Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fear can kill you

Researchers at UC Irvine have found evidence that random subjects who respond more powerfully to the fear of terrorism suffer from more heart disease. As reported by Tony Barboza in the LA Times, the study controlled for smoking, obesity, and the usual correlates of heart disease. Subjects who reported more intense trauma after 9/11, or who retained a high fear response years later, showed higher levels of heart disease relative to their pre-9/11 health records.

The Irvine data reminds us that we are not governed through our minds or wills alone as bodies. Authority that constantly recharges itself through the repetitive invocation of unspeakable horror, takes a toll not simply on our liberties but on our largely irreplaceable heart cells. Remember that next time you decide to watch a Giuliani commercial.

The destructive power of terrorism fear may relate to its widespread visibility. 9/11 was a global media trauma that almost everyone witnessed in video. The same is true of violent crime, which television began to turn into its staple fare beginning in the 1970s.

It would be interesting to know if heart disease is a risk in all fear based governance, or whether certain fears, like terrorism, and I suspect violent crime, bring out deeply embedded responses that produce short-term gains (fight or flight) and long-term damage. (To the extent these are biological mechanisms, evolution has likely selected to maximize short term over long term individual survival).

For those of us who are nostalgic for the fears of solidarity-based governance (like Roosevelt's New Deal), it would be interesting to know whether fears of economic decline, climate change, and infrastructure rot produce the same kind of heart damage? Or, perhaps, can selecting the right kind of national fears produce individual experiences of solidarity and effective cooperation which result in measurable improvements heart health?

1 comment:

Raf M said...

Interesting. Very Orwellian too!
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