptly agreed, of course. And so it was after having a couple of beers that they eventually arrived back at the camp.

And the following week, the number of Catholics in the POW camp had increased from just three to nearly thirty.


About Frank Davis

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25 Responses to Scared Of Everything

  1. I believe I ve read somewhere that after socialists lost the ideological war with capitalists,they turned into healthists in order to take revenge from the back door…

    if today’s lifestyle risks accepted by society is smoking and drinking and eating red meat,maybe in 100,200 years future generations will be more and more ‘afraid’.But hey,they will live longer!!

    ”Who wants to go and fight for your country?” they will say,the risk of dying is too high!

    And the medical community will present epidemiological studies (same way as they do today with smoking) showing a 1000 times more risk of dying!!

    We think so much about the future,that we tend to forget the past.Live and let die!!!

    • Frank Davis says:

      That reminds me that I read, a long time ago, that the motto of the Spaniards fighting under Franco against the left during the Spanish Civil War was “Viva La Muerte” (“Long Live Death”). I used to find that completely incomprehensible – and rather frightening. But these days I think I understand what they meant.

    • ptbarnumthe2nd says:

      Some people spend so much time and energy thinking and planning for the future that they forget to ever live in the present, or, in other words, they never actually live at all, only imagining how they will live at some future time.

  2. cherie79 says:

    I have gone through life ignoring every scare, BSE = cheap beef, Chernobyl = cheap lamb, HRT, I carried on using it and the story has changed again for about the fifth time. Smoking, I had lung cancer, only after smoking for 50 years and, I think due to the stress of my husband’s sudden death, but carried on so far with no recurrence, drinking, still have a couple of glasses of red wine most nights. Must be terrible to be afraid of everything, we all die and I would rather enjoy my life now. After the cancer surgery I did stop for a couple of months but was miserable and thought if I can’t live my life the way i always have what is the point of living?

  3. And the following week, the number of Catholics in the POW camp had increased from just three to nearly thirty.

    Sorta how the smoking bans got rolling along beer=stimulus grants in America at the local level!

    Since obviously everyone does’nt realize what’s been happening, the CDC and other federal agencies in America have been dooling out grant money to city, county, and other local governments that adopt smoking bans, not to mention to anti-smoking coalitions who push for stricter smoking bans. It’s been happening in both the Saint Louis area, plus also in the Myrtle Beach area. I’ll note that these aren’t the only 2 areas of the country where these ban grants have been given to a smoking ban coalition.

    Articles proving it’s been happening(wasteful grant money being given to anti groups pushing for smoking bans, plus waving financial grants to communities that ultimately decide to ban smoking) in both parts of the country(grant money going to both Tobacco-Free Saint Louis in the Saint Louis area, and Smoke-Free Horry in the Myrtle Beach/Conway area):

    If you werent for a ban before a few thousand or a few hundred thousand or even 15.2 million can sure change your mind and make you an ardent nazi in lock step with the administration. Or the threat at the state level from Uncle OWEbamas people that we will cut federal funds for certasin things if you dont enact a smoking ban……..the same effect is done to corporations via THREAT OF IRS attacks from the whitehouse. Its been done ever since federal income tax was enacted in 1913 about the same time smoking bans in america were at full tilt! Amazing what progressives will do a century later,the same damn thing all over again…..

  4. waltc says:

    I wonder if it has something to do with never having had to face any REAL danger. Therefore, a wisp of smoke or a cut finger has taken on–to paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald– the same tragic importance as a roaring tsunami or an invading army of Goths. Truly. These are spoiled-rotten generations. The lot of us who grew up after WW2. And now, today’s young, riding skateboards and bikes, get swaddled like professional ice hockey players and are made to imagine skating as the doorway to paraplegia or a fatal blow to the brain. It’s impossible to imagine their ever growing up to volunteer for the army, or to rush to somebody’s rescue. Then, too, it’s the ever-creeping half-baked socialism– nannystate supposedly protecting us from harm and encouraging the notion of a life without risk and making us comfortable with the limiting ambition of a life without risk, which is turning us all into fat whining babies.

    Not instead of, but just in addition to, your thoughts.

    • Frank Davis says:

      These are spoiled-rotten generations. The lot of us who grew up after WW2.

      I take your point. But in that case, why aren’t you and I terrified of tobacco smoke too? It must be a bit more than that. There must be something in your experience, and mine, and in fact most of the people who read my blog, that has inoculated them against such terror.

      Or maybe it’s that we’re just scared of different things…?

      • Rose says:

        I think growing up fully aware that there were Russian missiles pointed directly at us, black and white newsreels of the horrors of war on the tv and skies that rained soot, probably gave us a better perspective on the possible hazards of tobacco smoke.

        If you must smoke, take fewer puffs and leave longer stubs, advice I’ve followed ever since I decided to find out why they were lying about the tobacco plant, but not a word of criticism about tomatoes or potatoes.

  5. Rose says:


    Could you do me a favour? Can you see the comments on the Doctor’s blog, or have they all mysteriously disappeared?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Siegel? All it seems to say is “Leave a comment”. And nobody appears to have left a comment.

      But I haven’t commented there for years, so it’s not as if I’m au fait with it.

      • Rose says:

        Thanks Frank.

        So it’s not just me then.
        That thread was full of comments and so were the previous threads, and if you click a link on a story in a previous year, you get the same.

        There have been problems with Echo for a while.

  6. Itd be kinda hard to believe siegel removed comments.

  7. magnetic01 says:

    Rose, that sounds like the problem I’ve been having for a while. The separate comments pages are still there. You simply do not have access to them – hopefully only temporarily.

    • Rose says:

      That’s alright then, it would be a pity if they were lost, but I shall very much miss reading everyone’s thoughts on the various subjects.

  8. magnetic01 says:

    Rose, I have developed a temporary, quasi-solution :)

    If you go to, say, velvetgloveironfist, it has a link for tobaccoanalysis. The link is for the latest individual thread.

    Now, pay attention :)
    Right click on the tobaccoanalysis link to open it up on a new page. You need to think ahead here. Your goal is to right click on the “comments” link at the bottom-left of the tobaccoanalysis page. You will have 1-3 seconds before that link will disappear to be replaced by the “phantom” comments section at the bottom of the thread. So, have your mouse pointer towards the top-right of the page as the tobaccoanalysis blog is loading up. As soon as it appears, [quickly] drag the scroll-bar to the bottom of the page, then [quickly] move the pointer across to the bottom-left and right click on the comments link, then select the “open link in new window” option from the resulting menu. This will open the usual, separate “comments” page.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Yay! It took me a couple of tries, but I managed it in the end. I even posted a comment (I think) here.

      I don’t think this is Siegel’s doing. It’s a problem with the comment software. Or Blogspot.

      • Rose says:

        Yes, you did Frank!

        Thank you Magnetic, but I think it’s high time he fixed it properly, though he might enjoy the peace. : )

  9. Column: Amal Pramanik, Imperial Tobacco’s UK General Manager

    THE Government’s tobacco tax policy threatens to undermine our efforts to tackle the problem of illegal tobacco being sold on our streets and it puts the livelihoods of thousands of legitimate retailers at serious risk.

    Imperial Tobacco urges the Chancellor to seriously consider freezing excise rates or at least only increase tobacco tax in line with inflation.

    The UK has the second highest tobacco excise rate in the EU. Tax accounts for as much as 89 per cent of the recommended retail prices of our UK brands.

    Continual taxation rises have driven adult smokers to turn to illicit traders. About one in five cigarettes consumed in this country are non duty-paid.

    more here

  10. beobrigitte says:

    I sometimes wonder how it is that so many people in the Western world seem to have become scared of almost everything. They’re scared of tobacco smoke, scared of alcohol, scared of sugar, scared of fat, scared of red meat, scared of climate change. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why has this happened?

    A very good question! The easiest of answers would be that you can manipulate ‘the masses’ by reinforcing/installing fear. Fear keeps you in the place they want you to be.

    But then, there are various groups of people who are sick of being scared. They don’t attend gyms for physical fitness (too boring, “safe” and “no fun”). Most of them smoke, too. They just do a sport for the fun of it. And the more they do (and dare!) the higher the risk of getting hurt (occasionally pretty bad), the better. Funnily enough, after getting hurt a number of times you just stop getting hurt. It has to do with relaxation. The more relaxed you are when you hit the ground, the less it hurts.

    Paranoid imaginative danger i.e. SMOKING, or much worse even, PASSIVE SMOKING is much harder to get into perspective. Does anyone here know anybody who got hurt by “passive smoking”? I personally don’t. But we are being told it will kill us in 50 years time! At this point (almost) everyone stops thinking. Isn’t it relevant what else you come across in these 50 years? And why worry what MIGHT happen in 50 years time to you? Yesterday was just that, today is the day – and tomorrow? I cross that bridge when I get there.

  11. ladyraj says:

    I agree that we humans are predisposed to fear….as a matter of survival. We tend to remember negative associations/experiences to avoid making the same mistake. This made sense when we needed to remember which lake contained bad water that made us sick. Public health advocates merely tapped into human nature and have exploited the trait.

    But I really don’t think it’s fear that is motivating the masses to adopt every given premise suggested to them that may be risky. I think it’s the desire to leave a mark on the world by championing a cause. More, importantly one must have a just cause and be on the side of right. For the masses the experts lend an appearance that one is on the side of right via a perceived credibility. The experts’ cause is reinforced by other experts and the masses who accept the premise. Conformity does the rest.

    I don’t see fear in the rhetoric spouted on blogs where their pet cause is being challenged…I see anger and disrespect that anyone would dare challenge what is accepted as consensus. It seems the world has few rebels who question everything! :-)

  12. waltc says:

    “‘These are spoiled-rotten generations. The lot of us who grew up after WW2.’

    “I take your point. But in that case, why aren’t you and I terrified of tobacco smoke too? It must be a bit more than that. There must be something in your experience, and mine, and in fact most of the people who read my blog, that has inoculated them against such terror.”

    I’m giving that thought. As far as smoke goes, it obviously doesn’t scare us because we grew up in a world where everyone did and where no one we knew died of it, and neither (so far) have we. Same way I’m merely annoyed by seat belts, having ridden in the front seat with my father on hilly adventures from the probable age of 5, and having driven for years without them. But the question, of course, is deeper: it’s why aren’t we scared of all the hundreds of other things that we’re instructed to be afraid of? Maybe, after all, it comes to down to personality. Or philosophy. Perhaps because we’re skeptics. Or empiricists. Or fatalists. Or born to be initially suspicious of instructors or bemused by Authority. Or oblivious to conformity, as beobrigitte says. And maybe those traits are the defining traits of smokers. ?? Maybe it’s not at all “I’m a smoker and so I’m a skeptic (or have a certain take on life)” but rather “I’m a skeptic (etc) and so I’m a smoker.”

    Not that I think I’ve come close to solving the riddle.

    As for other things I’m scared of: Small linen guest towels with little embroidered flowers.

  13. waltc says:

    Ah, sorry. It was ladyraj I quoted.

  14. Rose says:

    You see Walt, there’s the difference between us.

    I have always willingly worn a seatbelt from as soon as they were fitted.
    That’s what racing drivers do!

    One day, I will grow up, honest. : )

  15. defypsychs says:

    If you are not scared they will brand you as a psychopath. If you then ridicule them with sarcasm they will diagnose you with a mental illness.

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