Fear lies at the base of all misused emotion.
I don’t mean visceral fear. We’re probably “hard-wired” for that and other base emotions. Emotions that rise from deep in our physical being are neither good nor bad. They just are. If you surprise a baby, the child experiences a visceral fear reaction. Visceral fear helped us survive in times when dangers that could maim or kill us were everywhere.
In this topic, I am concerned about the fear we create not in our bodies but our minds. I am referring to the thoughts that generate visceral fear when it has no immediate benefit. This is, by far, the most serious and important topic I have written to date. The topic is complex, controversial, and will be difficult to express clearly and concisely.
Xenophobia is defined as the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. As stated above, any fear that is not the result of a clear, present, … and immediate … threat is unreasoned. This section considers general fear of the other.
From the perspective of each of us, we are born alone … because everything is us. (At a much deeper level, that perception may be literally true, but that’s a subject for a later time.) In a very short time … a few minutes to a few days …, we notice “the not-self” … “the other”. Initially, the other is a care-giver. We seek rather than fear this other. We continue to encounter others … both animate and inanimate. (That distinction comes later.) We and these generally benevolent others become “the tribe”.
Our tribe is comfortable. We share customs and values. We take care of each other. BUT, sooner or later, we encounter someone (or something) that is not of our tribe. We have contacted “the other”. What do we do? What is best for us and ours?
When resources were in short supply, what was best for the tribe was to eliminate him … drive him away or worse. If the other was another tribe, war was often the result. This example of unreasoned fear goes something like this:
- It’s hard to get food and protect ourselves.
- If we let these others have some of the food, there may not be enough for us.
- I’m afraid we won’t have enough for us.
- We must drive them away.
The perceived scarcity may have been true. Alternatively, the two tribes working together may have produced more than enough for everyone … and, mixing our cultures could have enriched us all. Fear doesn’t allow alternatives. It knows only flight or fight. The scarcity continues. Fortunately, reason has beaten fear often enough that we’ve managed to eliminate a lot of the scarcity. Were we to choose to do so, we could feed the world. In a world of near instantaneous communication and rapid, planetary transportation, that “big blue marble” shown in pictures taken from space is where the tribe lives. All of us, everywhere are the tribe. It’s time to stop being afraid of “the other”. He doesn’t exist.
Litany Against Fear
In the 1966 Peanuts Halloween Special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, Linus says, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” In the context of a discussion about unreasoned fear and its ill effects, I have little to say about the Great Pumpkin … but, a great deal to say about religion and politics. I am mulling over how best to present my thoughts.
In the meantime, I’d like to share “The Litany Against Fear” that Frank Herbert created for the Dune books and stories. You may find it useful the next time you find yourself in the grip of unreasoned fear.
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.
The Litany makes a good point or, at least, implies it. The reason “Where the fear has gone there will be nothing” is because the unreasoned fear was never there in the first place. It was only a phantom of the mind.
It’s been awhile since I’ve updated this or any other topic. I apologize to my readers. The end of the year can be busy. I haven’t been totally idle in regards to this topic. I’ve been doing some necessary research for the section on …
Merriam-Webster ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/ ) defines religion as:
- The belief in a god or in a group of gods
- An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods
- An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
To me, the last bullet covers any strongly held belief. Since one cannot prove whether God does or does not exist, a strong belief either way must be a matter of faith. (Agnostics may not have a “religion”, but both theists and atheists do.)
Imagine, if you will, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad sitting around a campfire discussing what The One wants for and of the people. Moses points to the need adherence to the Law of the Prophets. Jesus speaks of Compassion for Each Other. Muhammad emphasizes complete Devotion to The One. Around and around they go … generally agreeing on each point, but with each questioning the focus of the others. Finally, Abraham, arguably the Patriarch of all three Religions, joins them and asks, “Can any of you explain to me what part of ‘You shall not kill’ the people don’t understand?”
Whatever you believe … even if you aren’t sure what it is …, it’s hard to conceive of discord and hatred serving any practical purpose. Discord and hatred in the name of religion is an abomination … a rejection of The Oneness of all creation and a denunciation of our shared humanity. Terrorism and Retaliation have as much to do with Religion as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials. Crusades and Jihads are not about Religion. They’re about Politics.
Max Weber called Politics “the art of compromise”. Otto von Bismarck called Politics “the art of the possible”. As of today, January 7, 2015, and using either of those definitions, the Federal Government of The United States of America has been free of politics for most of this century. In a government like ours, the political result of unreasoning fear is usually immobility. In our world, the political result of unreasoning fear is all too often death and destruction.
Too often politics manifests as an attempt to impose one person’s will on another. When persuasion and non-physical pressure fails, the interaction devolves to physical conflict. What should be a give and take where all parties give a little and gain a little, ends with each party more deeply entrenched … sometimes literally. Too often politicians resort to feeding unreasoning fear. Why?
Most of the history of politics was based on the distribution of limited resources. When there wasn’t “enough to go around”, political power was, at least in part, a matter of survival. Is this still true? The world’s resources are finite and, therefore, limited, but are those resources still so limited that there isn’t “enough to go around”?
When examining this question, we need to first eliminate some uses of resources that would be absolutely counter-productive if our resources were adequate:
- War, whether between nations, cultures, or ideals, is counter-productive because it consumes resources that could be used to better address the sources of conflict that War is supposed to be addressing. War wastes physical resources. War wastes research that might be aimed elsewhere. War wastes lives that might have contributed to the common good.
- Stagnation is counter-productive because it cannot sustained indefinitely. Change will occur whether we want it or not. So far, we have found no way to reverse entropy.
- Change for its own sake is counter-productive because, while not destructive like War, it’s usually not constructive. All too often, change for the sake of change is avoidance behavior.
Differing ideas can coexist; differing public policy cannot. The purpose of politics is developing public policy that allows and encourages differing ideas. To quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek, “The joy of creation is in its infinite diversity and in the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.”
It’s time to stop being afraid. It’s time to differentiate between the visceral reaction of fear that protects us and the pseudo-fear that’s based in ignorance and/or fuzzy thinking. The tribe includes more than 7 billion of us now. It’s time to stop being afraid of the non-existent “others” so that we can devote our energies to growing as a world and to taking care of each other.