Another year will bring another set of reasons to be fearful, as sure as eggs contain salmonella and the ghost of Jimmy Savile haunts the BBC. Thus far, none of these fears have carried off the planet. Some, like Aids, have been worse than others but proportionally no worse than, say, the Black Death. Others, such as bird flu and Mrs Thatcher, were quite simply hopelessly overblown conceits.
Humans have only been around for a million years. Our capacity to seriously mess things up has increased dramatically over the few thousand years or so, but a flu pandemic in a Neolithic settlement or a Viking raid would be as apocalyptic to the victims then as now. Technology and population explosion have accelerated our ability to wreak havoc, cause misery and mayhem, by accident or design, over the past century or so, but technology has enabled us to globally scare the bejasus out of the credulous to a logarithmic degree. Before mass media, local soothsayers, Cassandras, oracles, shamans, Jeremiahs, false prophets, astrologers, Druids, Nostradamus, Mother Shipton and the like would routinely promise that the end was nigh, to scare us into servitude, relieve us of our cash or simply for the hell of it. Now we have scientists, experts, economists, shock jocks, journalists, pundits, politicians, think tankers, Pilgers, Monbiots, bloggers – descendants of the above, blathering prognostications on a global scale, largely with the same high intentions.
In my uneventful life thus far I can remember, at random: a new ice age, global warming, nuclear winter, MAD, the Arab Spring (turning to autumn), salmonella in eggs, Aids, Sars, genetic engineering, Muslamic Ray Guns, Ronald Reagan, overpopulation, ageing populations, gas from fridges, the IRA, BSE, MMR, dangerous dogs, ASBOs, computer viruses, the Millennium Bug, CCTV, asylum seekers, economic migrants, benefit tourists, Bulgarians, Roma, Rupert Murdoch, Mrs Thatcher, Arthur Scargill, Red Robbo, obesity, anorexia, dementia, sugar, salt, MSG, cancer, child abuse, false memory syndrome, necrotising fasciitis, herpes, the BNP, English Defence League, Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Jimmy Savile, mobile phone brain cancer, the fiscal cliff, the triple dip, Dotcom bubble, property bubble, paedos: to name but a few.
As the New Year grows older, we can look forward with certainty to a host of new fears to add to the list of things we need our leaders and big brains to protect us from. But there is an antidote. Before you reach for the Kool Aid, take a trip down memory lane and add your own fears to the list: it’s surprisingly uplifting. Despite all the warnings, we’re still here. You’ve nothing to fear but fear itself.