?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 The Culture of Fear - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

The Culture of Fear

July 20, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

Ours is a time of fear. We cultivate a culture of fear which is becoming increasingly powerful and global. Our self-revealing age, with its fixation on cheap sensationalism, political scandals, TV reality shows, and other forms of self-exposure in exchange for public attention and fame, prizes moral panic and apocalyptic scenarios incomparably more than a balanced approach, light irony, or modesty.

What is behind this tendency is an overwhelming fear of crumbling to the ground, or merely being oneself: the fear of unimportance; the fear of vanishing in the air leaving no trace of visibility and presence; fear of being like others; fear of being beyond the TV and media world, which is tantamount to one’s becoming a non-entity or the end of one’s existence.
There was a time when fatalistic and pessimistic philosophers, with all their predictions of the inexorable doom of European culture or the breakdown of the Western World, sounded as a voice of the twentieth century with its somber and tragic experiences of WWI, America’s depression, the rise of totalitarian dictatorships, and other forms of modern barbarity.
The paradox is that now it is almost bon ton to predict the collapse of Europe – financial, political, and cultural. Visigoths are certainly coming, one way or another: African, Asian, and East European migrants and refugees strip Europe of its historically formed identity, whereas Muslims pose a direct threat to the legacy of Christianity and our fundamental rights and liberties. Funeral music for Europe has become commonplace over the past five or so years.

What the German philosopher of culture, Oswald Spengler, perceived as yet unpronounced refusal of, and as yet undeclared parting with, a great unifying principle behind Giotto, Masaccio, Leonardo, Raphael, Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, our new Internet and Facebook Cassandras proclaim as the onslaught of the new Visigoths. What the Austrian thinker of tragic fate, Egon Friedell, saw as a profound crisis of the European soul, our new Cassandras assess merely in terms of the loss of power, domination, and prestige.

Suffice it to mention an amateurish and, in effect, regrettable, albeit enormously popular, book, Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab: Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen (Germany Abolishes Itself: How We Are Putting Our Country at Risk), an attempt to beat the drums of threat to German and European identity undertaken by Thilo Sarrazin, a former German finance ministry official and finance senator of Berlin. 

The most astonishing, not to say incomprehensible, thing is that we live in relatively safe and happy times. Any comparison of our time, even if it happens to be confused and unpredictable, with the epoch of two world wars strikes me as totally misguided, tasteless, and, ultimately, thoughtless. Therefore, the question can be raised as to whether people understand what they say comparing profoundly different things and beating the drums of threat.

The answer is not as easy as it may seem. The fear of modernity is the old news. Every new phenomenon can cause an outbreak of moral panic and overreaction. Yet we can see here something like a tamed or domesticated fear. The point is that fear has long ago become part of popular culture, nurturing our troubled and apocalyptic imagination: earthquakes, tsunamis, all natural disasters, and war crimes ceased being a remote plane of reality. Now they are with us all the time, feeding our sensationalist media and preventing us from a sweet dream that there is, or at least there should be, a remote island somewhere where we could be absolutely safe and happy.

Fear wears various masks. It may speak the language of existential and intimate experience, yet on a closer look it appears that we are in control of large segments of organized fear: think about horror films and horror stories which function as an irreplaceable part of entertainment, along with TV comic shows and stand-up comedians.
We don’t quite fear, yet we fear. I fear, therefore, I am. Another side of that same coin, fear nurtures hatred, and hatred nurtures fear. Fear speaks the language of uncertainty, unsafety, and insecurity, which our epoch provides in large quantities and even in abundance. The proliferation of conspiracy theories and vigorous, albeit simplistic, approaches to the EU reminds us of how difficult, or even unbearable, can be our life in constant doubt and uncertainty.

As Zygmunt Bauman would have it, there was a time when our rationalistic culture used to console people, suggesting that uncertainty is merely a temporary pause before the arrival of a new plausible theory or in-depth explanation. Now we have to learn how to live with a sense of constant uncertainty. What comes to a philosopher or an artist as an inspiration may become a calamity for ordinary people who fear that their lives could be spoiled and wasted.

And the trouble is that here comes a dodgy politician who firmly promises to handle an issue, chasing away all our fears and discontents. Thus, fear has become a political commodity paving the way for the wave of populism and xenophobia in Europe.

Before our eyes, the culture of fear manufactures the politics of fear.      


Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

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