Fear is as familiar as thirst and hunger. Initially, fear was just as critical to humanity’s survival. Faced with ongoing mortal threats, humans were always in a state of fight or flight. But unlike food and water, which are necessities, fear is a state of consciousness. In the modern world, fear is seldom necessary, making the overabundance of fear that now exists an illusion. Anger, anxiety, and depression, to name a few unpleasant mental states can be traced to being fearful. Fear corrupts basic human dignity creating intolerance, bigotry, and arrogance. Also fear moves like water, finding institutions’ weak points and eroding noble causes.
The irrational fear of what his political followers would think is why Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) couldn’t do a single decent, respectable act. He couldn’t walk across the Capital and pay his respects to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first woman to lie in state. Justice Ginsburg not only devoted much of her life to public service; her contributions touched every American. Paying one’s respects is not political. Acknowledging the contributions of the deceased is a moral, decent human act. Trying to project strength McConnell’s fear made him look small and petty.
Not every police officer is dangerous or corrupt. But virtually all adhere to “the blue wall of silence.” Cops and prosecutors are afraid to call out their own for any wrongdoing. They are scared of both the personal consequences and the public’s perception should the truth be discovered. Years of silence about ongoing injustices have now caused complete confidence of crisis in the institution of law enforcement. The fear of protecting their reputation has ultimately cost them their position in society. Ironically, trepidation almost inevitably brings about the consequences of which people were afraid. “Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.”
Realizing the power of fear, other institutions have sought to weaponize the state of being. Organized religions recognized how to manipulate fear early on. Virtually all invented some form of the wrath of God. If Gods were solely benevolent, what would be the need for devotion? But, “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then that person is a piece of [crap], and I’d like to get as many out in the open as possible,” as True Detective’s Rust Cohle aptly observed.
Fear has also been used effectively in political campaigns, and this year is no different. Preying on the fear in his followers, the President is touting law and order to keep the suburbs safe. The protests and current social strife are not about individual groups’ inability to move from the Bronx to Westchester County. The protesters want equal treatment for everyone under the law. They are not anarchists trying to steal suburbanites’ false belief in the illusion of suburbia’s security. People are marching for equal opportunity.
COVID-19, economic collapse, police brutality, racial injustice, fear has now become the thread woven through the fabric of American society. For all the nuclear weapons, right-wing anarchists, sociopath politicians, and religious terrorists, the country’s undoing may ultimately be a delusion. Solving the problem won’t be simple. No one seems interested in facing much less overcoming fear. However, attempting this approach would offer little progress.
Fear is primal, deep-rooted in what science defines as the “old brain,” although just a thought fear is virtually immune to the logic and reason of the “new brain.” Further, thoughts tied to emotion form deep-rooted connections in the brain. Making these memories or perspectives difficult to change. Facing, overcoming, or wishing what scares (and drives you) away will not work. Removing fear is not magic. Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön’s position is instructive. “So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. Usually, we think brave people have no fear. The truth is they are intimate with fear. The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought.” People who oppose or disagree with a position are not the opposition; closed-mindedness is now the enemy.
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