Cultural History of Fear -or- Age of Anxiety in the Global Village

The Psychohistorical Power of Nightmares -or- The Culture of Fear

Many dream interpretations posted at the International Institute for Dream Research website discuss everyday fear, nightmares, and the collective unconscious archetype of the terrible mother, this interpretatiom synthesizes some of the fears, anxieties and stresses found in the dream interpretations section.

As the poet W.H. Auden understood, we live in an "age of anxiety". In this age of anxiety, we can turn to  literature for understanding of these psychological problems. The psychologist Benjamin B. Wolman "Children's Fears" sees fear as; "one of the most important self-preservation mechanisms in humans and animals. It is a most useful warning signal: ‘Watch out, someone or something is going to hurt you. If you think you are strong enough to overcome the threatening person or animal, get ready to fight. If the threat is go great for you, seek cover, run for your life.' Fear provides the necessary motivation for mobilizing one's energies and acting cautiously and prudently." Wolman's book provides both a developmental perspective of fear and anxiety, as well as an A to Z discussion of the variety of types of children's fears.

In adults, these fears can develop into panic attacks, phobias (list), obsessive compulsive disorder and other "neuroticanxiety disorders that exhibit thoughts, and behaviours that are motivated and driven by fear and anxiety. It has been said that today we live in a "culture of fear" that politically creates the "Power of Nightmares"

I would argue however, that the evolutionary fight-flight response that provides the biological foundation for fear and nightmares has been the constant psychological companion of every generation in the human history of dream vision. Human history has been psychologically marked by the emotional contagion of fear and "mass hysteria", look at the "moral panics"  such as the "Inquisition" and "witch hunts". In more modern times Orson Welles radio broadcast "War of the Worlds" ignited mass hysteria. Fears have always psychologically circulated in the Western historical marketplace of ideas found in the oral tradition.

Joanna Bourke "Fear: A Cultural History" discusses the "psychohistory" of fear. Bourke also discusses the nature of nightmares using a number of theories including G. Stanley Hall's "recapitulation theory" of fear. Soren Kierkegaard "The Concept of Anxiety" believed that anxiety, angst and dread all came into existence when humans gained the ontological ability of the freedom of choice. Kierkegaard historically traces this fear to the Biblical mythical story of Adam and his gaining of ontological freedom and knowledge. We could extrapolate, that this proto-human act of "free will" was the archetypal "conscious" beginning of human existential  history and confusion. The psychological gist of the existential problem is the search for the "existential meaning of life".

The human domain of polymorph fear, anxiety and stress is vast, the dreams below provide insight into the psychological outlines of the existential fears in all their vicissitudes.

Mary, 46 student 

I have two recurrent dreams, one in which I keep running and never making it, ie. catch the bus or similar, another dream that I am falling - sometimes off a cliff,  into a hole or similar. What do these two dreams signify? 

Mr Hagen's Response: The Inner Dream Life and Drama of the Middle Class

There are many questions I could ask, however from the information that you have provided, specifically, your age, your income, and background information, an interpretation of your dreams seems more obvious. 

Barbara Ehrenreich "The Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class" provides a guided tour of affluent lifestyle tastes which define the middle class family ego's imagination for security and the dread of poverty. As a popular cultural symbol of the American middle class, the fear of falling provides an economic framework for the behaviours of status seeking, conspicuous consumption and lifestyle (read IIDR dream interpretation "Showing Off in America" which attests to these behaviours) in a class conscious society. The fear of falling becomes a metaphor for the dread of depressions and falling into the underclass.

For Ken Auletta "The Underclass" the poor, those living in poverty, the underclass feels that they are stigmatized (read IIDR dream interpretation "Socialized Medicine") and excluded from the mainstream of society, they are like outsiders, the school drop-outs, juvenile delinquents, ex-cons, ex-addicts, unemployed, long-term welfare recipients can all be seen as the stigmatized core of the underclass. We are told, that the underclass evidently lack life-skills due to the failure of their restricted vision and socialization. They, have always been viewed as the great unwashed also known as "Hoi polloi"

Has anyone thought to look at their dreams to understand, that since the so called underclass were not given opportunities to expand their horizons, they therefore are unable to realize their dreams?




All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.