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Alternative Culture Articles

January 6, 2002

Fear Rules
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 nipple?

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 good start.

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. Reilich

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Royce Carlson