Tue. May 28th, 2024

By: Grainne Rhuad

There is a thing keeping everyone’s lungs and lips locked; It is called fear and it’s seeing a great renaissance. –The Dresden Dolls, Sing

Fear, it’s one of most living beings’ great motivators.  It arouses the senses telling us to pay attention, something may be coming, and we may need to act.

There is nothing wrong with fear, base fear in and of itself.  However most living things address whatever is causing them fear.  When the rabbit escapes the fox, it ceases to be afraid.  When it dies, its compatriots do not live in fear of ever leaving the warren.  Fear and its usefulness have come to its culmination and passed.

Human beings however are different.  We like fear, or we seem to.  We gather around campfires and tell stories of Unseelie things like Balor and the Sluagh, we watch movies to elicit fear responses and a great good deal of us get our fear fix from the nightly news, streaming into our homes, our consciousness, our being without even our notice most of the time.

Unlike the rabbit that allows fear to pass, we bathe in it.  We sit about talking about dreadful things, working each other up.  Interestingly enough, more talk occurs about ‘being’ afraid than ‘doing’ anything with those fears.

When we fear things I think that we wish for them … every fear hides a wish.-David Mamet, Edmond

It often seems that we make fear our pastime.  Do we secretly wish for the things we fear to come about?  Would the actuality of our fears be as terrible as we imagine?  Or would they in fact alleviate our suffering?  Is it possible that even with the most terrifying of our fears realized that we would have the relief of never again having that fear?

Some people say yes.  There are countless behavioral interventions for those perpetually in fear that expose them to those very same fears.  Beyond that, in interviews with survivors of war, torture and abuse the people who come out the other side very often live fearless lives; they have made it to the other side of what was terrifying them.

Other people however say no.  There is evidence that people witnessing their fears, as in say a car accident or death of a loved one will fold up into themselves even further, taking that occasion as proof that every doubt they have whether reasonable or unreasonable is going to happen.

Of course the latter is correct.  Everything we fear will happen, sometime to someone.  But, should we let it destabilize us?  The rational amongst us say “no of course not.”

And yet, we destabilize ourselves every day.  Purposefully, by constantly watching, talking about and thinking about everything that is wrong in the world.  By putting such a great amount of energy into the fears of the day, we are to a great extent missing the things that would normally balance out such fears.

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.-Edmund Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful

Is fear in fact a passion?  Sometimes it seems so.  There are a good many people who make it their business to seek out and find things that are fear inducing in order to share them with the world.  You see this on news-like shows.  In comedy, on the internet with your friend postings.  The effect is the same:  “Here is something you should be afraid of.”  Almost never with a suggested solution.  This lack of solution runs counter to the very biological function of fear.  Fear is supposed to kick in to jumpstart our bodies into responding.  But, when we are exposed to fears that are seemingly insurmountable, with no discussion further than, “Yes that is fucking crazy and I am afraid.”  All of the fear is backed up with no action in sight to help us realign ourselves.  This creates in us an exacerbated state of stress.  How on earth can we combat all these things?

What is typically seen are people following up discussions like these with comments like, “Time to throw in the towel.” And, “Time to run away.”  This also instills fear into people.  How on earth are they going to manage that?

This brings us to the next bit.

Fear is the enemy of logic.

Frank Sinatra said it in The Way You Wear Your Hat but he’s not the only one.  When we are reacting in a fear based moment, we are making decisions based on preservation, but not logic.  We are not taking time to think things through and make a real and concerted difference.

The big question is why are we not spending more time dispelling fear?  Why are we not instead empowering each other?

It’s easy to blame all of our fear mongering on recent events like 9/11 and the resultant color coded terror scales we suffered through, which thankfully have been retired for now; as well as the constant ticker tape news updates which seems unlikely to go away.  However, it would be unfair to lay all of this at this particular door.

Since the advent of WWI people in the States and Europe have been afraid.  Initially this fear found outlet in an emerging art source: DADA, which on the surface non-sensical was indeed trying to make sense of the extreme shock and fear dealt out by a new type of war.

Humans being humans however; did not stick with the “let’s do something with our feelings,” route, and instead decided almost across the board to beef up on ammunition and war machines, further illustrating when people are afraid it’s easy to make them more afraid and control them.

We still are seeing the effects of this today.  Our fear caused the most recent war in Iraq. Saddam  Hussein obviously had no nuclear weapons.  There was absolutely no evidence of it, and yet our fear of him wielding it was enough for us to universally put a stamp of approval on an invasion.  We almost did the same in North Korea.  Who knows, we may still do so, we have spy submarines off the coast listening in fear to them right now.

If we were thinking with our logical minds we would wait and work with others.  A prime example is the situation in the West Bank.  Logic dictates that no matter how we feel about the “Holy Land”, people were there before the state of Israel was created and no plan was made for any of them.  Thus, logically we are all to blame for the ugly state of affairs and poor treatment of Palestinians.

But we don’t see it that way, because we are afraid.  Afraid of pissing of Israel whose pockets are helpful to us; afraid of the unrest recombining will cause; afraid of Asiatic dark people; and most of all afraid of admitting the world made a huge kerffufleing mistake.

Fear has many eyes and can see things underground.-Miguel De Cervantes, Don Quixote

The character Don Quixote may have been mad, but he was imbued with the madness of a saint.  He quite succinctly pointed out that our fears very often have us seeing problems that are not there.  This is true of things great and small.  We have very often discussed at Subversify our irrational fear of Russia during the Cold War.  We currently have an irrational fear of Mexico and Mexicans whether they are citizens or not.  We fear drugs; we fear not having drugs at the very same time.  We fear a police state and we fear not being protected.

But, one thing Don Quixote also illustrated is that throwing off that fear, while it may have you tipping at windmills you think are dragons, gives you a liberation that allows you to live happily, fully and without regret and longing.  Isn’t that what we all really want?

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.-Frank Herbert, Dune


By Grainne

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6 thoughts on “Fear”
  1. GAWD, what I’ve learned about fear and maybe never wanted to know! First of all, FANTASTIC job, Grainne!

    For me, fear is the emotion that drives my life these days with my PTSD. I exist trying to remove it from my life; attending therapy each week, learning how to minimize it’s effects, taking prescriptions, holding electric prods as I relive my fear, and working through it. What I’m learning about myself is that I’m a bit more resiliant than I thought I was.

    Fear for me, involves an out of body experience where my mind separates and looks down upon my body as I get myself through the danger…at least when I’m in a severe state of fear from an event. I say it’s like a huge ball, where a series of dots (my mind) that create the ball separate. They wander off in different directions; until the episode is over. That’s when they join back together and I’m past the episode. And when I’m looking down on the event, I’m in a crystal clear stage of fight or flight thinking. I’m confused when the event is over and exhausted and sad.

    This happened several times when I thought I was about to be murdered, and I came to know that feeling as this ice cold, crystalline clarity that saved my life. It’s like all senses are tuned in, my body is numb from any feeling, I’m watching myself get myself out of the event, and I’m on automatic pilot until I return to my natural state. My therapist tells me this happens to many children who suffer from abuse and prisoners of war too.

    I admit that maybe before I left for El Salvador, I was intrigued by my fear. I’ve always been a person who addresses the unknown and traveling satisfies many parts of that. And I did know what we would be dodging when I went there; although I’m sure I didn’t know the severity of it. I’ve thought a great deal about my life there and as sick as this sounds, I find myself bored sometimes without the constant episodic fear I had there. I’ve learned this is normal through therapy, because the mind becomes rewired from that type of danger. I think its the challenge or adrenalin…not sure.

    Not having that fear again? Nah! Loud noises, sudden movement…I freak out. I think if the fear is severe, it implants itself so deeply inside of you that you live with it forever to some extent. Am I fearless too? Yes and no. Things that scare others really don’t frighten me any longer and maybe they should; but things that wouldn’t even frighten a child have me leaping. I saw so many things I shouldn’t have during my stay there that some of the worst monsters here don’t frighten me any longer. That is very unhealthy, because normal human beings have a sense of self care that keeps them safe. I’m not sure I have that any longer.

    I think you make some good points about fear driving us into wars. I know paranoia can create anger…PTSD symptoms tell us that. I do think we have to have some fear though, to keep us from doing the crazy things I’ve done which endangered me. The alternative is denial. But even people like me learn to work around this so it doesn’t consume us.

    Anyway, that’s what fear is for me. And one more thing. Before I left for El Salvador, I couldn’t watch scary movies. It gave me nightmares. Now, I love them. That’s odd to me, too! I think it is desensivation to a point.

  2. What a great article. I think of this topic of fear often. You are so correct in your assessment that we are awash in fear as a society. It is sad that news outlets and advatizers are exploiting our fear reactions to control people (ie ratings, selling products). The more we perpetuate this consumption of fear the more destructive we become to our society and to our selves.

    Jennifer, your description of your experience with fear is so well stated. At times our automatic responses to threats to our being are protective while other times they are immobilizing which can lead to our destruction. I am so glad you are still with us to share and contribute.

    Fear provoking by the media, businesses, governments and the like need to be curtailed. It may be easier to do this by managing our own responses and perceptions of fear. Much like Don Quixote who continued on his travels despite episodes of fear. Human beings were not created to handle prolonged, sustained stress. Just read Sapolsky’s “why zebras don’t get ulcers”. I atribute much of Americas poor health report card to the negative effects of prolonged stress. Which fear is a major contributor of.

  3. Grainne, i think you summed up your article well. Fear is a tool used to control us. As children, we fear punishment for disobedience. This carries over into adulthood as we fear the retaliation of authority figures who can fine us for minor infractions, jail us for non-compliance, fire us from our work place, sue us for not carrying insurance and investigate us for being unfit parents for any abnormal behaviors in our children.

    Many of our fears are so misdirected, we cannot distinguish the difference between fear and caution. The child who gets burned by the stove may never again put his hand on the burner, but that doesn’t mean he fears the stove. It means he’s learned to be cautious about where he puts his hand. Because of this inability to distinguish the difference, we allow preventive laws to take place; a fallacy if there ever was one. You can’t say a person was drinking and driving if the person isn’t behind the wheel, yet in my state, the police can now go into bars and arrest not only those who are too drunk to drive, but can also arrest the server for giving too much to drink. Five hundred people might climb to the top of a mountain safely before one takes a fatal fall, and because of that one fatality, a fence can be put up at the trail head with “no climbing allowed”. The idea is to make sure tragic incidences do not happen again, but this is not going to insure that someone who wants to climb will abandon his mountain climbing efforts or that a person who has been drinking in his home will not suddenly decide to get in his car and drive, thereby causing an accident.

    What we are being fed, as a public kept under control, are irrational fears and an illusion that with enough safety features in place, we can prevent accidents. This type of fear is what consumes and destroys your potential to experience the rich variety of life. If you are thrown from a horse, you don’t suddenly begin fearing horses. You get on your feet and ride again, thus overcoming your fears.

    We fear all the wrong things. We fear the stranger that moves in next door to us with all his odd customs, traditions and view points, but we don’t fear the harm we are doing him by ostracizing him from the community. We fear hunger, but do not fear the chemicals and additives placed in our foods. We fear the development of nuclear arms in other countries, but not in our own.

    We all have our basic, instinctual fears, and these fears are different in context and proportion for everyone; but these are the only fears we should have to face, should have to battle. The rest, fed to us by a control driven society, are artificial fears. They are taught to us. They are not instinctual.

  4. fear allows us to forego responsibility for so much …
    I mean, I am afraid, and fear, Newt and his wife .. the thought of Calista doing push-ups on Ellen terrifies me …. just sayin ……

  5. To be fair, to an extent fear is a rational response to certain physical or socail stimulli – fear of a predator (ferral beast or “civilized” human) initiates the “fight or flight” instinct, fear of a potential disaster (natural or artificial) prompts one to make preparations for such an event, fear of losing power over our lives prompts those among us who aren’t slaves to authority to organize, etc…

    However, there does come a point where fear ceases to be healthy – particularly those forms of fear accompanied by prejudice (as these fears are all too easily manipulated by forces that want attention diverted away from their own deeds). This “fear of the other” actually hinders ones ability to live on his own terms because the concept of the “other” is so open to definition that it may one day be broadened to include the paranoid indivdual himself: rendering him isolated from everyone around him – and thus an easy victim for powers that seek to exploit his misfortune…

  6. Everyone thus far I think gets it. The rational fear response is healthy, helpful for survival.

    It is the irrational fear that is hindering us. And I have to wonder, why do we give ourselves so much of it so often. It’s almost as if we are innoculating ourselves from life with our daily dose of fears. It’s unreasonable and ceases to be helpful to us when we do this.

    Now, there are people who are of the other extreme, absolutely fearless who end up getting hurt because of their lack. The diagnosis for this is “William’s Syndrome” and childeren will go with strangers, people will end up tortured because they truly have no fear. This shows us yes fear in the right dose is healthy.

    I like how Az pointed out the fear of the “other” is the thing that holds us back. Also anymore our own fear of mortality keeps us from truly living. How much of a life do we live if we fear everything and everyone? How are we ultimately contributing? Not much at all.

    And, I think this is what fear mongers are banking on. Deserted streets, metaphorically speaking which they will own because the rest of us are locked inside living vicarious lives due to our fears.

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