By BBC World Service
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Additional resources for A Guide To Improving Your Spoken English
Landscapes of Fear 18 In the presence of parental figures, children are and feel secure. Alone, they feel vulnerable. The world seems a dangerous place, full of unaccountable noises and movements. Yet the shocks received in waking hours do not automatically produce nightmares in sleep. Bad dreams have complex sources. The physical threat usually needs to be complemented by one of a moral kind: the victim must feel that not only his body but his moral universe is in danger of collapse. A child, let us say, is chased by a bull across the field but comes to no harm.
Which societies are carefree and harmonious? Our answer to this question depends not only on the amount of ethnographic information available but also on how we choose to interpret it. Values and unacknowledged ideologies inescapably stand in the path of a wholly objective judgment. In the eighteenth century, for example, European savants reacted to the blight and tyranny of their own cultures by claiming to see Edenic and Utopian societies on the islands of the South Pacific. In the nineteenth century, in reaction to the horrors of the industrial revolution, life in the traditional village and in the countryside was glamorized.
Society as a whole dreads the capricious will of the gods, natural calamities, wars, and the collapse of social order; rulers fear dissension and rebellion; the ruled fear punishment and the arbitrary powers of authority. Although all societies know fear, its prevalence varies strikingly from one to another: some seem remarkably free of fear, others appear to live under its aegis. Which societies are carefree and harmonious? Our answer to this question depends not only on the amount of ethnographic information available but also on how we choose to interpret it.