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Life without a safety net

Society of fear
Forfatter: Heinz Bude
Forlag: Polity Press (Storbritannia)
The anxiety has become a private matter and this is dangerous, writes author Heinz Bude in the Society of Fear – an essayistic gem of a sociology book.


It is about the risk society, about changing moods, weathering relationships, but first and foremost about the concept of anxiety, to quote Kierkegaard – a source the author Heinz Bude makes frequent use of. Bude writes within the great tradition, inspired also by other philosophers such as Riesman, Adorno and Heidegger, but stays considerably closer to the ground than the latter. With an early reference to Niklas Luhmann in the book's introduction, he gives anxiety a prominent position in his conceptual universe: "perhaps the only a priori principle in modern society, and of which all members of society are equal". This elevation of the concept of anxiety and the designation of the mood of anxiety to a unique indi- cation of the social state, is reminiscent of Heidegger's approach in the main work Time and time, but hopefully have completely different political implications.

Today's Germans are experiencing status anxiety, fear of losing, fear of inflation and poverty, of exclusion and loss of identity, of terrorism, of deprivation of liberty, environmental disasters and control of "Big Brother". The listing can be made almost endless, but it's not just about setting up lists. The anxiety, as Bude describes it, is a principle, perhaps a category as Kant thought it, that enables and colors experiences. If the parallel to Martin Heidegger is drawn further, one can also introduce a distinction between fear and anxiety (which is not entirely captured by the English translation), where fear is the concrete experience directed at objects within the world of life, while anxiety is the existential principle, the mood that underpins and enables fear.

It's about the risk community, about changing moods, weathering relationships, but first and foremost about the "concept of anxiety."

In the book's introductory chapter, Bude traces the lines back to 1932, to the socialist and folk high school teacher Theodor Geiger, and his social diagnosis in the work The social stratification of the German peoples. Here Geiger, who, by the way, escaped from Nazism to Denmark and became a sociology professor in Aarhus, a composite and shadowy picture of the German state of society just before Hitler's takeover of power. Thus, a recognizable anxiety also emerges: for social declassification, unemployment, degradation of educational value and various forms of disintegration and disintegration.

Forerunner Roosevelt. Another historical reference that is included, notably, is Franklin D. Roosevelt and his slogan-like formulation, served in the very accession speech as president in 1933: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." According to Bude, the then newly inaugurated president takes the pulse of his time, and also assumes the task of helping the American people work through their anxiety. This is an important mission that one should not hand over to Nazis, either before or now. According to Bude, the first and most important task of national politics is to reduce the anxiety of the citizens. By the way, it doesn't seem like Angela Merkel is willing to take on this task, though she probably should, Bude believes. The anxiety in the 2000s has become a private matter, and this is potentially dangerous. For Bude further claims that one can see the entire social welfare state's development in the light of this one: to eliminate the fear of unemployment, disability and the elderly, and to create a safety net for those at risk of falling outside. The welfare state is the foundation of safe citizens, allowing them to freely organize, express their interests, live their lives, and counteract injustice, oppression and control. Anxiety eats the soul and creates the opposite type of condition unless it is kept in check and turned into something positive. Here too we see similarities with Geiger, the inspiration from the Scandinavian model does not stop at the social democracy in the 30s.

The anxiety in the 2000s has become a private matter, and this is potentially dangerous.

But anxiety is not just something negative either. If we, with Kierkegaard, define it as "the actualization of freedom as the possibility of opportunity," we see that the experience of anxiety springs from the fact that everything is open, but that nothing is meaningless. In practice, this openness can be experienced as an abyss of emptiness, or an opportunity for the individual's self-realization. However, this does not mean that this mood is not applied as a permanent threat from the outside. The child's positive anxiety experience is an authentic source of self-expression, but can become crushing and paralyzing if it is associated with specific threats from the environment.

The strength of the messenger. The devil is hiding in the details, and the many painterly phenomenal individual descriptions are also a definite strength for the researcher and intermediary in this book. The control community – with its invisible governance regime and ubiquitous absence – is devoted to one of the chapters. Here is described the anxiety inflicted by a regime "ruled by no one, beyond all goals and frameworks". Bude focuses on the total, open and hidden, ever-recurring information retrieval and application, represented by Google, as an expression of this community and surveillance scandals, with Snowden starring as its ultimate symptom. The anxious discomfort that unsolicited advertising on the web creates turns into the fear of a "Big Brother" who unstoppably sees and records everything the individual engages in.

Bude does not give us many solutions – anxiety does represent the insoluble, indestructible, but in the end it outlines some ways to work and integrate the anxiety: A surprisingly interesting input is his invocation of Bakthin, the philosopher of dialogue and laughter, best known for his lush enthusiasm. of the medieval carnival. In carnivalism, Bude glimpses an attitude and approach, yes, a method that conquers the fear of both hidden secrets, unchallenged power and an opaque world. The medieval laughter exposes the truth of power and oppression, authority and splendor, and is in opposition to lies, flattery and hypocrisy. Through its openness to the natural and cyclical eternal life, combined with the conviction that there is a different future, carnivalism with its life-giving may perhaps serve as an appropriate, but metaphorical, vaccine for scavenging anxiety and disintegration in Berlin, German and European society in 2018.

Sigurd Ohrem
Sigurd Ohrem
Ohrem is a writer for Ny Tid.

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