"Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared": Trauma-Anxiety-Resilience

By Neocleous, Mark | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, August 2012 | Go to article overview
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"Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared": Trauma-Anxiety-Resilience


Neocleous, Mark, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


Abstract

Rather than concerning ourselves with "governing trauma" we should instead be concerned with how trauma has come to govern us. Trauma talk now comes naturally, and the article explores what all this trauma talk might be doing, ideologically and politically, especially in the context of the relationship between security and anxiety. The management of trauma and anxiety has become a way of mediating the demands of an endless security war: a war of security, a war for security, a war through security. The article therefore seeks to understand the concept of trauma and the proliferation of discourses of anxiety as ideological mechanisms deployed for the security crisis of endless war; deployed, that is, as a training in resilience. Trauma is less an issue of memory or the past and more a question of building resilience for the future. The language of trauma and anxiety, and the training in resilience that is associated with these terms, weds us to a deeply conservative mode of thinking.

Keywords

age of anxiety, resilience, trauma, security politics, security wars

Introduction

The idea of trauma is now deeply engrained in our political, cultural, and intellectual universe. What in the seventeenth century was a surgeon's term to describe a physical wound, transformed in the nineteenth century to include psychic ailments comparable to shock, morphed into "shell shock" and "nervous trauma" by the end of World War I (WWI) and from there eventually became a psychiatric category now used to describe experience of war, genocide, and catastrophe. The history of the category could be described as moving from the idea of physical damage to the mental health system and on to the social management of major disasters. (1) This is most obviously true in the discourse surrounding war and conflict--at some point in the future, note the editors of one collection of essays on the trauma of war, historians looking back at the wars of the 1980s, 1990s, and early twentieth century will notice "trauma projects" appearing alongside food, health, and shelter interventions. (2) Yet the historians will also see a highly traumatized society in general, as trauma has become the discourse through which not only catastrophic events are articulated, but through which virtually all sufferings are expressed: "That was really traumatic!" is now thought to be an appropriate response to any event that would once have been described as "rather unpleasant" or "quite difficult."

It is this everydayness, or naturalness, of trauma talk that I want to engage here. When categories and concepts take on an increasing appearance of being the natural categories through which we are encouraged to think, critical theory needs to be on the alert. Such is the case with trauma. My main purpose is to explore what all this trauma talk might be doing, ideologically and politically.

Such a task places us on the terrain of the relationship between security and anxiety. A glance at any security text, from the most mundane government pronouncement to the most sophisticated literature within academic "security studies," reveals that through the politics of security runs a political imagination of fear and anxiety. I want to first explore this relation before connecting it with the question of trauma. In so doing I suggest that the management of trauma and anxiety has become a way of mediating the demands of an endless security war: a war of security, a war for security, a war through security; a war whose permanence and universality has been established to match the permanence and universality of our supposed desire for security. The article therefore has nothing to say about "governing traumatic events." Rather, it seeks to understand the emergence of a hypertrophied concept of trauma and the proliferation of discourses of anxiety as ideological mechanisms deployed for the security crisis of endless war; deployed, I will argue, as a training in resilience.

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