Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats

Research output: Book/ReportBook

35 Scopus citations

Abstract

Be Very Afraid examines the human response to existential threats; once a matter for theology, but now looming before us in multiple forms. Nuclear weapons, pandemics, global warming; each threatens to destroy the planet, or at least to annihilate our species. Freud, the author notes, famously taught that the standard psychological response to an overwhelming danger is denial. In fact, the author writes, the opposite is true: we seek ways of positively meeting the threat, of doing something - anything - even if it is wasteful and time-consuming. The atomic era that began with the bombing of Hiroshima sparked a flurry of activity, ranging from duck-and-cover drills, basement bomb shelters, and marches for a nuclear freeze. All were arguably ineffectual, yet each sprang from an innate desire to take action. It would be one thing if our responses were merely pointless, the book observes, but they can actually be harmful. Both the public and policymakers tend to model reactions to grave threats on how we met previous ones. The response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, echoed the Cold War: citizens went out to buy duct tape, mimicking 1950s-era civil defense measures, and the administration launched two costly conflicts overseas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages304
ISBN (Electronic)9780199777389
ISBN (Print)9780199730872
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 31 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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