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The Difference Between Anxiety and Fear


Anxiety and fear are similar feelings that we have of danger, but they are not the same. It is when you come short of information on danger that you are anxious about it, and when you have enough information on it, you are not anxious but just cautious about the fearful danger.

The Scream created by Edvard Munch in 1893 is thought to express existential anxiety.[1]

1. The AIDS panic

Let’s take AIDS for an example. In Japan, since the first patient was found September 1, 1984, the number of AIDS patients has increased and it is now estimated to be about 30,000-50,000. Although the risk of today’s Japanese being infected with AIDS is much higher than that of the 80s, we no longer get into a panic like Japanese in the 80s because we have already known well about the cause and the infection route of AIDS.

Japanese were really anxious about AIDS the second half of the 80s. The AIDS surveillance committee of the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced the first female AIDS patient in Japan January 17, 1987. They reported that she was a 29-year-old single lady in Kobe who had lived with a homosexual foreign sailor until seven years before, and had prostituted herself to many Japanese males since then, and also quoted some sensational rumors as if they had been true. This report spread a national AIDS panic. (In Japan, any prostitution has been illegal and the panic showed most of the Japanese males did not abide by law!)

The rumors turned out to be false later. Anyway, why did they get into panic, just because of no more than one female patient? Surely being infected with AIDS is fearful, but mere approach of the danger does not cause social anxiety. The biggest cause of AIDS panic was lack of information on it.

2. The financial crisis

Financial crisis attacked Japan the second half of the 90s. When Hyogo Bank failed in January 1996, its bad debt proved to be 25 times of the sum published before the bankruptcy. This made the authenticity of self-assessment by the bank that the Ministry of Finance published doubtful and drove public opinion to demand the thorough information disclosure.

The Ministry of Finance was afraid that disclosing the actual condition of bad debt might cause financial crisis but the fact is that it was because the Ministry of Finance concealed information that people got anxious about financial crisis. The same thing is applied to the window-dressed accounts settled by some of Japanese stock companies.

Surely, the bankruptcy of financial institutions or stock companies is fearful for creditors or stockholders, but mere approach of the danger does not cause social anxiety. The biggest cause of the financial panic was lack of information on it.

3. Anxiety as an intermediate state

According to Martin Heidegger, anxiety, as opposed to fear, does not have any distinct object for its dread. Dasein is rather anxious in the face of Being-in-the-world in general, that is to say, it is anxious in the face of Dasein’s own self and the nothingness. [2]

Generally speaking, you must disclose all or no necessary information in order not to make people anxious.

The latter alternative is unrealistic except under a totalitarian dictatorship. In democratic societies, information often leaks somewhere, even if the authorities try to conceal it, and this incomplete rumor circulation heightens the masses to the peak of panic.

We are neither completely ignorant nor completely omniscient. The mode of consciousness, anxiety, indicates we as information systems are middle indeterminate being.

4. References

  1. Edvard Munch, 1893, The Scream, oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 91 x 73 cm, National Gallery of Norway.
  2. Photograph of Martin Heidegger” by Willy Pragher. Licensed under CC-BY-SA.