John F Waterman
The works of John F Waterman

Blog 09.07.18 September 6, 2018

‘When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.’ -Robert M. Pirsig

I know it’s been a while since I’ve been here, and I apologize for the long absence.

Let’s talk again about fear.

We here in the United States (and Europe, so far as I have seen) are being constantly bombarded with cries of doom and gloom from seemingly every quarter. The dangers abound, among them climate change, immigration, gun crime/gun ownership, radical political and religious groups, racists and bigots of every conceivable stripe, political corruption, corporate profiteering, and the old favorite of general mopery-and-dopery by {insert name of ethnic/religious/ideological group here}. The only defense we are offered by the purveyors of these warnings are to ‘Speak out! Organize! Resist! FIGHT!’ In essence we are being called to polarize.

Please don’t get me wrong. I acknowledge that clear and present dangers to our institutions, society, and even the entire planet exist right now. I just don’t buy that polarizing into two opposing camps is going to solve any of these issues. I offer that instead of–to give a current example–burning our apparel and boycotting for-profit organized sports (however satisfying those things might be) we might want to turn around and ask why the people who tell us these scary or outraging things want us to be scared and outraged. Continually and helplessly afraid; constantly terrified of ‘x’ or ‘y’ or ‘z’, constantly angry because we’re scared.

Fear is one of the primary motivators in human behavior. It is primal, powerful, direct, and universal. On the other hand, it is easy for us to become desensitized to fear, especially abstract fear, reducing its usefulness as a motivator. The fear-mongers know this; thus they often change the details around to suit the current zeitgeist so the fear always seems fresh, impending, looming at the door-step or the next election or the next quarterly statistical report issued by the government. These tactics are well-known, even time-worn, and they work because humans are programmed by millions of years of evolution to respond to these fears by the ‘activation response’. Thousands of philosophers and scientists have commented more cogently and expertly than I am able to here about these responses and the methods used by the unscrupulous to engender them.

I’d rather focus on why the fear-mongers want us to be afraid; to keep us, the body politic, in a permanent state of agonizing terror. However sadistic the fear-mongers are, they aren’t sadists; neither are they keeping us afraid ‘for our own good’. Dire warnings and gloomy predictions and lurid stories drawn from the 6-sigma ends of the probability curve of dark human behavior serve a purpose for the fear-mongers; they are paid well to deliver these quanta of horror to their audiences–us.

We’re being manipulated and adroitly so, although not to satisfy the desires of {insert name of shadowy international conspiracy here}. We’re being exploited by being told that our prized ideology/dogma/goal will be thwarted by the nefarious activities of some other ethnic or ideological group bent on robbing or destroying us; throwing our entire ‘way of life’ and our personal safety into hazard. This is how free societies, especially pluralistic ones, are controlled indirectly without resorting to (at least at first) legislation through our society’s institutions.

So let’s not ask if any of the people we’re being told are our ‘enemies’ are actually trying to throw us down. Y’know, they might be; but the waters have gotten pretty muddy and it’s hard to actually pin down the ‘bad actors’ we’re being told to fear, since the fear-mongers paint ‘them’ in such bold and wide strokes. Instead let’s ask why we’re being continually threatened with danger, doom, and destruction; and further ask ‘Who is saying that we’re threatened–and more importantly, WHY are they saying it?’

Food for thought, and a call to take a step back from the social media feed or the news browser, breathe deeply, and try to work out who is the real ‘enemy’ of our society–the fear-monger.

Keep striving, friends.

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