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Balance of Terrors – on Günther Anders

“You should not begin your day with the illusion that what surrounds you is a stable world.” – Günther Anders

It has been 70 years since Bert the Turtle instructed U.S. schoolchildren to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear attack. Today, Bert and his survival advice have become something of an amusing artifact of Cold War nuclear paranoia. But Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine, alongside that ratcheting up of nuclear rhetoric, has once again prompted fears about the end of the world, not just as we know it, but full stop. Many people find themselves wondering what they should do — if there is anything to be done — in the event of a nuclear war. The threat of nuclear catastrophe may have seemed less immediate in the years after the Cold War, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, there remains a danger that such weapons might be used.

Some suggest that too much time is already spent darkly ruminating on apocalyptic threats. Yet in the estimation of the nuclear philosopher — or  “Atomphilosoph” — Günther Anders, the problem is not that we spend too much time thinking about armageddon, but that we don’t spend nearly enough. “Don’t be a coward. Have the courage to be afraid.” These words, from his 1957 essay “Commandments in the Atomic Age,” stand in contrast to analyses that highlight the benefits of positive thinking, emphasizing that fear is a wholly legitimate response to a dangerously unstable world. Indeed, fear may be the most legitimate response to such a world.


I wrote about Günther Anders thinking on appropriate fear in the face of an unstable world for Real Life Magazine, you can read the full piece on their website.

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

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This entry was posted on March 24, 2022 by in History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

Ne'er do wells



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