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The Fear Digest

The Islamic State, Cops, and the End of the World: What Americans Are Scared of This Week

Another week, another set of terrors.
December 7, 2014, 3:43pm

Image via Flickr user ​Jonathan

Welcome back to the Fear Digest, our weekly roundup of the top ten things Americans are freaking out about. Read last week's​ column here.

10. The End of the Universe
Humans aren't usually asked to contemplate the end of humanity itself, which is good because that prospect is pretty nightmarish. But we recently got some news on that front, as scientists discovered that dark matter is apparently being consumed by dark energy. We don't know much about either substance, but what's important is that dark energy is essentially the force that is causing the universe to expand. More dark energy means a faster expansion, which means the universe will become a cold, lifeless expanse more quickly. ​As Michael Brooks wrote in the New Statesman:


Eventually, all the other galaxies will be so far away, and receding so fast, that their light will never reach what remains of our Milky Way. Nearby stars will burn out. Our sun is expected to end its life as a huge single crystal of carbon: a dark diamond in the sky, with no surrounding starlight to make it sparkle.

Good thing we'll all be dead by then!
​Last week's rank: Unranked

9. The End of an Era in Left-Wing Letters
​But people don't care about what will happen to stars 10 billion years from now. They care about stuff like whether their friends still have jobs. That's why the liberal blogosphere was gnashing its collective teeth and rending its garments this week over the firing of a couple top editors and a general staff reduction and restructuring at The New Republic. The venerable left-wing magazine inspires the same sort of devotion in a certain kind of Northeastern liberal that conservatives feel for guns and the American flag. (Other lefties, by the way, have a grudge against TNR and even think it's been ​racist in the past.) This wasn't just another not-as-good-as-it-was-in-its-heyday publication moving in a new, more online-oriented direction and abruptly firing people in the process. ​It was an utter tragedy. New York's Jonathan Chait was almost theatrically upset, ​writing, "My only hope now is that one day this vital American institution can be rebuilt," and he was among a host of employees and contributing editors (friends of the magazine, basically) who resigned to protest owner Chris Hughes's mismanagement and general shittiness. It's worth noting that a very, very small number of people care about any of this, but the ones that do have reacted as if the Lincoln Memorial was blown up by the KKK, so this makes the list. 
Last week's rank: Unranked


BREAKING: Mass resignations just submitted at — Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza)December 5, 2014

8. The NSA
​Hey, did you know ​the US government hacks into cellphone networks all over the world? Pretty neat, right?
Last week's rank: 9

7. A Government Shutdown
​Last year, the GOP ​shut down the federal government rather than compromise over some spending bills, which made a lot of people very upset and accomplished nothing. Now Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a key supporter of the shutdown, ​wants to do the same thing all over again. On the bright side, Congress does very little at this point so it may as well just continuously give itself crises to negotiate out of. 
Last week's rank: Unranked

6. The Islamic State
Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that it's going to take years to defeat the jihadists ruling parts of Iraq and Syria and "that we will engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail."So I guess the US has officially entered another potentially endless war in the Middle East. It's been awhile.
​Last week's rank: 8

5. Al Qaeda
​The terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden was once America's foremost bogeyman, and though it's been replaced by the Islamic State in headlines, it's still out there setting off bombs and kidnapping civilians. This week it regained the spotlight, as a SEAL operation intended to rescue two al Qaeda–held Western hostages in ​Yemen went horribly wrong, resulting in their deaths.
​Last week's rank: Unranked

4. Cigarette Taxes
​But most American fear and anxiety, as usual, was reserved for events closer to home. For instance, when the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was killed after being in a chokehold by an NYPD cop, ​didn't result in any charges for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, ​protests raged in New York, and even Rush Limbaugh was outraged—because the cops had supposedly approached Garner in the first place because he was allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. "This guy ends up dead because the city of New York is hell-bent on driving out the black market cigarette industry from Manhattan," is how Rush ​put it on Thursday. I guess any ally in the fight against police brutality is a good ally to have?
​Last Week's Rank: Unranked


3. The EPA 
Conservatives were also outraged this week that the Environmental Protection Agency was following through on a plan to shut down power plants ​that don't comply with federal carbon emission standards. Obviously the purpose of these standards is to slow down climate change and *dramatic music* save the world, but the coal industry and the politicians who support it are basically like, Um, there's no way we can stop polluting without just closing plants and cutting a bunch of jobs. So either coal states get even poorer, or the coasts get flooded by rising sea levels. I think we lost this game of Civilization IV. it's time to start another one.
Last Week's Rank: Unranked

2. The Country Rising Up Against the Cops
Here is a real thing an ​anonymous police officer wrote on an online forum:

I think this is the start of the civil war several people have suspected may be coming…stay guarded brothers in blue…that's white, black, asian, etc…

And here's another:

What officers SHOULD do is nothing. This may sound horrible, but as we all have been shown, this is the truth. Most officers don't live in the neighborhood they patrol in, so if the citizens don't care about the neighborhod [sic], why should the police? Answer calls, take reports, TAKE YOUR PAYCHECK and go home. Don't be proactive, let the neighborhood destroy itself. It's not worth our lives or our career [sic]. If people want to live among criminals, thats [sic] their choice. I hope all the businesses that burned in Ferguson relocate and do not open shop in that town again. Police can't service people who cant [sic] serve and take care of themselves, their neighborhoods, so don't even try.

Last week's rank: Unranked

1. Being Shot by the Cops
Yeah, ​this shit is ​still happening.
​Last week's rank: 3

Follow Harry Cheadle on ​Twitter.