“a social safety valve,” filler foam for the voids left by retreating suffering; it is often remembered as an affliction of the mass-media age (when “even fears were subject to vogue” and “news cycles pulsed the social flesh”) but the primal instinct of fear — rethinged no less than love — is quite alive, its puppet strings twitching: “conquer your scares, dont pretend you have none.”  ■    Always more or less self-fulfilling, a mass scare has real and imaginary components: its both a disease and an immunity-boosting inoculation, a mutualistic symbiont and a parasite. A scares natural lifecycle — anywhere from days to centuries — is hard to sway by distraction or refutation; advances in literacy, knowledge, access to information have all produced, dismayingly, initial surges in irrational scares before registering any long-term relief. Cults fattened on the scare substrate, enriched it with their apocalyptic dogmas; proliferating scare art numbed the nerve, spread bugaboos like trade routes spread plagues (in general, art can be dated by which scares it exercises or ignores); whole cultures survived by evolving into scarekeepers or scaremongers (“typical end-of-life attractor for a fading authoritarian sect”). ■    Dying or recently-dead scares may evoke vague embarrassment or a defensive “youre still not safe” — but those from deeper past sound ever more naive and unscary with age, to the point of “so what” and “how come its not a good thing”; eventually families of scares desiccate, petrify into layers of uninteresting past. A seesaw shape is seen, fractally, at every level: paradoxically minimal during a “time of troubles,” scare saturation steadily grows through the peaceful productive years until a next waterfall — revolution, revelation, deep sleep — zeroes everything out to restart a slow ascent. Justifiedly or not, the “pile of culture” on which were perched can only feel taller and shakier with time, threatening avalanches from a tiniest tremor; in a worldview dominated by mechanistic evolutionless models, any increase in scope or complexity is a bad omen (fragility paradox). “Atomizing,” minds shrink into safety obsessions (“how fragile we are”), extol lifes preciousness (numbed by megayears of routine death); survivalists entrench — and go on to win the demographic pie by contributing disproportionately to the next sparsened age.  ■    Compilers and Change have undercut the primary scare cycle: the unprecedented rise of Crusoe index and the sudden irrelevance of force-and-finance structures made the old crumbling-tower fears moot for the first time. In the leave-easy sparsened world, scare-like buildups have trouble spreading — true pandemics are unviable on a substrate this diverse; also, mass scares of the past were integral to the second stage of the puppet show so naturally subsided once we wiggled (“head-and-shoulders, at least”) into the third. Now fadeout accumulates and breeds much of the remaining “existential scare” energy: it is one of the few ideologies that can survive at the highest metalevel — in a stratosphere where the typical historical or fantasy truths die an instant death of deconstruction and understanding.

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