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Terror

TERROR.

An apprehension of danger or impending violence, terror is akin to fear in an accentuated or distilled form and is often accompanied by trembling. It underpins many aspects of existence, especially the cut-and-thrust of the evolutionary drive and the predatory nature of the food chain. Lacking the "blood and sawdust" element associated with "horror," it has nevertheless become allied with atrocities and outrages, from the emperors of Rome down to the massacring armies of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and the later purges of dictators such as Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.

The Politics of Oppression

In Europe, terror was employed as a tool by the church and state, often to suppress dissent and maintain the status quo. Campaigns like the Albigensian Crusade, in which the soldiers of Pope Innocent tortured, burned, and butchered the heretical sect of the Cathars, are examples of the extremes to which a religious body was prepared to go in order to maintain its authority, and the same might be said of the witch trials and the Spanish Inquisition. Many philosophers and statesmen have viewed such brutalities in terms of the degeneration of a cause. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701794) considered the "Reign of Terror" of the French Revolution (April 1793 to July 1794) as a crisis of the human spirit: a vast abstract notion of freedom had arisen that annulled all moral and humanitarian considerations. Others saw it as a brutal mob avenging themselves on their enemies. During this period around seventeen thousand people were put to death, and the republican leader Maximilien de Robespierre (17581794) observed "in times of peace the springs of popular government are in virtue, but in times of revolution, they are both in virtue and terror."

Under ruthless regimes, people tend to adopt a docile attitude toward those in authority. It is not uncommon for families, neighbors, and friends to betray each other. Trust and the communal patterns of daily life inevitably sufferduring Stalin's pogroms, for instance, hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned and left to roam the country, living rough, often starving, and many of these eventually became soldiers who were notably brutal and insensitive. In order to pursue his policiesparticularly the collectivization of Soviet agriculture and the removal of all rival left-wing factionsStalin institutionalized terror, creating government mechanisms that were extensions of his will, oiled by bureaucrats and fueled by propaganda. So many thousands were put to death on a daily basis that the appalling became indistinguishable from the ordinary.

From a despot's point of view, the advantage gained from terror tactics is that he has under him a cowed, servile population; the disadvantage is that, having dispatched so many to camps or firing squads, he may start to anticipate revenge from every quarter and extend his field of killing until his situation becomes more isolated and absurd.

The Culture of Terror

But terror need not imply persecution or a life-threatening situation. It has another strand, a religious, aesthetic aspect that implies awe or reverence before a universe whose many mysteriesincluding those of religionhave never been fully grasped. William Wordsworth (17701850), in his poem The Prelude (published 1850), spoke of the "ministry of fear" and evoked the brooding silence of a huge mountain peak hemming him in as he rowed across Esthwaite Lake. The British politician and thinker Edmund Burke (17291797), in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), saw terror as an elevating, thrilling sensation deriving from the "sublime" and accompanying the observation of soaring, stupendous scenery. In the Duino Elegies (1923), the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (18751926) perceived "beauty" as "nothing but the beginning of terror," implying that, in the act of emotional surrender or identification, man lays himself open to a force over which he can exercise little control. Buildings, too, can produce such an effect. There are churches whose massive, solemn architecture, like those of the London architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (c. 16611736), induce a dread concomitant with an all-powerful deity.

Contemporary evangelists emphasize the "love of God," but men like Martin Luther feared God just as much. The latter was literally a "terrible" power capable of visiting plague, famine, and earthquake. During the Middle Ages and the early modern period, numerous "panic" and "God-fearing" cults sprang upfrom the flagellants to the Anabaptiststhat exploited mass credulity, drawing upon the end of the world or "day of judgment" theme and the glorious, terrifying visions of the Book of Revelationa favorite text, significantly, of the deranged, self-appointed messiah David Koresh (19591993), who died amid the blood and flames of his apocalyptic vision at Waco, Texas, taking his followers with him.

During the early Romantic period, the classic terror image The Nightmare (1782) was painted by Henry Fuseli (17411825), showing a young woman sprawled out sleeping and the head of a phantom horse rising above the bed. Perched on the woman's breast is a small hairy incubus. The popularity of such works gives rise to the question: Do people enjoy being terrified? The answer is that, in comfortable surroundings, they may enjoy the vicarious thrill of a mental journey through terrains littered with ruined castles, skulls, vampires, and apparitions: hence the enduring appeal of Gothic novels like The Castle of Otranto, Dracula, Frankenstein, and, more recently, the horror film and works of popular authors like Stephen King. Furthermore, the terrors banished at the climaxes of books and films are reassuring compared with the spectacular diseases and potential nuclear catastrophes filling much contemporary reality. Ghosts and ghouls, for all their menacing antics, hint at a startling extension of existence rather than the terminal facts of modern warfare. The effect of such works is to reassure more than terrify, for usually the fears are objectified and framed in the neutral environment of the page or screen.

Gods of Terror

The black Hindu goddess Kali was depicted with three eyes and four arms, bloated with the blood of her victims; Seth, the dark god of Egypt, as a monster or crocodile; and Satan, the adversary of Jehovah, as a scaly dragon devouring the souls of the dead. The Russians envisaged a figure of legendary dread in the "Pest Maiden," whose billowing skirts unloosed plague and famine.

In ancient Greece, Pan the goat-god was associated with surges of panic and terror, such as a flocks bursting into a stampede or men overcome with fear and trembling in the depths of the forest. Apart from being a musician and flock-keeper, Pan was a god of the hunt. Undoubtedly a primal terror is that of the hunted creature pursued by an avenging pack. The phrase "thrill of the chase" may be counterbalanced by "terror of the quarry." Frightened cries or pleas for clemency may have featured in the early articulation of speech.

NiccolÒ Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli's (14691527) manual of Renaissance statesmanship, The Prince, is a classic treatise on leadership utilizing terror or fear. It urges the ideal prince not to put "the reproach of cruelty" before such overwhelming issues as political unity and that "it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking." While seldom quoting or approving Machiavelliunjustly his name became synonymous with conspiracy and deceitmany subsequent leaders and dictators have taken his strictures to heart.

The Amygdala

Since the 1990s, terror has been localized in tiny pathways between nerve cells in a small, almond-shaped clump of tissue called the amygdala. Joseph LeDouxan authority on the emotional brainobserved, "We have shown that the amygdala is like the hub in the centre of a wheel of fear. If we understand the pathways of fear, it will ultimately lead to better control." Part of the primitive brain, the amygdala seems to have developed early, steering organisms away from poisons and predators. Some researchers associate it with conditions like depression and autism. Specific fears can be "burned" into it and stimulate a trigger reaction or recurrent terror. Through research into the amygdala and neurocircuitry, some hope that terror, man's oldest adversary, will be conquered, provoking the question: Will there be such a thing as a hero in the future?

See also Heresy and Apostasy ; Machiavellism ; Mind ; Terrorism, Middle East ; War .

bibliography

Burke, Edmund. Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Edited by David P. Womersley. New York: Penguin, 1999. Primary source dealing with "terror" as an incarnation of what is sublime in nature.

Carter, Rita. Mapping the Mind. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998. Cogent, popular study of how the brain works, with sections on the amygdala or "fear center."

Cohn, Norman Rufus Colin. The Pursuit of the Millennium. London: Secker and Warburg, 1957. An authoritative look at the "panic cults" and apocalyptic terrors of the Middle Ages and early modern periods.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties. New York: Macmillan, 1968. A gripping account of Stalin's purges.

Fumagalli, Vito. Landscapes of Fear: Perceptions of Nature and the City in the Middle Ages. Translated by Shayne Mitchell. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1994. Enlightening psychogeography of the medieval world.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Translated by Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Treatise on realpolitik in the sixteenth century.

Newman, Paul. A History of Terror. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 2001. Accessible survey of the various manifestations of terror and panic against a historical backdrop.

Schmitt, Jean-Claude. Ghosts of the Middle Ages. Chicago: University Press of Chicago, 1998. Shows how "ghosts" were harnessed to the chariot of religion.

Paul Newman

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Terror

Terror

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Although all living things must die, humans are the only species who are aware of this unfortunate fact. How does this knowledge affect us? Inspired by Ernest Beckers influential book, The Denial of Death (1973), social psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski developed terror management theory to explore the role that awareness of the inevitability of death plays in diverse aspects of human behavior. As of 2006, more than three hundred studies conducted in at least fourteen countries have supported the central ideas of this theory and have shown that awareness of death influences a broad range of behaviors that, on the surface, bear no obvious relation to the problem of human mortality.

Terror management theory suggests that the awareness of death in an animal that wants to live creates the potential for paralyzing terror. Humankind solved the problem of death by using its sophisticated intellectual abilities to give life meaning, value, and permanence, and by so doing, provided a means of managing the potential for terror that awareness of death creates. People manage terror by immersing themselves in a cultural worldview that provides a theory of reality, standards for valued behavior that confer self-esteem, and the promise of literal or symbolic immortality to those who live up to these standards. Literal immortality is provided by the religious aspects of the worldview that promise some form of afterlife; symbolic immortality is attained by contributing to and being part of something that continues long after ones individual death, such as families, nations, or other valued groups. To effectively protect against existential terror, cultural worldviews and self-esteem requires ongoing validation by others. Those who share ones worldview and believe in ones value increase faith in the worldview and self-esteem, whereas those who disagree with ones worldview or ones value undermine this faith. To maintain the anxiety-buffering effectiveness of these structures, people exert great effort to keep their self-esteem and faith in their worldview strong and to ward off any threats to these beliefs that might arise.

Consistent with the theory, research has shown that: (1) bolstering self-esteem or faith in ones worldview makes people less prone to anxiety; (2) reminders of death increase ones striving for self-esteem and meaning, ones structuring of information about oneself and the world, and ones favorable reactions to people and ideas that support ones worldview and unfavorable reactions to people and ideas that threaten it; (3) threats to ones self-esteem or worldview bring thoughts of death closer to consciousness; and (4) increasing self-esteem, faith in ones world-view, or belief in an afterlife reduce the effects of reminders of death on defensive behavior. The effect of death awareness on human behavior is largely unconscious. People use self-esteem and their worldviews to defend against death-related anxiety when thoughts of death are on the fringes of consciousness; conscious thoughts of death are defended in ways more directly related to the problem of death, by denying ones vulnerability to disease or accident and promising to pursue a healthy lifestyle. When death-related thoughts come close to conscious awareness, this signals a potential increase in anxiety, which leads people to cling especially strongly to their worldviews and self-esteem and defend these structures against threat. These defensive reactions occur so rapidly that conscious fear of death is typically averted.

This work suggests that the problem of death lies at the root of the human quest for meaning and self-esteem, and that much human behavior is driven by the protection from existential anxiety that meaning and self-esteem provide. It also suggests that prejudice, hatred, and violence are often rooted in the threat to ones protective shield posed by those with worldviews different from ones own. Support for this view comes from studies showing that reminders of death increase stereotyping, hostility, and aggression toward those with different worldviews, favoritism toward ones group, and prejudice toward those from different cultures, nations, and religions. These processes have been shown to play an important role in international conflict and terrorism. Studies have shown, for example, that reminders of death have led young Iranians, who normally oppose terrorist violence, to increase their support for such tactics, and reminders of death have led young Americans, who normally oppose extreme military action, to support preemptive war and the use of weapons that would kill thousands of innocent civilians as part of the struggle against terrorism. This research shows that fear plays an important role in promoting support for violent solutions to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

This research also suggests that individual psychological problems are often rooted in breakdowns in the protection from core human anxiety that results when ones self-esteem or worldview is undermined. Reminders of death increase the severity of psychological symptoms, such as spider phobias and obsessive hand-washing, among those prone to these problems. People tend to be most happy and well-adjusted when they are able to view themselves as valuable contributors to a meaningful world. Although people have little conscious awareness of its impact, the problem of death exerts an important influence on most of what they do.

SEE ALSO Anxiety; Death and Dying; Self-Esteem

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Becker, Ernest. 1973. The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.

Greenberg, Jeff, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski. 1997. Terror Management Theory of Self-Esteem and Social Behavior: Empirical Assessments and Conceptual Refinements. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 29, ed. Mark P. Zanna, 61139. New York: Academic Press.

Pyszczynski, Tom, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg. 2003. In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and To m Pyszczynski. 1991. A Terror Management Theory of Social Behavior: The Psychological Functions of Self-Esteem and Cultural Worldviews. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 24, ed. Mark P. Zanna, 93159. New York: Academic Press.

Tom Pyszczynski

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terror

ter·ror / ˈterər/ • n. 1. extreme fear: people fled in terror | [in sing.] a terror of darkness. ∎  the use of such fear to intimidate people, esp. for political reasons: weapons of terror. ∎  [in sing.] a person or thing that causes extreme fear: his unyielding scowl became the terror of the Chicago mob. ∎  (the Terror) the period of the French Revolution between mid 1793 and July 1794 when the ruling Jacobin faction, dominated by Robespierre, ruthlessly executed anyone considered a threat to their regime. Also called reign of terror. 2. (also holy terror) inf. a person, esp. a child, who causes trouble or annoyance: placid and obedient in their parents' presence, but holy terrors when left alone. PHRASES: have (or hold) no terrors for someone not frighten or worry someone.

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terror

terror XIV. — OF. terrour (mod. terreur) :- L. terror, -ōr-.
So terrorism, terrorist XVIII. — F. terrorisme, -iste.

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terror

terrorjarrah, para, Tara •abracadabra, Aldabra •Alhambra • Vanbrugh •Cassandra, Sandra •Aphra, Biafra •Niagara, pellagra, Viagra •bhangra, Ingres •Capra • Cleopatra •mantra, tantra, yantra •Basra •Asmara, Bukhara, carbonara, Carrara, cascara, Connemara, Damara, Ferrara, Gemara, Guadalajara, Guevara, Honiara, Lara, marinara, mascara, Nara, Sahara, Samara, samsara, samskara, shikara, Tamara, tiara, Varah, Zara •candelabra, macabre, sabra •Alexandra • Agra • fiacre •Chartres, Montmartre, Sartre, Sinatra, Sumatra •Shastra • Maharashtra • Le Havre •gurdwara •Berra, error, Ferrer, sierra, terror •zebra • ephedra • Porto Alegre •belles-lettres, Petra, raison d'être, tetra •Electra, plectra, spectra •Clytemnestra • extra •chèvre, Sèvres •Ezra

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