the Culture of Fear, and the Fate of American Society
Millions around the world are fretting about global warming or the next SARS-based pandemic, participating in what historian and author Jeffery L. Irvin Jr. calls "the culture of fear." Dr. Irvin describes this experience as "the persistent but nebulous conviction that 'something wicked this way comes'," and he contends it is not good for us—evidenced by the increasing number of "doomsday preppers" who now dot the rural landscapes of America.
Dr. Irvin argues in his new book, This Is the End: The Coming Apocalypse, the Culture of Fear, and the Fate of American Society, that the "culture of fear" is a continuation of Western apocalyptic thinking rooted in Christian prophetic traditions. Apocalyptic thinking and the culture of fear, he says, are "two sides of the same coin, minted by fear of that inevitable biological end that awaits us all."
If the story ended there things would be considerably less problematic but, as Dr. Irvin shows in his book, the apocalyptic tradition and the culture of fear have intersected with modern politics in such a way that it makes any moderate foreign policy, especially with regard to the state of Israel, nearly impossible. This foreign policy problem is rooted in the generally-held American conviction that the United States should play a special role in exporting democracy and free-market capitalism to other countries, regardless of the socio-cultural challenges of such an endeavor.
This problem does not stop at the border, though, because the loud, organized voice of religious "conservatives" makes it nearly impossible to discuss any moderate government policies aimed at establishing greater social and economic justice in American society. Instead, these religious "conservatives" claim that only traditional morality, based on the revelatory dictates of the Old and New Testaments, can "redeem" the nation.
Dr. Irvin believes this kind of thinking leads logically to a quasi-theocracy with all its attendant ills, not the moderate secular democracy the nation needs. This quasi-theocratic sentiment makes the culture of fear more palpable because it makes social justice seem impossible. That is why, he believes, it must be rejected and replaced by a new public dialogue about commonly shared values, a public dialogue rooted in reason, common sense, and a proper appreciation for the role of science and technology in modern life. The only real peril to mankind, says Dr. Irvin, is not having this dialogue.
This Is the End is now available in print at Amazon and other retailers. It is exclusively available as a digital book on Kindle.
Dr. Jeffery L. Irvin Jr. has a Ph.D. in early modern European history and has taught around the world. His area of interest is the historical and cultural effects of religion, philosophy, and science on human societies.