Numbers > Number 19 > Fear and its role in the social order
Licencia de Creative Commons
ISSN: 1885-365X
DEL RÍO SANZ, Emilio Contact 0000-0002-8421-1600
SÉTULA, Rocío Contact 0000-0002-9246-2418

Fear and its role in the social order

3 de marzo de 2022
14 de marzo de 2022


The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the elementary keys of fear, from the fundamental times of the history of civilization to the meanings it takes on in the first quarter of the 21st century. To this effect, it is essential to know who are the actors that shape this omnipresent concept in society, the stories that make it the protagonist, its scope and manifestations, and place them in the complex framework of the current public sphere.
Within this range of approaches, it will deepen on the key role that fear takes in the political configuration, taking into account the media as the main creators of the climate of public opinion. The role of culture as an inseparable element of the constitutive dimensions of the human being will also be explained.
This research aims to offer a diverse conceptual and bibliographical review to understand the role of fear in the social order. The methodology of preserving the voice of the research authors has been prioritized to faithfully share the precise guidelines that will introduce subsequent approaches.

1. Introduction

The writing of this study finds us in a propitious time to understand closely the situations that we are going to relate in this article; nothing more and nothing less than a pandemic. Covid-19 became the perfect scenario to implicitly use fear as a mechanism of social control. In this sense, the maxim that indicates that the end justifies the means, and also fears, has been exposed.

In this climate where spectacularity reigns, figures find their propitious setting to shine. They have become the stars of the show. These, followed by statistics and all kinds of quantitative tools, have to occupy screens with an ultimate objective that penetrates deeper than informing: they serve to alarm. This is how the editors of this Magazine maintain: «in the era of Big data, of the quantitative, data is the best weapon for the communication of fear» (Comunicación y Hombre Magazine. Francisco de Vitoria University, 2022).

The language of war is another of the tools that responds to creating a climate of hostility. Every word that is pronounced carries with it an intention. There are no coincidences in the fabric of communication.

On the other hand, we find ourselves with the figure of a common enemy: the virus. It would be difficult to question him in the face of the evidence. It happens that, within this «war», different enemies have been emerging in the form of people, habits, geographical places and even the order of convictions. Little by little, there were few safe «places» left, as uncertainty and distrust took over the scene.

It will be difficult to forget the time when inseparable concepts such as embrace and friendship, caress and care, union and hope became dichotomies. Schools were no longer a priority, hospitals did not inspire healing, and the established was no longer an option.

The fear was imminent. The protagonist guilt. The danger was all that was talked about and the consequences the only certain thing. A real scary scene.

In this film there were no faces, neither friends nor enemies. There just weren’t. There were viruses, there were bodies, there were numbers (we have said: many numbers and many more figures), there was news and there were a few heroes. Faceless, with a mask.

The fear of the invisible spread with the force of violence, and with the force of evidence; that violence typical of a catastrophe, of bewilderment and sudden confusion; that evidence that unmasked the lack of pragmatism and vulnerability of our social systems.

It is true that —sooner rather than later— the different key players in the world community realized that this fear of the invisible, so ingrained, empowered them in such a way that they could exercise extraordinary control mechanisms over issues that are hardly questionable in current democratic systems. And, interest through, they did not hesitate to use this «ace» that the deck had shuffled.

The media and political actors, throughout the struggles of history, have exercised their power with fear as an allied tool. It is not a novelty, but an adaptation of circumstances experienced by man since its origins. As different sciences have contributed, fear is understood biologically as a system capable of adapting to function as a survival mechanism, and that responds for defense purposes in situations that require acting quickly and effectively. For its part, historical retrospective itself makes us understand that fear is a causal and consequent element of the social and cultural issues that give life to society.

It is this premise that we will develop throughout different sections, where each of them aims to delve into a key binding aspect of the role of fear in the social order. In this sense, we take the basis that it gives us to explain the concept of fear in its pure state. Then, we continue with the explanation of three edges that nourish the understanding of the object of study. They place fear as a basic emotion, as a founding part of the political order and as a key player in the social construction and cultural experience.

What are we afraid of? This is the question that guides the continuation of the article. In this section, traces emerge that we have internal fears and external fears, the latter typical of culture. Therefore, the next topic to develop is the link between culture and the object of study that summons us.

Continuing in the investigation of essential issues of fear, we find its communication. This occurs in an interconnected and dependent manner with respect to the public sphere and the media, vertices that we will also develop. In the same way, it is necessary to become aware of the particularity of culture —especially mediatized— and of the punctual relationship between fears and the media.

To conclude, we have to reflect on fear and its impact on the way of life in the wide generalized range of coexisting contexts today.

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