It’s hard to write after yet another terrorist attack just a few miles from my keyboard, and not to make a fool of myslef with platitudes or political ‘interpretations’ that may not add a millimetre to the understanding of things. In fact, there was even a big temptation today: not to write, and see and hear and sit still. As you can see, I resisted.
I often like to see things around, interpret the world, in terms of currency. It has always served me well. We are all social animals, at times the latter more prominent than the former, and we can’t seriously understand ourselves without the otherness, the transactions and the relationships. So, ‘what’s the currency here?’ is a legitimate question.
This habit has been extended for years to my daily work as organizational consultant. In organizational terms, I also ask the question: what is the currency here? For example, I talk about information being the currency of what, since Homo Imitans, I call Push world or World I, and behaviours being the currency in Pull world or World II. Once you understand currencies, you understand transactions and their laws. Soon you find out that each world is very different and that mixing them up is a very bad idea. (See the World –World II summary here)
So, in my habit, I have asked myself many times about the major world currency today. I have made my own silent inquiry many times, always trying to force myself to explore many possibilities. However I find myself stuck with one strong answer all the time, my mind not wanting to accept alternatives.
The global currency is not bitcoins and their blockchains highways, or a particular left or right ideology, or ‘engagement’ (political, employee), or what is going on in those multi colour screens in Wall Street or the City of London or Frankfurt. Not even inequality, minority rights, or populism per se. Yes, all of them are currencies for conversations and social transactions, political or otherwise, but of second category compared with number one. The global, universal, overriding, ubiquitous, extraordinary currency is fear.
We trade on fear. It’s primal emotion. And it is so powerful because it did not have to be invented. In fact, it has always been there as an accepted member of the family, so present yet often so unconscious that we had not noticed it until it’s complete takeover.
We fear terrorism, the lone wolves and the orchestrated killing machinery with black flags. We fear that others can abuse of us. We fear getting old, losing our minds, or losing our possessions to pay for care, as it is now on the table in the UK elections. We fear nuclear threat. We fear our kids get caught in a terror attack in a crowded place. We fear the impunity of the US government (or whatever is there of it) making disastrous decisions that affect us all. We fear immigrants. We fear lack of privacy. We fear too much commitment to a relationship. We fear overreacting. We fear not reacting enough.
In the latest series of House of Cards ( to disclose my addiction), President Francis J Underwood assures the American people with his “Fear is un-American. You have nothing to be afraid of,” whilst he is the creator of a well crafted conspiracy of fear. The previous series ended bluntly with the Underwoods looking at the camera and saying; ‘We make the terror’. And then we had to wait a whole Netfilx year.
To become fearless would be to become inhuman. And fearless of terrorism would be naïve. But as naïve as ‘we are not afraid’ may be, the promotion of fear plays mainly into the hands of those who create it.
You could follow the entire tweeter feeds post-London terror attack yesterday and interpret it completely on the grounds of how people are trading on fear. From ridiculing the mayor of London for saying ‘No reason to be alarmed’ (Trump and others cut the line of his statement that actually said not to be alarmed if seeing many more police officers in the streets in the next days) to the useless ‘enough is enough’ slogan from the British Prime Minister. I don’t think Mrs May meant, I am going to stop multibillion arm sales to countries that promote and fund those people. ‘Enough is enough’ is a bit rich coming from somebody who was Home Secretary for six years presiding over the security services of the country, and whose conservative government has got rid of 20000 police officers whilst in office.
I have a hard time seeing how increasing fear is going to help us to think critically. I wish we could all settle for a consensus on how afraid we should be (just kidding a bit) and then everybody gets on with addressing the problem. Terrorism, by the way, is a wicked problem (in its strict definition) and, as such, unlikely to provide a single entry, magic point to counter attack. We need a new Global Accounting System for Fear as global currency. Just enough to get you moving, not so much as to get paralysed or paralyse others. That may be a simple start. But I fear the trade will continue. Deregulated.