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Schimel, J.L. (1977). The Consequences of Predicting Disaster. Contemp. Psychoanal., 13:94-101.

(1977). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 13:94-101

The Consequences of Predicting Disaster

John L. Schimel, M.D.

THE HUMAN IS BORN with very few fears. A catastrophic or shock response occurs when he is in a free fall, has his breath cut off or is exposed to a sudden sharp noise. He will cry when hungry, cold or in pain. He is a long way from panic over crime in the streets, carcinogens in food and in the air we breathe, the threat of unionism, communism, feminism, Zionism, or any other ism, the end of American civilization, the possibility of nuclear warfare, the decline of morality, or the host of other disaster we are promised every day. Erich Fromm once insisted that no sane person could sleep soundly at night because he should be worrying about the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. The journey I wish to trace in this presentation is the one the healthy infant traverses until he becomes Fromm's sane insomniac. Fromm is not alone in being a distinguished and thoughtful authority heavily engaged in admonishing us to worry about impending disaster.

It all begins humbly enough with an infant equipped with a limited (but infinitely expandable) repertory of fears in contact with one or more persons entrusted to preserve him from harm. This all proceeds reasonably well in most instances until the infant becomes ambulatory. Even in the crawling stage, the infant can propel himself swiftly into the proximity of hot radiators, electrical outlets, stairs, the dust behind the sofas, even household poisons in the form of detergents, soap powders and others. In a word, disasters loom on every hand, and the infant must be secured from them.

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