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put the video down, the neighbours! – the new fear in the occident

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Man mistakes porn soundtrack for rape

WAUKESHA, Wis., Feb. 20 (UPI) — A Wisconsin man burst through his neighbor’s door armed with a sword to save what he thought was a rape victim — and found a man watching porn.

Would-be savior James Van Iveren now faces charges of criminal trespass to a dwelling, criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct — all while armed with a dangerous weapon, The Waukesha (Wis.) Freeman reported Tuesday.

The neighbor told police last week Van Iveren kicked in his door and used a sword to back him into a closet, all the while demanding, “Where is she?”

The alleged victim said what his neighbor heard was the soundtrack to a pornographic movie he was enjoying in the privacy of his apartment.

When Van Iveren failed to find any women stashed in the flat, he said the incident was “a mistake” and went home, the newspaper said.

The sword-wielding Samaritan was released on signature bond and ordered back in court March 9.

munch_scream.gifSounds funny, like some contemporary Waukesha Don Quihote obstructed in his chivalry? However civil courage as mentioned here is needed in modern society, it reflects at the same time a breathtaking level of fear in the American society. Does American society contain more anger and fear now in the early 21st century than it did in the 1990s? Have current levels of envy and greed changed in relation to the 1980s? How have the new digital media affected emotional states? What about the visuals arts, film, literature, and music? Do particular media accom-pany particular emotions?

In recent years, philosophers and cultural anthropologists have given increased attention to the emotions and their variability. Scientists too have done the same, making important contributions in areas such as neuroscience. Unfortunately, however, most of the new analysis and research has remained isolated within individuals fields.

The German weekly newsmagazine Focus posed a version of this question to the historian Jean Delumeau, whose book La peur en Occident is regarded as the definitive history of collective fears in Europe from the 14th to the 18th century. Specifically, the editors at Focus asked, did September 11 initiate a new age of fear? “At the very least,” Delumeau responded, “one can say that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 struck a deep nerve of civilization, something that had never been achieved before with a single attack of such simple means. Behind the event itself, however, lies a series of long-term developments. In earlier times, people who lived in the country were fearful, exposed as they were to all sorts of attack. The cities, which possessed a minimum of control and order, appeared to be islands of security. Today the big cities are the most dangerous.”

Delumeau adopts a rational approach. He explains fear in terms of its concrete problems and their historical shifts. But do fears always have to do with real dangers? According to Barry Glassner, our current fears are mostly ill-placed: Why are so many fears in the air, and so many of them unfounded? Why, as crime rates plunged throughout the 1990s, did two-thirds of Americans believe they were soaring? How did it come about that by mid-decade 62 percent of us described ourselves as “truly desperate” about crime – almost twice as many as in the late 1980s, when crime rates were higher? [1]

Anxiety and Fear
It is a widely held belief that anxiety and fear refer to distinct states. Anxiety is a free-floating feeling whose object remains unknown or hard to determine, while fear al-ways has concrete causes. Fear is always fear of something; anxiety can’t be pinned down and in its most extreme form is just angst, a general feeling of dread. Even if this differentiation is not always adhered to in general language usage, it leads us nevertheless to a further question: is it fear that is increasing in the American society, or is it anxiety.

At the beginning of Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno write, “In the most general sense of progressive thought, the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty.” “But,” they continue, “the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.”[2] According to Horkheimer and Adorno, our desire to conquer fear implicates us all the more in our own demise. By trying to remove the causes of fear, we only produce means to new ones just as great as before: nuclear war, climate disasters, health risks due to genetic manipulation, and so on.

But if it is anxiety — rather than fear — that is increasing, then the situation becomes harder to grasp. Indeed, one could adopt a line of argument that runs contrary to that of Horkheimer and Adorno: paradoxically, the less reason we have to be anxious, the more anxious we become. In the past, when the infant morality rate was greater and life expectancy shorter, death was everywhere. To cope in such a world, one required a completely different psychological management of anxiety—a more effective one, perhaps?—from today. Suffering that occurs infrequently hits all the harder; the longer suffering can be postponed, the greater the chance for us to become anxious about its arrival.

But there is another issue as well: anxiety and fear have recently experienced a reha-bilitation of sorts. For a long time, they were considered undesirable, the opposite of courage, and children were frequently admonished not to be “fraidy-cats.” Today, by contrast, certain situations demand that we feel—even avow—fear and anxiety.

Cultures of Fear
Fear certainly has its uses. Most notably, it safeguards our survival. Not for nothing is fear a primal response anchored deep within our nervous system. Beyond that, how-ever, fears are based on conditioning. Are the cultures of fear we experience today—fear of terror, fear of criminal violence, fear of epidemic—justified and real? Or have they been artificially produced for political purposes? Are there differences between national obsessions? Do the Americans fear differently than the Europeans? How do those differences manifest themselves politically?

These questions appear in a different light when compared to other cultures of fear. In La peur en Occident, Jean Delumeau discovers fear of ghosts, fear of the dark, fear of plague, fear of revolt, fear of Satan, fear of foreign people and religions, fear of women, fear of witches, and fear of heretics…

Agent of Fear 1: Religion
Religion is society’s largest producer of fear. It also functions as its most effective man-ager, representing one of the few instances in which an otherwise threatening feeling acquires positive association. The fear we all should possess is “fear of the lord,” an expression in which respect for our heavenly father becomes welded to respect for our biological ones. (The German Ehrfurcht, or reverence, may have a similar origin.)

As well, the sanctions of purgatory and hell count among the most successful imagi-nary places of fear. They even retain their power when examined with the tools of modern science: the 16th-century Dutch physician and occultist Johannes Wier calculates in his De praestigis daemonum (1564) that “there are 7,409,127 demons under the command of 79 princes who answer directly to Luzifer himself.” [3])

At the same time, however, religion tries to allay fear and remove it, promising not only hell but eternal life. “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Ultimately, what religion provides is a source of solace for suffering in this life.

“We are body and goods subject to the devil and to some strangers, to hosts, in the world of which the devil is the prince and the god. The bread we eat, the beverage we drink, the clothes we use, and moreover, the air that we breathe and all that belongs to our life in our flesh is therefore his empire. “[4] This quotation from a religious authority of the Middle Ages is amazingly like the present apocalyptic discourse. At this time, the devil became the word that explained all the unexplained phenomena of the epoch: epilepsy, death, handicaps, natural disasters, etc. The educated transformed this folkloric devil of the countrymen into a scary devil, instituting a demonology. The 11th and 12th centuries will be marked by an increase in diabolic literature.This strong belief in the devil added to the strong religious observance caused many people to establish millenarist or apocalyptic groups. Making the link between a series of unhappy events and the Book of Revelation, between the year 1000 and the millenium of the Bible was an easy conclusion to draw.

Jean Delumeau’s work sets the heights of a theology based on fear between 1348 (date corresponding to the happening of the Black Plague) and 1648 (date of the end of the Wars of Religions). This period corresponds to the time where disastrous events occurred one after the other in Europe: deadly epidemics, many wars including the Hundred Years’ War, the crusades, the Protestant secession, famines, massacres and violence of all kinds. The result of all these repetitive aggressions created a wide spread state of anxiety among the people. The psychological shock of such a large number of aggressions, the powerless feeling added to the incomprehension of the events, pushed the élite to ask a question: Would it be possible that those events were ordered by God who decided to punish his sinful people? This question stimulated fear and anxiety and created a discourse that aimed to identify and to explain those fears and lead to social intervention strategies (Rousseau, p. 85), which were tragic.

These people had to be freed from their fear and a very effective way to exorcise anxiety consists often to name, to identify and to denounce the trigger. The phobics feel better the moment they have affirmed: “I feel bad because…” of the neighbor generally, the stranger. All these mechanisms using a scapegoat have a therapeutic function, a tragic therapeutic.” [5]

The clergy at the time took charge of the identification of those elements and by an objectivation process, made up fears, that Delumeau qualifies as constructed fears. Those attempts of explanation of the phenomena of these consecutive aggressions had a strong theological basis and took a sheer scale without measure.

It is in this way that Jews, witches, women, heretics, the devil, Satan, the Antichrist, etc. were strong images incarnating the constructed fears. Satan was everywhere, the anger of God was everywhere, sin was everywhere but above all, people had to check the most fearsome place: the inside of man’s heart. This continuous state of introspection drove many to neurosis.

Nothing could reassure the believer of the Middle Ages! This dramatization strengthened the clerical power and this disproportion caused society to drift aimlessly, motivated not only by the fear of evil but above all by the fear of God.

The figure of God became one of a terrible punisher, an image created by the terror felt by most of the spiritual consultants of the Catholic Church [6]. This terrible god would choose as ways for revenge the last judgment and the end of the world. Therefore, calamities, natural phenomenas, wars, catastrophes and others became the fruit of the human disobedience to the celestial father. It is the deserved punishment and they are only acts portent of a more tragic end.

They have imagined a god based on the model of angry or revenging man. The anxiety of hell was so strong that the members of the clergy actualized the reality of its conception, exemplified among other ways by the numerous porters of evil burned at the stake. Those fears were transformed slowly in obsessions and a new imagery was spread in the society. The book being a medium reserved to the rich and well-read class, it was images that provided the education. Thus, a panoply of paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows rich in violent and terrifying images have decorated the churches of the time so that the message that the hour of the anger of God has come passed on to the people.

This construction of horror and terror induced by the idea of a last judgment was finally the only element of sense in the lives of people. All behaviors were acted in the preparation of the final Judgment Day. Living leads necessarily to death and death leads necessarily to being judged: hell or paradise!

Agent of Fear 2: Fairy Tales and Myths
Collective fears require a medium to propagate. For many years, that medium was the oral narrative, where paradigmatic fears could crystallize in traditional myths and fairytales. (According to the folklorist Lutz Röhrich, even sagas are, at root, expressions of fear.) Today there is a genre of story, known as the urban legend, in which a story is told from personal experience, though it circulates widely in many variations. One of those stories begins like this: “An acquaintance of a woman I know at work was driv-ing on a lonely country road at night. At some point, he sees a hitchhiker and decides to stop. As the hitchhiker approaches the car, the driver glimpses a pair of brass knuckles in the stranger’s hand. Frightened, he steps on the gas and takes off—but not before hearing a thud against the car. In the next town he reaches, the man contacts the authorities. The police inspect his vehicle and notice that the rear window is broken. When they look into the car they find—to their hor-ror—the severed hand of the hitchhiker, still holding the brass knuckles. [6]

Agent of Fear 3: Media
Of course, a more effective means of propagating collective fears is modern media. Is the great (and, for the most part, unfounded) fear of bird flu conceivable without tele-vision’s incessant and detailed reporting on it? What fears are played on most frequently? Which have the greatest (media) impact? How do representations of fictive fears reinforce those of real ones, and vice versa?

Agent of Fear 4: Film
“Fear,” Alfred Hitchcock said once, “is a feeling people like to have when they are certain of their safety. Of course they tremble, but because they are in familiar surroundings and they realize that their fear is only in their imagination, a feeling of extraordinary happiness creeps up on them. It is the happiness provided by the sweet warmth of the lamp below the shade and the soft recliner in which they sit. For me, the reader is in the same position as the moviegoer.”

The interesting thing is not that fear can be associated with pleasure—something films share with roller coasters and parachuting—but the question as to which fears scary movies and catastrophe films (as well as melodramas) utilize.

Which themes have survived? Which have disappeared? Why does George Cukor’s 1944 Gaslight seem homey and outdated today? Why are certain vampire films from the silent movie era now only humorous?

Agent of Fear 5: Politics
The role played by fear in politics has been frequently demonstrated and widely discussed; it is even thematized by politicians themselves. “Terrorism,” former vice-president of the United States Al Gore writes, “is the ultimate misuse of fear for political ends. Indeed, its specific goal is to distort the political reality of a nation by creating fear in the general population that is hugely disproportionate to the actual dangers that the terrorists are capable of posing.” [9] Fear has always been an instrument of war, whether in intimidating the opponents or in mobilizing one’s people against an enemy. However, in certain situations, such as the phenomenon of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War, fear on both sides has prevented armed conflict. Has the political instrumentalization of fear changes throughout the ages?

Dictators have frequently used fear against their own people. Arbitrary arrests produce a climate of fear; the secret police always come at night. One hears the steps in the stairwell. Where will they stop? Are they coming after me or my neighbor?

Fears induced by the modernity

“I take my Book of Revelation on one hand and the Time Magazine on the other; it is astonishing to see all the correspondences!” [7]

This is the unequivocal reaction of a modern apocalyptic preacher to modernity! Thus, a bit like the clerics of the Middle Ages, apocalyptic believers relate to current events in the world with simplistic explanations. Like them, they summarize the unexplainable in one word, one verse or one prophetic text. Like them, they dwell on the powerless feeling and the total absence of understanding through modern logic, which drives them to live in fear and anxiety. The apocalyptic believer perceives the components of the modernity as outside aggressions. Would his reading of modernity give rise within him to turmoil and panic? Would the apocalyptic believer succumb to the temptation of devilizing modernity?

The too fast rhythm of progress, the technologic advancement, the computer advent, credit cards, third-world famines, nuclear weapons, numerous divorces, environmental problems, the exorbitant sizes of cities, natural disasters, poverty, OMG, cloning ethics, etc. all these agents of modernity make the world very complex and very uncertain. It is precisely of those two characteristics that the believer is the most afraid. The uncertainty of the future of humanity is unbearable and the complexity of the actual world brings him to an instability that he wants to solve.

Here is the hypothesis to examine: secondary dimension of the actual apocalypse : fear, takes root in the firm conviction that the actual world escapes completely to the human control. The apocalyptic believer understands one thing: that there is nothing else to understand from this world if we stay within the intern rules of its organization and its evolution. [8]

Consequently, the apocalyptic believer will create himself, by religion, another society that he will put in parallel to the modern society. It is thus of the complexity of the modernity that the apocalyptic believer is afraid, not of the imminent end that he recognizes in the portent signs (because he knows he will be protected). He is scared of the actual chaos, of confusion, of disorientation and of lack of direction in a world without god. And the Bible, in the simplism of its interpretation, contains all the principles and all the explanations of the modern condition. The following list translates briefly the vision of modernity by apocalyptic believers.


The Beast: Credit Cards, Capitalism, Rock Music, NU, Computers, etc.

The World: National Holidays, Public Education, Sinners, The System, Politic, Globalization, Science, etc.

Babylon, the big prostitute: Catholic Church, United States, Rome, Corruption, Drugs, etc.

Antichrist: Hitler, Satanic Churches, President of USA, the Pope, Rock Bands, Internet, etc.

Armageddon: The Third World War, Terrorism, etc.

Signs of the End: Natural Disasters, Global Warming, Pollution, OMGs, the Lack of Ethics of Science, Wars, etc…
As is easy to be seen, all the spheres of life are corrupted: political, commercial, artistic, scientific and even religious! Instead of attempting to change the world that he finds bad, the apocalyptic believer prefers to abandon this world to itself. He will chose instead to theologize his fears of the future by transforming them into a fear of the last Judgment that he will himself promote.

They willingly stigmatize, as Satan and Antichrist’s manifestations, some elements of the social structure and they have an innate tendency to consider some socio-politic elements as forewarnings of the end of the world. [9]

The apocalyptic preacher lives in a panic connected to a situation on which he has no control. For him, it is the interpretation that he is giving to the apocalyptic literature that is soothing by giving back to him this control. By purifying himself, by leaving this world and by inviting the others to conversion, he has a chance to be part of the Elected group that God has chosen, and consequently, not being part of the masses who are destined to the eternal perdition. The modern events are simply signs of an anger that is to the point to explosion: God’s anger. The emergency alarm has started to ring: the time of the end is imminent!

From the outset, we will establish the actual apocalyptic discourse (of apocalyptic preachers) based on a fundamentalist reading of the prophecies. The answers to humanity’s destiny would be written textually in the Book of Revelation and its interpretation would turn out to be the fruit of a revelation, reserved only to the Chosen of God. The founder or the leader of the group claims often this title. Here is an example extracted from a sermon of the well known apocalyptic preacher David Koresh:

You know that we both know that we want to know when the end is coming. Not just guess. But the key is when? This Book is about : there will be no more time! (…) It happens so we can go there. (Koresh)

It is this fundamentalist reading that brings them the certainty they look forward to, that appease anxiety induced by modernity.

This radical fundamentalism gives an authority to the sacred book : God’s authority. In overshadowing all human actions in this book, fundamentalists believe God himself wrote it! If you don’t know the Scriptures, you don’t know God! (Koresh) For sure, with this viewpoint on the Scriptures, everything written is equally true and nothing is false! The premise of their biblical teaching is defined in a clear way: promises of God on the one hand and what God demands to man on the other hand.

And this ideology, this deep belief possesses one quality: it is very reassuring. God is the strongest and He is the master of history. God has a plan and the End is part of it. Therefore, history becomes the realization of His plan. The program of the End is given in the Book of Revelation and believers only have to follow it. In God’s plan, everything has been taught, it’s all clear now.

To believe that God’s plan exists and that it cannot be affected by the catastrophes of history and human mistakes, it is perhaps to find a guarantee : God’s plan favours the believer and it progresses through history despite all opposition. [10]

The end of the world discourse is thus a call to conversion in order to obtain this final protection. It is motivated by fears facing a situation that seems to get worst, a reality lived in a dramatic way and a very uncertain future of humanity. The apocalyptic discourse contains less an offer for salvation than an offer for a rescue. Conceived totally by a fundamentalist reading of the sacred books, by an emotional and subjective interpretation of modern events, it contributes to deep fears in order to find a certain security within a God that is a lot more powerful than humans.munch_angst.jpg

As Sheila Kunkle writes, Psychoanalysts tell us that psychosis progresses in stages and pre-psychotic confusion evolves into psychosis when certain conditions are in place and the subject find herself on the edge of the all-consuming abyss. Will there be time to carve out a “third realm,” to deal with the alienation and traumas of the cyberspace age; and if not, will subjects be able to find pathways to traverse the fantasies, and get back to familiar physics, wherein egos are constituted, subjectivities exist, and bodies maintain their distance from the real? The gaze of the machinic screen has been compelling us since the beginning of the television age. With the rise of the computer, the screen becomes the extension of the eye; and with the projections of technological advancement into the third virtual dimension, humans await the “final amputation” of their three-dimensional bodies. As with the Borg’s slow unstoppable assimilation of organic matter, the machine slowly, quietly, relentlessly and without consciousness, assimilates the subject. Increasingly, there is the loss of a meta-language to reflect back upon ourselves.

Under the pressure of a continuous war propaganda against real or cunningly invented terrorism, playing on the same nerve of civilization as was hit the terrorism of 9/11, we are losing the perspective of the limits of our place within the symbolic order, and we are assimilating to become, in the words of the eerily repetitive White Zombie techno song, “more human than human.”

As such we may end up directing our last chevaleresque reflexes left at neighbours watching porn.

Does the above mentioned incident still sound funny to you?

1 Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. New York 1999

2 Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming, New York, 1995, p. 3

3 Jean Delumeau, Angst im Abendland, vol. 1 (Reinbek b. Hbg., 1985), 3817

4 « Nous sommes corps et biens assujettis au diable et des étrangers, des hôtes, dans le monde dont le diable est le prince et le dieu. Le pain que nous mangeons, le breuvage que nous buvons, les vêtements dont nous nous servons, bien plus l’air que nous respirons et tout ce qui appartient à notre vie dans la chair est donc son empire. » M. Luther. Oeuvres V : Commentaire de l’épître aux Galates quoted by (Delumeau, ibid.)

5 « L’hypothèse à examiner est la suivante : dimension secondaire de l’apocalyptique actuelle, la peur prend racine dans la ferme conviction que le monde actuel échappe complètement à la maîtrise humaine. L’apocalypticien comprend une chose : qu’il n’y a plus rien à comprendre à ce monde si l’on s’en tient aux seules lois internes de son organisation et de son évolution.» (Boutin, ibid. p.261)

6 Rolf Wilhelm Brednich, Die Spinne in der Yucca-Palme. Sagenhafte Geschichten von heute (Munich, 1990), 31.

7« Je prends mon Apocalypse d’une main et le Time Magazine de l’autre; c’est étonnant comme il y a des correspondances! » Father Régimbald quoted by Boutin, Maurice. 1985, (Coll. Héritage et projet), « L’apocalypticien d’aujourd’hui a-t-il peur? », La peur. Genèses. Structures contemporaines. Avenir. (Acts of the Conference of the Société canadienne de théologie hold in Montreal, October 21st to 23rd,1983), Arthur Mettayer and Jean-Marc Dufort (dir.), Quebec City, Fides, pp. 259-271.pp. 261-262)

8 « Croire qu’un plan de Dieu existe et croire qu’il ne peut pas être atteint par les catastrophes de l’histoire et les erreurs humaines, c’est peut-être trouver une garantie : le plan de Dieu favorise le croyant et il progresse dans l’histoire envers et contre tous. » (Lepage, Yvon. 1987, La Fin est proche? Le discours apocalyptique actuel, Montreal, Fides, 73 p., p. 59)

9 « Ils stigmatent volontiers, comme des manifestations de Satan et de l’Antéchrist, certains éléments de la structure sociale et ils ont une tendance innée à considérer certains événements socio-politiques comme des prodromes de la fin du monde. » (Bergeron, Richard. 1982, Le cortège des fous de Dieu. Un chrétien scrute les nouvelles religions, Montreal, Éditions Pauline, 511 p.1982, p. 221)

10 Al Gore, “The Politics of Fear,” in Social Research 71, vol. 4: (winter 2004), special conference report issue, Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses.


Written by huehueteotl

May 24, 2007 at 9:38 pm

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