Friday, June 22, 2007

What We Fear - and What We Don't

When I attended lectures on American culture in Moscow Linguistic University some 15 years ago I was astonished to hear about one particular trait of this culture: fear of “cezarepapizm”. The term historically is associated only with Byzantine culture, and in all history of Western Europe and Northern America there never was a precedent of political realization of this phenomenon. It never got materialized even in Russia, most close ideological heir of Byzantine tradition. So it belongs only to realm of political mythology. How could it happen that this non-existent threat (especially impossible in context of Anglo-Saxon culture and even more so in US, where separation of state and Church is enshrined in Constitution) became a source of pervasive, obsessive, exaggerated and irrational fear — a textbook description of phobia? If my professor was correct, this phobia amounts to universal neurosis, in Freud’s terminology. The same applies to fear of political repressions. There simply never was a precedent of this kind in American history; even McCarthyism did not produce cases of imprisonment people for their views or propaganda dissemination, only for perjury or espionage. Another mass phobia, also completely unfounded. In Soviet Union, on the other hand, we had a rampant spying scare, millions of innocent were jailed or executed for fabricated accusation of spying, while all borders were impenetrable and all contacts with foreigners strictly forbidden and impossible. American borders are existent only as lines on the map, hundreds of terrorists can trespass them every day, lots of international terror organizations openly boast their goals to commit terrorist acts on American soil (with smuggled nukes, perhaps). It took several weeks to erect Berlin wall (and analogue fortifications everywhere at DDR border). Americans, with vastly much more resources and much more real treat, failed to enforce effective border control for 6 years after 9/11. How it can be explained in terms of mental health that collectively people tend to fear most the least probable dangers and eagerly deny the most obvious ones? John Derbyshire’s Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence only postulates this phenomenon, but does not explain it.

1 comment:

Cap'n Billy said...

Sergey, a small correction. Strictly speaking, separation of church and state is not exactly enshrined in the constitution. The first amendment states,
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." That is the only place religion is mentioned in the constitution, except for Article VI, section 3, which states that: "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The term, "separation of church and state" is mentioned in some correspondence between some of the founders, which is where that term came from. Just thought you'd like to know.