What is the point of ‘raising awareness’?

Ashley Frawley writes at Compact on awareness campaigns and their often counter-productive results:

Awareness-raisers never think they are the ones to blame. Instead, they carry on raising awareness, and one can never be too anxiously aware of being anxious. …

The underlying message of such awareness-raising isn’t that one should deal with the issue and become less worried; the message is that anything can happen at any time. The fear is supposed to be ever-present.

What is more, often the subtext is that you aren’t supposed to cope. On the contrary, you are supposed to become ill. It is not only your anxiety that makes you good, but also your willingness to label it as such and to seek out the appropriate support. This, in turn, potentially feeds anxiety. Because you can’t be expected to cope within your own network of friends and family, believing that you can only puts you at greater risk. After surveys found that university students preferred to rely on their informal networks when they had difficulties, professionals chimed in to warn of the potential danger. Recasting a wide range of negative feelings as latent “symptoms” of mental ill-health, they urged students to seek out formal support.

Cultural virtues and pathologies are often intertwined. Sometimes, what is being promoted is precisely that which one pretends to cure. …

The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti’s maxim that “it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” has acquired the air of a truism. Pathology is the logical outcome of a risk society. Or as a student once told me, “it’s like, if there’s nothing wrong with you, there’s something wrong with you.”

The best sorts of public awareness campaign should direct us to action in some way, fostering the common good not only insofar as they highlight some deficit or injustice but also through their articulation of what we must actively do to bring about a better future.

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