Awareness has come to be considered a self-evident good. News outlets carry laudatory stories of local citizens and groups engaging in attention-grabbing feats to “raise awareness” of an illness, an issue, a threat. No sooner do events hit the headlines than social-media profiles alight with filters and flags demonstrating awareness of, and concern for, whatever the Current Thing may be.
Every year, I sift through student research proposals justified on the grounds that they will “raise awareness” of some hitherto obscure peril. No risk is too small for awareness-raising, no fastidious “awareness-raiser” should go without applause. Yet besides “aware,” we might use other words to describe the outlook these activities demand: vigilance, fear, anxiety.
Gradually, the boundaries between “normal” and “pathological” anxiety have become blurred, and illness categories have crept deeper into the ordinary vicissitudes of everyday life. But it isn’t just that the boundaries between normal and abnormal have been obscured—a permanent state of anxiety is itself positioned as a normal and even desirable attribute of the good citizen. In other words, pathological anxiety is the normal response to a world characterized by myriad and proliferating risks.