Not Afraid to Show Fear
By P.M. Reilich
Recently Zenzibar featured an article on the pitfalls of
irrational fear. (See "Fear
Rules" by Royce Carlson) This is not a new idea;
it goes back at least 140 years. But since the punk movement during the late
70s, fear has been unpopular among people who regard themselves as above their
preceding pacifistic boomer generation because they are brave enough to be so.
To clarify, it is important to understand that it is not necessarily fear
itself that is unpopular with generation X etc., but the outward display of it,
so that others must never discover one's apparent fearfulness, which would
reveal weakness so unfashionable as to deem the person a freak beyond how any
freak, even, should allow themselves to be seen.
Besides obvious relations to Huxley's Sci-Fi novel "Brave New
World," perhaps the most disturbing part of this largely overt bravery
movement is its similarity to what H.G. Wells described as an "orthodox
Darwinism," the late 19th century reactionary movement to the
controversy which Darwin's famous "Origin of Species by Means of
Natural Selection" created between religion and science. Scientists
never asserted that God is dead, but to many within the generation of people
who came of age during this controversy, the subtleness of the argument was
"In all ages there have been skeptics in Christendom. The Emperor
Frederick II was certainly a skeptic; in the eighteenth century Gibbon and
Voltaire were openly anti-Christian, and their writings influenced a number
of scattered readers. But these were exceptional people. Now the whole of
Christendom became, as a whole, skeptical. This new controversy touched
everybody who read a book or heard intelligent conversation. A new
generation of young people grew up, and they
found the defenders of Christianity in an evil temper, fighting their cause
without dignity or fairness. It was the orthodox theology that the new
scientific advances had compromised, but the angry theologians declared it
To the young it seemed as if, indeed, there had been a conflict of science
and religion, and that in that conflict science had won. The immediate
effect of this great dispute upon the ideas and methods of people in the
prosperous and influential classes throughout the Westernized world was very
detrimental indeed. The new biological science was bringing nothing
constructive as yet to replace the old moral stand-bys. A real
There was a real loss of faith after 1859. Towards the close of the
nineteenth century a crude misunderstanding of Darwinism had become the
fundamental mindstuff of great masses of the "educated"
everywhere. Prevalent peoples at the close of the nineteenth century
believed that they prevailed by the virtue of the Struggle for Existence, in
which the strong and cunning get the better of the weak and confiding. And
they believed further that they had to be strong, energetic,
ruthless, "practical," egotistical, because God was dead, and had
always, it seemed, been dead - which was going altogether further than the
new scientific knowledge justified.
They soon got beyond the first crude popular misconception of Darwinism, the
idea that every man is for himself alone. But they stuck at the next level.
Man, they decided, is a social animal like the hunting dog. He is much more
than a dog -- but this they did not see. And just as in a pack it is
necessary to bully and subdue the younger and weaker for the general good,
so it seemed right to them that the big dogs of the human pack should bully
and subdue. Hence a new scorn for the
ideas of democracy that had ruled the earlier nineteenth century, and a
revived admiration for the overbearing and the cruel."
The point is that orthodoxy of any type, even of rebellion or assertion or
bravery, is what causes unnecessary separation between people. What few
people remember is that underlying the 60s "counterculture" was a
liberal philosophy of tolerance above all else. If a male wore his hair long
or exuded effeminate behavior it wasn't supposed to be in defiance of
conservative rednecks, but a statement that such hair length and behavior
should be tolerated. There is a subtle difference between these two social
contentions, and over time the original, less rebellious contention has been
Whenever I walk to the corner of Haight and Asbury streets in San Francisco
I see not citizens who remember the original and correct liberal contention,
but instead an icon dedicated to its replacement: a Gap store. Then I
remember how unnecessary are generation gaps. Unfortunately, I am also
reminded that current sociology/psychology asserts that generation gaps are
a totally natural and necessary occurrence, and I think, what a load of
The same can be said for the assertion that all irrational fear must be
abandoned. For fear is naturally human, and though abuse of it by political
organizations to divide and conquer the populace and its economy, for
example, is an atrocity, I'm still a sucker for an irrationally fearful or
hypersensitive inspired piece of music or poetry, say by Joni Mitchell or
Edgar Allen Poe. If I carry this fear out into the street and it shows
enough to make a nearby gen Xer gag in disgust, then so be it. I don't need
to join that team.
When my young son shows his fear on the surface, or behaves in a manner
otherwise timid or anxious or effeminate, I'm certainly not going to
apprehend and teach him to hide his fear or similarly received behavior.
That's the kind of thing for parents who intend to raise a bully, or bigot.
If, as a result of my commitment to pacifism, my son thus grows up to be
less competitive in the capitalistic world, I believe my parenthood will
have succeeded admirably. Besides, I've enough romantic experience to know
that confidence isn't the only thing that girls dig, as was asserted in that
South Park movie. A potential lover also appreciates vulnerability. Long
live human frailty!
You can contact P.M. Reilich at firstname.lastname@example.org
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