14 jul. 2008

The Friendly Fire of Fear to Fabricate Fabulous Faceless Force Against You

In the former democracy it was government’s first goal and custom to free you from fear and sorrow and give you the opportunity to unfold your best qualities to the full extend of your capacity. Good for you, good for society, good for the government too. It is a political holistic idea to provide circumstances to achieve the best for as much people as possible. And, of course, there is also misfortune which is as much and effective as possible to avoid by rules and prescriptions. Take care! That makes the traffic much less dangerous.
Only dictators rule by terror and fear.
By now the reign by fear is introduced in democracy. And the browbeating is not unique for single parts of the western world. How come?
The concerns of government to free you from fear is privatized and now it’s your own responsibility. But all what is privatized will become corporate and by then there are benefits of fear to gain.

The British essayist Frank Furedi denounced last year on his website Sp!ked the politics of fear which is invoked anywhere.
As the sociologist David Altheide has argued, ‘fear does not just happen; it is socially constructed and then manipulated by those who seek to benefit’. While this description of socially constructed fear tends to inflate the role of self-interest – the extent to which fear entrepreneurs exploit fear in order to gain some direct benefit – its emphasis on the role of human agency in the making of fear is nonetheless a useful counterpoint to the idea that fear is something natural or purely psychological.
So, the meaning and experience of fear are continually shaped by cultural and historical factors. The historical fear of famine is very different, for example, to today’s ‘powerful fear’ of being fat. The meaning that societies once attached to fear of God or the fear of Hell is not quite the same as today’s fear of pollution or of cancer. And fear does not always have negative qualities.
The sixteenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes regarded fear as being essential for the realisation of the individual and of a civilised society. For Hobbes, and others, fear could be seen as a fairly reasonable response to new events and big changes. In the individual, too, fear has not always been viewed as a negative emotion. As David Parkin argued in his 1986 essay ‘Toward an apprehension of fear’, as late as the nineteenth century the sentiment of fear was linked to ‘respect’, ‘reverence’, ‘veneration’. ‘Fearing the Lord’, for example, was culturally celebrated and valued. In contrast, the act of fearing God today sits far more uneasily with the prevailing cultural outlook.
Matters are complicated further by the fact that the words and phrases used to describe fear are culturally and historically specific. Today, we talk about fear as something unspecific, diffuse, and intimately tied to the therapeutic view of the individual. In her important study of the cultural history of fear, published in 2005, Joanna Bourke points to the importance of the recent ‘conversion of fear into anxiety through the therapeutic revolution’. Anxieties about being ‘at risk’ or feeling ‘stressed’ or ‘traumatised’ or ‘vulnerable’ show very clearly that today’s individualised therapeutic vocabulary influences our sensibility of fear.
That’s all in the toolkits of fear mongers.
Threats are mediated through the cultural outlook. And today, the role of culture is arguably more significant than it was in previous times. According to Stefanie Grupp, in her paper on the ‘Political implications of a discourse of fear’, individual fears are cultivated through the media and are less and less the outcome of direct experience. ‘Fear is decreasingly experienced first-hand and increasingly experienced on a discursive and abstract level’, concludes Grupp. She also suggestively notes that ‘there has been a general shift from a fearsome life towards a life with fearsome media’.
This point is echoed by Altheide, who claims that ‘popular culture has been the key element in promoting the discourse of fear’. Even Osama bin Laden seems to have grasped this trend. In an interview in October 2001, when asked ‘why is the Western media establishment so antihuman’, bin Laden replied: ‘Because it implants fear and helplessness in the psyche of the people of Europe and the United States.’ The legal theorist Christopher Guzelian argues that this indirect aspect of fear is the most distinctive feature of contemporary fear culture. He believes that ‘most fears in America’s electronic age’ are the results of ‘risk information (whether correct or false) that is communicated to society’. He concludes that it is ‘risk communication, not personal experience, that causes most fear these days’.
However, the influence of fear today cannot be explained as a direct outcome of the power of the media. The very real dynamic of individuation means that fear is experienced in a fragmented and atomized form. That is why fear is rarely experienced as a form of collective insecurity, as it often was in earlier times. This shift from collective fears to individuated fear is captured well by Nan Elin, who argued in the 1999 book Postmodern Urbanism that the fear we sense today is no longer the fear of ‘dangerous classes’; rather, fear has ‘come home’ and become privatized. The sensibility of fear is internalized in an isolated fashion, for example as a fear of crime or as a rather banal ‘ambient fear’ (as Hubbard describes it) towards life in general. Hubbard notes that this is a kind of fear that ‘requires us to vigilantly monitor every banal minutia of our lives’, since ‘even mundane acts are now viewed as inherently risky and dangerous’.