fear

Witches Then and Now

ExecutionAnnHibbins1

This illustration depicts the execution of Ann Hibbins on Boston Common in 1656, by Frank Thayer Merril, published in 1886. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I have not finished reading Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 (NY: Little, Brown & Co., 2015), but her recent opinion piece in the New York Times, entitled “Anger: An American History,” brought into clear relief the contemporary relevance of 17th century witches.

“Witches” is a chapter in our own Hunt the Devil. We locate it in a genealogy of the demonology of US war culture, followed by Indians, Dictators, and Reds—all of which are implicated in the rhetorical lineage of George W. Bush’s Evildoers.

Fear, as we suggested most recently in the post “Islamophobia,” can overwhelm commonsense and incite us to violence. It is not rhetorically unrelated to anger and hatred. Book II of Aristotle’s treatise on Rhetoric explores the emotional means of persuasion, that is, how emotions such as anger and fear affect our judgment when they are aroused in political discourse. (more…)

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Fear

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Photo of the Sunday, August 22, 2010 Cordoba House protest. (Credit: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons)

Inspector Malcolm Fox—the protagonist of Ian Rankin’s Scottish crime novel, The Impossible Dead (NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2011)—reflects upon the ever-presence of fear, whether in news reports from 1985 or today:

When you’d stopped needing to fear a US-Soviet conflagration or an impending ice age, something else came along in its place. Fear of crime always seemed to outpace the actual statistics. Right now, people were fearing for their jobs and pensions, fearing global warming and dwindling resources. If these problems were ever resolved, new worries would fill the vacuum. (pp. 329-30)

Fear fills the vacuum of resolved problems. Fear engenders problems. Problems are a figment of fear, the chimera of exaggeration—or at least can be. Exaggeration, whether of crime levels or threats to national security, perpetuates the perception of crisis. The status quo remains on the verge of CRITICAL. (more…)