Fear. We live by it. It guides our decisions at every turn. Fear influences what we do, as much as it does what we do not do. Our careers, political affiliation, relationships, sexual preferences, even our zip code, all influenced by fear. Is fear good, is it bad, does it help us or does it hurt us? It can be used as a tool or a weapon. It can fuel our greatest triumph, or sabotage our every step.
Fear, “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” The definition seems silly considering we all know what real fear feels like, and the definition does it no justice. Fear follows you wherever you go. Desperately trying to change the course of your thoughts only to return to that paranoid feeling of impending unknowns. Unknown being the operative word. The worst fears seem to be centered around that which is not known. Simply knowing what is to come allows one to downplay it in their mind if they are strong enough. But the unknown soon morphs into absurd speculation. A fraction of which is likely to happen in reality. Fear is a powerful emotion. Learning to control our fear can make one the King or Queen of their Kingdom. Learning to control the fear of others can make one the President.
According to a 2008 Psychology Today article titled “Are We Born to be Afraid, “A classic study, done many years ago, involved the following. Psychologists had a young infant on a table. Between two tables was a transparent plexiglass platform. Now, the baby could easily crawl across this plexiglass—but almost all the kids refused. That’s because the plexiglass gave the impression that they could fall. They had a natural fear of heights. They also tried to get kittens to cross. They were afraid and they huddled on one side. Then they tried baby ducks. Guess what? The ducks walked across. Not a quack of protest. Why? Because ducks can fly. What’s to be afraid of?”
We are all born with certain natural fears. I believe there are certain things that every person fears throughout their life. Beginning with birth we may be afraid of heights, or loud noises. In western culture, we begin to fear our parents next in preadolescence. The parental structure and fear of consequences mimic the structure of government and other authorities which will be a leading fear, for some, in adulthood. In adolescence, the parental fear begins to decrease because of increased independence. This new found independence does not come without responsibility though. By this time pressure to perform in education, sports, and even against siblings is ever present. Social and financial disparities are becoming more obvious, and the world and its complexities are increasing in pressure. From this point forward the fears dominating one’s life become a fixture.
Adulthood is way better when it comes to fear. I’m lying. It’s not, it is so much worse. If fear in youth was a small fence, then fear in adulthood is a border wall. Unemployment, underemployment, and working jobs we hate, for fear of painful backsliding. Fearing not of our parents, but for our parents, their health, and their safety. Hovering over our children like spy drones attempting to avert impending danger. Even eating organic food, as if we are not breathing in chemicals and being irradiated between every bite. But these have become the natural fears. Fear of falling, a fear from our past. Fear of being left behind, fear of discrimination and racism, sexism and sexual assault, poverty, hunger, and disease. These are the fears of the present, disgusting as they might be. Many of which should have been easily eradicated by now. Finally, the fear of domination through fear. This is the fear of our past and sadly the fear of the future.
Many of the fears that we have will never go away. I mentioned that many fears can provide great motivation. If you are a marathon runner, and you constantly find yourself at the rear of the pack, the fear of your time could cause you to speed up. Maybe you post a really poor time in that race. The fear of having another poor performance motivates you to train harder. Maybe you have a vacation coming up and you don’t want to look fat at the beach. It is the fear that motivates you to go to the gym. When the time comes, you are ready. Fear can absolutely work for us in a big way. It is this same switch inside of us that makes fear helpful, that makes us so easily vulnerable to attack by fear.
Fear does not discriminate. It is our own emotions in concert with fear that invokes a plethora of emotions inside each individual. Aversion is the most common course. There are however some things that are constant, we are all human. Losing one’s life, freedom, property, family connection, autonomy, these are a few of the universals. Anyone in danger of losing these things makes decisions through a different lens. There are hardened gang members who will sing a musical when faced with losing these things. Think Michael Cohen. Strange that this list of universals are exactly the freedoms that our court system goes after. Do these represent institutionalized fears? People are fearful that if they lose their job, within weeks they will lose their property, status, and put great strain on their family. Because living paycheck to paycheck this fear is real. People are fearful that if they vote for the wrong candidate all of the “known unknowns” the candidate so helpfully pointed out will come true. The candidate knows it is fear based for the record. Oh, and yeah we have a two-party system so you have a fifty-fifty shot to get it right? People are fearful that they don’t have a voice, and that their grievances will not be heard. So they have given up. Fear can cause action equally as effectively as it can cause inaction.
“Incorporating into a structured and often highly formalized system.” This is the definition of institutionalized, and what is being done with fear. Look to dominant powers throughout history, one will find fear used as the primary tool. Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Egyptians, I could go on but the underlying theme is the same. Keep a demoralizing cloud of fear hanging over the heads of citizens. Fear acts as a brake for civilization. It slows the rise of prosperity for some, maintains the division between various groups, and fear slows the rise of revolt. Aristocracy always at the wheel, pumping the brakes when their fear spurs them to do so, or when it can be employed to their benefit. What should be noted, none of these civilizations endured. Because fear, though used as a weapon, and a suppressant quite successfully, has never been an effective long-term control strategy.
At present, our society is operating like a runaway train. There are no brakes because the dominant power is fearless. Fearlessness wins the battle, it always has. A warrior is fearless in the face of danger. We are not dealing with warriors, we are dealing with cowards. Cowards who hide behind forcefields of wealth, legislation, and figuratively or literally gated communities. Fear is the driver. In the modern day, little actual violence is employed to induce fear. I say this to make a point. Violence is not an effective way to induce productive fear. Violence begets more violence. You get it how you give it. Live by the sword die by the sword. Besides, fear is most powerful as an unknown. There can be little strategy formulated for that which is unknown. Fear is most powerful when it is invisible. The fear that is being perpetrated against us, however, becomes more clear to see every day.
These are just some of my thoughts to highlight the fact that everyone should have something to fear. Fear can be a great motivator and moral aligner. Those with great power must have something to fear. It is imperative. Without fear to align one’s actions, what else is left? Desire moves in to fill the vacuum. If you have read my previous writing I state that desire knows no bounds. It circumvents moral imperatives with swiftness. I never thought of fear as a protector. But, if those in power have nothing to fear what will insulate us from total domination and eventual annihilation.