How unscrupulous political leaders turn people into sheep and make them bleat on cue.
Stout has mined for pop-psychology gold in earlier works (The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us, 2005, etc.), and her prose has softened in proportion as her apparent resolve to become Dr. Phil has hardened. Her thesis here is simple: As creatures, we are naturally subject to fear, individually and collectively, but if we know who the Bad Guys are (here: the Bush administration) and what they are doing to us, we can defeat them by following her prescriptions—e.g., “Make fun of the [frightening] image. If you enjoy irony, yell, The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” Stout’s approach at times seems lifted from a self-help magazine in a supermarket checkout line. Are you stressed? Find out with her 21-question “Walking-Around Anxiety Test” (“7. Right now, are your palms sweaty?”). Later, she identifies “Six Stages of a Limbic War” and lists “Ten Behavioral Characteristics of Fear Brokers.” She equates political leaders who frighten us with domestic abusers and offers a sugary case study of an abused woman who found the Courage to Be Free after spending some quality time with Martha Stout, Ph.D. The author is most effective when she explains the physiological and psychological mechanisms of individual and cultural fear. Her discussion of the limbic system is clear, as are her descriptions of our coping mechanisms. She shows how irrational fears led to events as diverse as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the Red-baiting of the McCarthy era, the Patriot Act and the arrest of Cat Stevens. She cites some research that indicates our Blue State/Red State political preferences may be hard-wired, and she elicits a chuckle with her concept of a “cowbird politician”: a public official who has no core beliefs but employs the “nests” of others.
Too much pop and not enough psychology.