Rant – The world in Dread

Because of the discussion I had with a friend of mine this afternoon on the state of the world, & because an old friend of mine asked me to comment on something he was writing, again on the state of the world, this little piece of text came to mind.

I’ve read it years ago, and it keeps being in the back of my head, cause it somehow describes the current “state of the world”, at the least the western one, and at least what reaches us from politicians and press. The world is in a state of fear. More specific – in the definition below – in a state of “dread”. The strongest kind of fear. Terror is the wrong word. Terrorist don’t scare us so much by their acts of violence. They scare us, because we dread what might come next…

And dread, as the author points out, is the most potent tool. And imho, not just of storytellers…. (btw. the writer is a scifi author, mostly known for his “Ender” series, yes, the ones about the genocide of an alien race, and his short “horror” stories, which indeed are frikkin scary… because he plays with “dread”.. not horror)

Orson Scott Card – Maps in a Mirror – Introduction: “Which brings us to the most potent tool of storytellers. Fear. And not just fear, but dread.

Dread is the first and the strongest of the three kinds of fear. It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is. The fear that comes when you first realize that your spouse should have been home an hour ago; when you hear a strange sound in the baby’s bedroom; when you realize that a window you are sure you closed is now open, the curtains billowing, and you’re alone in the house.

Terror only comes when you see the thing you’re afraid of. The intruder is coming at you with a knife. The headlights coming toward you are clearly in your lane. The klansmen have emerged from the bushes and one of them is holding a rope. This is when all the muscles of your body, except perhaps the sphincters, tauten and you stand rigid; or you scream; or you run. There is a frenzy to this moment, a climactic power—but it is the power of release, not the power of tension. And bad as it is, it is better than dread in this respect: Now, at least, you know the face of the thing you fear. You know its borders, its dimensions. You know what to expect.

Horror is the weakest of all. After the fearful thing has happened, you see its remainder, its relics. The grisly, hacked-up corpse. Your emotions range from nausea to pity for the victim. And even your pity is tinged with revulsion and disgust; ultimately you reject the scene and deny its humanity; with repetition, horror loses its ability to move you and, to some degree, dehumanizes the victim and therefore dehumanizes you. As the sonderkommandos in the death camps learned, after you move enough naked murdered corpses, it stops making you want to weep or puke. You just do it. They’ve stopped being people to you.