DisInfoWars with Tom Secker- A Philosophy of Fear?

Tom Secker Presents Professor Lars Svendsen

In a culture that in many ways is characterized by social disintegration, fear is something we all share, a unifying perspective on existence. Political fear does not arise in a vacuum, it is created and maintained. This week we explore these ideas with Professor Lars Svendsen, the author of A Philosophy of Fear. We discuss why he wrote the book, where the modern culture and climate of fear comes from, whether philosophy has adequately confronted it, and how a politics of trust could be the antidote to the politics of fear.

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  1. Matthew Raymer says:


    Enjoyed this very much. I’ve bookmarked it to listen to several times as it contains so many good insights.

    As I listened I couldn’t stop thinking about how much of the fear is a consequence of our advances and attempts to adapt to our technological society. Are you familiar with the works of Heidegger, Mumford, Ellul, etc on how “technics” or “technique” impact human society? For better or for worse, I tend to think in that frame of reference.


    • Matthew,

      Glad you enjoyed it, and yes, I am somewhat familiar with those ideas. I get this is partly what I was driving at when I talked about governments being so divorced from the consequences of their actions that they cannot be expected to behave reasonably. Technology gives the illusion of being connected, while simultaneously distancing people. This enhances the fundamental irrationality of the modern politics of fear, I think.


  2. Good points about not being able to define upper limits to what actions any individual or government could do to try to ensure safety. Preoccupation with safety might lead to a more “safe” society, but at what cost? I’d rather run the risk of meeting an untimely demise under what in the United States are miniscule prospects of dying or being injured in a terrorist attack, than suffocating between the breasts of an overprotective nanny police state.

    In addition to “politics” and “philosophy” or fear I’d say we have the ‘economics’ of fear. Tragedy and terror generate the kinds of views that the MSM salivate over. 9/11 was probably the most unprecedented terror porn extravaganza box office success with the news. At the airports: it’s not just good enough to ensure that we take steps to ensure your safety, we make sure to remind you that you should feel scared and vulnerable, so that you can remember how much safer you feel after you walk through the body scanner and put your shoes back on. Oh, and that soda, I guess yeah, I should’ve been scared that this could be used to hide liquid explosives. Too bad I didn’t think of that ahead of time, but I know I can buy an new one at the gate and I’ll enjoy it more because I know that other people around me are also carrying safe beverages not explosives.

    … I used to worry constantly about what would happen to me and my family in the case of an apocalyptic financial meltdown and tyrannical police state takeover, but now with my spring loaded fully automated Crib Defender ™ weapon system and year of tasty backup emergency food, I know that I’ll be ready for whatever the future has in store, sitting back comfortably with my family in our bomb shelter while those neighbors with less foresight who laughed at me in the past bang on the windows pleading for food and shelter, between screams, and sporadic gunfire.

    … After the last attack I was willing to let the government do anything within its power to protect us, starting with a mandatory disarmament of all weapons except for large hunting rifles. What reason could we imagine needing to own weapons for when the local police have a military arsenal at their fingertips?

    Tom, you were right in the previous podcast making the distinction that there is a practical role for a government to play in ensuring certain basic levels of security. Say, in the past, protecting a town from bandits, or having some sort of capacity to respond to emergencies for example. Still, it seems that in most places superficial logic around public safety in the realm of hypothetical responses to “terror” trumps the logic of applied policies that address immediate needs like food insecurity, adequate health care, or protection from corporate banditry and state sponsored violence. For all the tough talk about “not letting the terrorists win”, indeed it seems like Norway is one of the places where society actually walked the walk.

    • Benny,

      For sure, and what you describe is what I would call ‘slow motion disaster capitalism’, which is very much an economics of fear. I have not been through an airport in ages but I’m guessing your description is familiar to a lot of people.

      I absolutely agree that this truly insane obsession with terrorism is seeing more resources and focus being put into pre-emptively protecting us against things that aren’t going to happen, than are put into making sure people have adequate basic healthcare. Which is a pretty terrible signifier of what kind of society we’re living in.

      Yes, it seems Norway has walked the walk on this one. It’s a very nice country, lovely people.

  3. Tom, if you happen to talk with this guy again try seeing if you can figure out something with his audio. Maybe it was a combination of his accent and cadence, but predominantly the weird feedback coming from his side was making me feel like I was being drugged and waterboarded in some sort of strange digital nightmare. I made it through to the end though because I enjoyed the conversation, but I almost stopped because the problems I described were pretty jarring.

  4. visservrouw says:

    Thank you for a very interesting and insightful discussion, Tom and Lars.
    I think it’s a great observation that fear is frequently a maladaptative response in modern society. It is after all evolutionary tailored to answer an immediate physical threat, and so tends to narrow perceptions, limit compassion and inhibit ability to consider the long-range consequences. Hardly useful for solving more complex problems affecting our well being. Worse yet, since violence is other side of the coin of fear, the advocated solutions are more likely to be of violent nature.
    Even more interesting is what makes people more or less trustful of the each other (and how that can be fostered). The OECD statics (http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/soc_glance-2011-en/08/01/g8_co1-01.html?itemId=/content/chapter/soc_glance-2011-26-en&_csp_=7d6a863ad60f09c08a8e2c78701e4faf) show a number of correlations, though it is to trivial to decide which result from casual and which of incidental relationships. My feeling is that societies unified by common worldview/goal score higher in trust. Israel is pretty high on the chart, and while its citizens certainly share a worldview, they are hardly have as uniform a cultural and even genetic background as Norwegians do. Societies that experienced or are experiencing ethnic, religious, class, or even “social” warfare (I mean, feminist rhetoric in some Western countries is downright militant) score lower. The ethnic minorities are afraid majority will deny them their rights, ethnic majorities are afraid minorities will get unfair advantages, poor are afraid rich won’t share, rich are afraid poor will take their stuff, women are afraid men will hurt them, men are afraid they’ll be accused of hurting women, etc. So even though things aren’t going half badly, is it any wonder fear ends up being so pervasive?

  5. Gary Binmore says:

    “Reality is the best antidote to our fears”
    Yes. How to sharpen one’s perception of reality:
    1. Acquire some statistical cognizance
    2. If you listen to politicians (politicians as defined broadly), do so critically.
    3. Never watch or listen to mainstream media except for entertainment purposes.

    To some extent, fighting imaginary enemies – terrorism, climate change etc – is supposed to fill the void left by the abandonment of larger goals. And it isn’t enough. This is one thing the powers that be have completely wrong. Being small-minded themselves, they think everyone else will be content to justify their existence and define themselves through struggles contrived by the oligarchs to concentrate their own power.

    This is where the fear narrative could just collapse – not enough people are really passionate about this stuff. Can a fear narrative work when it only motivates people to go through the motions? But they can’t stop – if you try to control populations through fear you have to keep ramping it up – but then more people will see through it and there’s already enough scepticism about this stuff that increasing it significantly will be a huge risk to the establishment. If they’ve reached the point where they have to cook up tsunami from meteorite strike scenarios they must be getting pretty desperate!

    • wallace gromit says:

      its shocking how no one talks about the economic mechanics of how these things work, how these systems or processes come to be, how they continue to be, and what the economics of it say about the future of these things.

      i’m pretty convinced, by this point, that simply no one gives a crap. economics, numbers, maths, objectivity, rationale… boring things. they make for plain and lifeless arguments compared to pretty much any other subject.

      and to those saying scandinavia is the closest thing to utopia, you must either not have been or have a lot of money, enough that you can afford a lot of ignorance. their justice systems, legal systems, tax systems, law enforcement systems, just off the top of my head, show the state of the region is far from a model for the future.

  6. ed nelson says:

    I got a kik out of the comment made back in the long ago… when ole’ … ”Right Wing Extremist’:William F. Buckley, on TV, said, of Norway… ” Well of course they can be as… [ what ever it was ], because, if you know the lay of the land, of course… Scandinavia is the ‘Westchester’ of Europe”.

  7. ed nelson says:

    Scandinavavia, is a good example of what ”middle class” should be, what is a really good example for the human race, of how it should preserve the ecology, and make good with the folks, and to do a whole lot of things, in the interest of a future, a future… Verses the wholsale destructive forces let loose on the Biosphere by this current monstrous … monstrousity!! To Witt” THe two bit idiot that just recently made a comment that Russia is the biggest threat to US!! Tell you What!… These stupid dipshits in military garb… these nit wits in military garb… are a huge threat to the existence of the human race , and that is your baby…. and the future of the planet… in the hands of… Morons… Religeous Morons…. ! Zealot Morons!! Who are in control of ”he buttons”… and WTF…. Nut jobs in the military commands…

  8. Yes ed nelson..
    So much We could Learn from All of Us..
    Across the Atlantic..
    I Hear You…I Do.
    Living far away…( on a island Bornholm in Denmark ).
    My Hope is That…We can Take control of Our own
    little Locals Powers…So that We can Build up Trust among
    Us All. Where ever We Come From..
    Please ed nelson..Do not forget that A great deal
    of People, came to the USA from Scandinavavia,
    to escape from Hard Times….They did just that.
    In Our Times of Today…I see A US Ambassador Rufus Gifford,
    coming to My homeland in Denmark..Saying this…
    You are not alone.
    Best Regards

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