Modernity’s great promise – the freedom from fear, now lies in ruins. One can argue that this vision was always compromised – modernity (especially in the form that emerged in the West, under Capitalism) always hid its own fears, and hid from its own fears – the fear of epidemics, of urban panic, of the homeless multitude and of criminal activity. This led to a drive for transparency: for separating the civic from the criminal, the civilised and the barbaric peoples, the human from the non human, life from the machine. With the advent of the mass slaughters of the 20th century, where more died than ever in recorded human history, this promise lay shattered. Today, the drive for transparency has been rendered doubly difficult, with new mobile populations, new networks, new previously unimagined terrors. Sovereignty seems an antiquated slogan of the past, and in the wake of the financial shocks of 2008, there seems to be some substance in the contention that Western capitalism has entered a phase of possibly long term decline.

Today’s opacity brings with it a new sense of enduring fear. Not necessarily the terror of sharp and sudden shocks alone, but of the slow mutation of our lives and our times into mine-fields of uncertainty – personal, social and political – that we try and side-step blindfolded.

This gingerly navigation across surfaces that might slowly erode to suddenly give way under our feet marks almost every aspect of our lives. Our world has become a nervous system. We do not trust the weather, the air, the water we drink, the food we eat, the blood that courses through us. We even have misgivings about the experts who reassure us on prime-time television about the trustworthiness of the value of our money or the colour of our dreams. Everything, from the small talk that lubricates sociality to the small print that pads contracts, comes laden with disclaimers. We are always, everywhere, from bedrooms to classrooms to laboratories, offices, fields and the street, taking cover…

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