Fear-based Societies

In Carolyn Nordstrom’s article for Medical Anthropology Quarterly she includes a description of war from a young woman in Mozambique. Movingly, she details the way in which war has fused itself with the blood and tissue of each person it touches. It gives the impression that she, as the others of her country, is in a paradox in which she is completely separate from the war that determines her life, and inextricably linked to it. The war affects her daily life, but it is not about her. She has no control, only fear.

She describes the precariousness of her daily life. Will she be a victim as she collects the water from a nearby source? Will her children be yet more sacrifices of the war? Is it paranoia or alertness that has her hurrying passed the shadows?

War is such a disturbing phenomenon, that to delve into the ways in which it offends would be impossible. There are the popular topics like body counts, acts of torture, after effects (such as those talked about in Hoge et al’s article), but what about the psychological effects on the civilians. Yes, we talk about them in crude terms such as mortality or morbidity, but what of mental morbidity caused from being paralyzed by the atrocities of war? Imagine a society of people who must function in sustainable ways for survival amidst devilish threats. Women in some areas of war-stricken Africa are tortured, raped, or killed. Children are treated similarly or kidnapped and enslaved as child soldiers. I once read an article for another class in which a school full of children was burned down. The survivors were given the choice of being executed or joining the ranks of the army. If they chose life, they were forced to rape members of their community, at times the elderly, so that the children would not be able to return home for fear of retribution.

This is a life in which we from the developed world will never understand. However, it is the grotesque reality for many stricken with political violence. It is also important to note that societies where fear saturates the air and violence permeates daily life, development cannot be possible. How can people flourish and come anywhere near their potential when they must rush from place to place, with elevated heartbeats, just praying to make it home?

Similarly, how are people terrified of preventable diseases expected to remain productive? Mothers all over the world live with fear that their children will not make it passed infancy because of preventable causes. They know that the water in which their children are drinking could very well kill them, but also know, they will die without it. If a child does get sick, a mother may have to decide between feeding the rest of her family and saving the child. There are innumerable risks, fears, and horror stories circulating around the developing areas of the world, and I believe those constant feelings of terror are crippling any possibility of growth.

One thought on “Fear-based Societies

  1. Holly, I agree that fear is cripples growth. A place that is devoid of hope, has no possibility of change. But in many ways the statement “where theres a will theres a way is true.” But fear steals the possibility of change and thus the will to attempt change. Without hope, efforts seems futile and a waste of energy. What is needed in many circumstances is the revival of hope and helping people imagine a different way.

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