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dinsdag 4 september 2007


Recently I’ve read an interview with Frank Furedi, professor sociology at the University of Kent, Canterbury. In the article he talked about his book Culture of Fear. He describes the idea that our culture is being defined more and more in a negative way, or, in his words, “at the beginning of the 21st Century the cultural imagination is no longer being defined by hope but by fear.”[1] He states that “society's difficulty with managing risk is driven by a culture of safety that sees vulnerability as our defining condition. That is why contemporary culture regards the word 'accident' as politically incorrect”, so “one of the key points I make in my book … is that perceptions of risk, ideas about safety and controversies over health, the environment and technology have little to do with science or empirical evidence.”[2] We fear that which we do not know: radiation from cell phones, muslims, ecological disaster, weapons of mass destruction, terrorists, etc.

In this view humans are seen as the scourge of the planet. Everything we touch seems to be destroyed. The very christian thought that we have inherited the sins of the world is being reused. Because la condition humaine seems to be one of pain and anguish (or dukkha according to the buddhists)[3] we need to protect ourselves as much as possible against anything ill that might befall us. Up to a certain point this proposition holds. Because of this idea a car has an airbag and the maintenance of airplanes is checked regularly. A problem only arises when people go too far in their protective measures. E.g. apparently “a growing number of school districts are going so far as to ban the game of tag and are even posting signs that read ‘no running on the playground.’” [4] The advocates of these restrictions say that most of the traditional play equipment is dangerous. Their precious offspring might hurt themselves while using the swing or merry-go-rounds. In my opinion that’s completely ridiculous. Yes, kids run around while playing, and, yes, sometimes they hurt themselves. That’s all part of growing up. You take small risks, you try out the limits of this fantastic new gear that you’ve been given, i.e. your body. When you fall, you can get bruised, that’s life. And then, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, you pick yourself up and get back in the race.[5] “In Salem, an elementary education director says "we don't encourage the game of tag because it encourages fights."”[6] Well, in playground fights you learn how to stand up for yourself. If you don’t learn it then, you will learn it later when the fight’s more serious, only you’ll have less experience.

I’ve been giving examples from American cases, but you can see the same attitude trickling down to Europe as well. Back in my high school days, when I got bad grades my parents would ask me why I didn’t study enough. Nowadays the parents show up at school to complain. A friend of mine, who works in a school, told me there were complaints about the English teacher. Why? His students didn’t understand him because, get this, he spoke English during the English course. Our children obviously need to be pampered. Every time they go out we need to wrap’em up in protective gear, and every time they get the smallest amount of criticism we need to let out our motherly roar.

If we don’t watch out we’ll end up with a generation of pussies, who won’t be able to keep out the hordes of the barbarians when they threaten to invade the borders of the empire.[7] Maybe that last statement goes a bit to far. But, the idea is that if we have to be afraid of everything that might happen to us, we wouldn’t get anything done. In this way, Roosevelt’s adage the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself”[8] becomes eerily true.

[1] Jacobs, H. Het eeuwige heden van de angst. In: Knack, vol. 37, nr. 31
[2] Furedi, F. Epidemic of fear. In: spiked, 15 March 2002, , 14 August 2007
[3] Armstrong, K. The great transformation: the beginning of our religious traditions. New York: Knopf, 2006, p.
[4] Harding, S. Is litigation taking the ‘play’ out of kids’ playgrounds? In: Katu.com2, 20 August 2006,, 16 August 2007
[5] Sinatra, F. That’s life.
[6] Harding, S. Idem

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