“The odds are no better than 50/50 that our present civilization [i.e. humans] will survive to the end of the present century.” –Sir Martin Rees, Professor, University of Cambridge
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” –Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt
What if those scary Halloween monsters … were real?
That’s the premise of the movie “Monsters, Inc,” where the monsters work year-round. And they don’t just extort candy. Their entire world runs on “Scream Power” — let’s simply call it “Scare Power” — and harvesting it is even more productive than fracking. We see in the more recent “Monsters University” that “it takes a University” to make the Scare Power industry work.
The heart of Monsters U. is its famous School of Scaring. All the elite students aspire to learn the art of being a great scarer. Those who succeed will become the celebrity leaders of monster society. But remove the fearsome tentacles, horns and claws, and it becomes clear that Monsters U. is more familiar than it seems. In fact, for years I’ve been working there.
I’m grateful for my permanent faculty job. Nonetheless, I have to admit that my research university could adopt the same motto as one might see at Monsters University: “Power and Glory Through Scaring.” (Neither school has enough real old-time scholars to bother translating that into Latin.) The movie points out that there are many ways to scare 21st-century humans, and not just children, but also their childlike parents, who have become more sensitized to scary stuff. Most of our leading academic thinkers have found it professionally useful to portray the world as a surprisingly dangerous, indeed toxic, place.
According to the social science experts at my university, the ordinary people beyond their gates are hardly capable of managing their own lives.
Without our experts’ guidance and supervision, most people could easily miss out on a job, education, housing, decent food and other necessities, including health care.
It’s not news that higher education, in its drive for relevance, is now deeply immersed in politics. This has not raised the average level of discourse. Academics are always useful to add a veneer of respectability to scary claims, especially those that defy experience and common sense. The problem, however, has spread far beyond the highly politicized departments in Social Sciences.
The big growth industry in the academic research establishment has been our Departments of Scientific Scarers, who say that we are being poisoned. They claim that half of everything in your life contains traces — now detectable thanks to technical advances — of chemicals which have been ‘linked’ to cancers or other statistically scary health hazards. And they’re working hard on the other half. They have sounded the alarms about alar, childhood vaccines, PCBs, microwaves from cell phones, BPA, second-hand smoke, flame retardants, genetically modified food, et cetera.