The Power of Suggestion: episode thirteen
“All right. What caused the stock market crash?”
Lorenzini tapped Gray’s elbow and nodded in the direction of Greta and Mrs. Branstadt. Gray, mouth open, took a deep breath, and said, “Holy Uncle Sam! Perception.”
“Panic,” Van Nest went on smoothly, “is essentially loss of confidence at its highest pitch. Any high stakes object is in a state of threat by definition. The perception of safety creates confidence. But what creates safety? Can the government prevent war, disaster, economic depression? Can religion? If you lose the perception that some entity is protecting you, you lose confidence in safety itself. A high level of threat combined with a high stake object creates an environment ripe for panic.
“The greater the emotional engagement, the more we feel pressured to act. When large numbers participate in the same actions, the pressure increases. High stakes objects lose their value; low stakes objects can obtain value. A good example might be that five-cent cup of coffee. What’s a nickel mean to you if you’re out of work? Our confidence, our sense of safety, is more fragile, closer to the precipice than we realize. The things we’re certain we know, are only stories we tell ourselves…our money, when it’s in the bank, is an article of faith.
“The crash was the first shock in the era of mass communication. When an idea can reach multitudes simultaneously; when an idea has enough power to generate a behavior en masse, the impact can be long lasting. There you have the weakness of propaganda. We can create panic; we can induce loss of confidence. But what reverses the effect? If trust has been crippled by the first event, what event recreates trust?
“According to the public narrative, we don’t blame the small investor or the ordinary guy for taking part in a pattern of behavior that resulted in bringing the economy down. The banks failed the people by loaning them money. Stores gave them credit, elected officials lacked the foresight to prevent mass hysteria.”
“But you can’t argue,” said Mrs. Branstadt, “that all the people who were put out of work or lost their savings were the ones responsible for the panic!”
(copyright 2014, 2018 Stephanie Foster)