The Effects of Fear on Culture
By Royce Carlson
Most people are afraid to be different. They are afraid of losing their jobs,
They are afraid of crime, disease, and death, They are afraid of foreigners,
and of people who are different from them. They are afraid of losing what they
have yet will also give up what they have because of fear. Some are even
afraid of their own thoughts. Itís a fear-based world. The effects of
irrational fears on culture are manifold.
For the last few months, religious conservatives have been attacking the
Harry Potter books and movie for supposedly promoting witchcraft. Their
assumption is that witchcraft is satanism - the worship of the evil one - and
that their children will go to hell because of this movie. The books are
fiction. They do not ask anyone to believe any particular thing, yet some
people are afraid of it.
The current uproar over cloning and stem cell research is a rehash of an
old argument. Hundreds of years ago the mainstream religious community was
against the use of the scalpel for medical purposes claiming that it would
violate the sanctity of the human body. They were afraid of retribution by a
vengeful God for violating His handiwork. When surgery began saving the lives
of some who originally opposed it, attitudes changed and surgery became
mainstream. Itís the same thing today. Once new medical research comes up
with cures for the diseases of its opponents, it will become accepted. Itís
funny how a person can be against something only until they need it to save
their own lives. It seems that only a greater fear can force a person to
abandon a lesser fear Ė the fear of the scalpel is supplanted by the fear of
not having the cancerous tumor removed, for example.
When it comes to nudity laws in the U.S., itís about which square inches
of the body cannot be shown in public. Which parts are the scary ones? The
nipples of a woman (but not a man) and the genitals. Oh, and donít forget
the butt crack. Itís illegal too (but not the butt cheeks Ė theyíre o.k.
these days. Why are these parts scary? There is practically no creature less
threatening than a naked human. A common fear is that nudity might invite
people to do illegal things like rape. It is like punishing the potential
victim for the possible crimes of someone else. Or another common idea is that
children should not see naked people. Of course they get to see themselves,
but thatís it until they reach puberty Ė then they get to see naked people
of their own sex. What exactly is dangerous about children seeing an illegal
The political climate regarding recreational drugs is an example of
possible policy changes being paralyzed by fear especially when it comes to
marijuana. Lawmakers are so terrified that they will not even authorize
research on industrial hemp, which has no mind-altering effects. The fear is
that, since hemp looks like marijuana, people will grow marijuana instead and
get high on that instead of on beer. That scares them.
People are inclined to give up a lot when driven by fear. The first thing
that goes is logic and any semblance of objectivity. They are willing to give
up freedom in exchange for protection. They will give up their respect for the
rights of others and go against their deepest beliefs if they are afraid.
In the case of the current terrorism "crisis" governments and
media are using peopleís fears to get them to behave the way they want. They
are using the potential threat of terrorism to limit peopleís freedoms. Whatís
ironic is that the people in power canít help it. They are victims of their
own fears of losing power.
The kind of fear I am talking about is not the kind that is a response to
an immediate danger. If you are cornered by a person brandishing a knife fear
is natural and justified. If you are on the edge of a precipice, healthy fear
tells you to be careful. I am talking about irrational fear that is a result
of our own thoughts.
This kind of fear is a disease. It tends to eat us up, make us small and
suspicious. It is paralyzing. It adversely affects physical health. It is
contagious. People become afraid because those around them are afraid. This
doesnít have to be the case. The Tao te Ching says, "What all men fear,
I too must fear - How barren and pointless a thought!"
It all boils down to the fear of the unknown. What might happen is what
scares us. Why not expect good things instead of fearing the worst? As it
turns out, most of our fears are never realized no matter how much or how
often we dwell on them.
So, how can you tell if a fear is a healthy one or not? If you are
literally hanging off a cliff, you donít need to waste time thinking about
it. Get off the cliff! But, if you have time to think about your fears, then
you also have time to think about other ways of responding. This would be a
Fear is not the only basis for human activity. There are many possibly
responses to any given situation. A fear-based response is only one of them.
Why not explore responses to possible threats based not on fear, but on love?
As a mental exercise, it may be productive to reject the fear response and
explore other possibilities. Fear rules the world now but, if we become less
fear-based in our own lives, things can change and a happier and more peaceful
world will be the result.
To see a an article written in response to this one read
"Not Afraid to Show Fear" by P.M.
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