Susanna Berti Franceschi is Vice-President of the Angiolo and Maria Teresa Berti National Historical Society. As part of her role, she is also the Director of the scientific committee for historical research and is in charge of organizing conferences on behalf of the Society.
The Archetypes Of Fear
Of all the psychological behaviours and of all the emotions that govern our relationship with external reality, fear is, perhaps, and the most adaptive and «corrective».
It is through fear that we learn to recognise danger and it is on the basis of this learning – a path which is itself not without risk (I might mention the child who, burning himself, acquires a fear of fire) – we develop strategies of prevention in order to avoid danger.
It is due to fear that evolution has favoured humans over other species.
As humans, we relate the emotion of fear first to memory, and then to our own hypothesis of danger. It is in this way that we are able, both as individuals and as a species, to evaluate the risk of a given event.
The most ancient fears can be traced back to the first bipedal hominids. These fears have entered the collective memory and are common to all human beings. They are fears which are acquired at birth and which do not require direct experience.
Let us take a simple example: earthquakes.
All of us, despite having no direct experience of this event, are instinctively afraid of earthquakes. Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychoanalyst and scholar of Transcendentalism and the paranormal, defined these sorts of fear as archetypes.
There are also individual fears, those that are born and develop on the basis of a traumatic experience or painful event. If you are bitten by a dog, you will necessarily be afraid of any dog which tries to approach you.
It is necessary at this point to distinguish fear from phobias. Fear stems from a real event which has caused pain or danger. Phobias (the full distinction is too lengthy to explain here) are also born of imagined events. Simply put, fear is a part of reality, while phobias belong to the realm of the symbolic.
In this brief dissertation on fear we might say, therefore, that there exist both fears as old as man, as well as collective fears relating to more recent events in human history.
One such example, which is today both extremely widespread and a source of collective anxiety, is the fear of the end of the world and of the effect on humanity of nuclear and natural disasters.
Some might argue that as early as the year 1000, humanity was afflicted by a collective madness heralding catastrophic events which, it was assumed, would bring about the end of the known world. I, in fact, consider such prophecies as a precursor of the fear which we experience today. It should also be said that a fear of the world ending with the first millennium originated in what many saw as God’s inevitable punishment of man for his sins and transgressions.
In the wake of this fear there flourished a number of religious movements and mystics, all claiming to be able to redirect the benevolent eye of the Eternal Father back towards to humanity. The fear of the third millennium is more invasive and destructive: it is no longer God who punishes and destroys, but man, through the misuse of science, who will bring about the final catastrophe.
Such a fear is characterised by depression and a sense of inevitability, in which man is the conscious, but equally helpless spectator of his own destruction. These short stories speak precisely of this: the terrifying hypotheses which one famous film defined as «The Day After Tomorrow», the next day, or centuries or millennia later.
But, as the title implies, they also speak of more than just the human condition, something which has and will always remain unchanged throughout man’s collective journey: they tell of love, of memory, of nostalgia, of marginalisation and the sense of being different. For I believe that to truly understand man, one must also know his fears.
Susanna Berti Franceschi
Susanna Berti Franceschi