by Laura Dodsworth
This is a book about fear. Fear of a virus. Fear of death. Fear of losing our jobs, our democracy, our human connections, our health and our minds. It’s also about how the government weaponised our fear against us – supposedly in our best interests – until we were the most frightened country in Europe.
Fear is the most powerful emotion. Hardwired into humans, fear is part of our evolutionary success. But that also makes it one of the most powerful tools in the behavioural psychology toolbox and it has been used to manipulate and control people during the pandemic.
In one of the most extraordinary documents ever revealed to the British public, the behavioural scientists advising the government said that a substantial number of people did not feel threatened enough by Covid-19 to follow the rules. They advised the government to increase our sense of ‘personal threat’, to scare us into submission.
‘A State of Fear is so dark and compelling, and yet woven throughout with the determination - the heartfelt need - to get beyond these dreadful days. When governments sow fear they must reap a bitter crop. From the beginning of lockdown I have been worried to death about the certain and unavoidable consequences of making and keeping an entire population frightened. Already we see that too many people regard their fellow citizens - even family and friends - as the enemy, petri dishes swimming with contagion. As a population and a society we are atomised as never before. I can scarcely imagine how the damage done might be undone. Most of all I fear what all of this has done - and will continue to do - to compromise the futures of our children. All of these concerns and many more besides are given a desperately needed airing between the pages of this book. This is a timely piece of work, shot through with the voices of frightened people. Those voices must be heard and properly listened to. Altogether this is a fascinating consideration of how fear has been used again and again throughout history and in one civilisation after another, so that governments and others in authority might get their own way. A State of Fear is an affecting and troubling read.’
— Neil Oliver, writer and broadcaster
But why did the government deliberately frighten us, and how has this affected us as individuals and as a country? Who is involved in the decision-making that affects our lives? How are behavioural science and nudge theory being used to subliminally manipulate us? How does the media leverage fear? What are the real risks to our wellbeing?
Ahead of any official inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Laura Dodsworth explores all these questions and more, in a nuanced and thought-provoking discussion of an extraordinary year in British life and politics. With stories from members of the general public who were impacted by fear, anxiety and isolation, and revealing interviews with psychologists, politicians, scientists, lawyers, Whitehall advisers and journalists, A State of Fear calls for a more hopeful, transparent and effective democracy.