Tuesday, May 8, 2012

State of Fear

The Book: State of Fear, by Michael Crichton (Harper, 2009).
Why You Should Care: If you can get past the clunky story line and political posturing, there are some interesting observations on society, mass psychology, and what drives demand for some goods and services.
Regular readers of my contributions to this blog (and I am assuming there are at least some such readers, though I suspect many of them are probably close relatives), if they have been paying attention at all, will know that my reading habits tend heavily toward non-fiction. Things that really happened, and people who really exist or have existed, are just more interesting to me than fictional characters. My apologies to my children and others of their generation, whose early years were shaped by stories of an imaginary wizardry school and its denizens.
Occasionally, though, I feel the need to take a breather, which typically means something by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Colin Dexter, or even Charles Dickens (if I am in an appropriately Victorian frame of mind). That said, I’ve been known to indulge from time to time in a technology/science-fiction thriller from the pen or word processor of the late Michael Crichton. For my money (well, the truth be told, I usually take the books out of the library), Crichton usually can put together a pretty good page-turner.
Usually, but not always. His stories about DNA-engineered dinosaurs, deadly extraterrestrial microorganisms, and time travel really rocked, but he gets a little preachy in State of Fear, which centers on global warming and extremist environmental groups. His premise is that environmental groups, to justify their own existence and to prey on the generally held belief that global warming is a real and dangerous phenomenon, conspire to trigger real catastrophes. This is interesting enough, but Crichton delivers the story with loads of factual references, charts, and footnotes. It’s better than reading a public offering prospectus, but still…
Anyway, you need not take a position on global warming to find Crichton’s sociological observations interesting and, yes, potentially useful to entrepreneurs. Maybe the title gives you a clue. If not, Crichton’s central idea is that the most efficient method of social control is to keep everyone in a constant state of fear.
The Cold War is over, or at least it doesn’t continue in the form that many of us grew up with in the middle decades of the last century, so something has to fill the vacuum. A corollary to this is that, in all things, perception is key. Many products exist only to lessen our anxiety about perceived threats that, in reality, are not very likely to occur.
Now, where is that African killer bee spray? I must have left it in my backyard bomb shelter.

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