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Alternative Culture Articles

March 10, 2002

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 lost.

"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 was religion. 

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 de-moralization ensued.

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 lost.

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 nonsense.

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


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Royce Carlson