What’s the only thing we have to fear?
Fear is a normal part of a person’s survival instinct but if manipulated that same sense can expand to the detriment of the individual. It is natural to be afraid. It is part of the makeup of most organisms. For any living thing the world is a terrifying place. Deadly viruses, genetic defects, cancer, car accidents, terrorism, tainted water, wild animals, lightning strikes, serial killers, plane crashes, STD’s, cooking accidents, house fires, sports injuries, drowning, slip-and-falls, snipers, and murder are just a tiny fraction of the maladies that anyone can fall victim to on any given day. Nothing is out of the question. There are literally trillions of things that can hurt or kill us, some of which can’t yet even be conceived. If the full weight of these terrors impacted our daily lives we would be left utterly useless. For the most part, though, we carry on.
For most species crippling fear of the unknown is stifled by a limited conscious and intellect. A dog is fairly fearless in the face of the world around them as they cannot as fully grasp the ramifications of tangling with a more powerful force. They can let a more instinctual form of consciousness take over and completely override the fear factor. Some of that instinctual force still remains in people but to a far lesser degree. Humans have been able to conceptualize fear to a far larger extent than any other species. A highly tuned sense of self and the ability to conceptualize and rationalize an infinite amount of possibilities creates fertile grounds for fears to take root which can have serious consequences. These fears can manifest themselves in depression, odd phobias, or altered worldviews that are shaped by certain fears cultivated throughout life. On the other hand though, these fears drive us. They drive us to create, to innovate and conquer the source of these fears, conceivably to lead to a “better”, less fear filled, life. Take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and one can see what we are afraid of: not having access to any of these things.
As the industrialized world has eliminated much of the fears associated with the lower levels of needs pyramid something interesting has happened. The fear that we have been looking to eliminate through cultural and technological means has remained constant (and maybe even grown). It is difficult to substantiate this claim but anecdotally it can be seen everywhere. We are taught by the media to be afraid of everything. News reports claim the food you eat is poisonous, the toys your children play with are toxic, and the people you live and work with are thieves and murderers. It makes sense though, fear is a great way to get people to do things and it is used in almost every aspect of life. The cacophony of advertisers instilling you with the fear that your clothes aren’t good enough, your body is not fit enough and your children aren’t smart enough create an echo chamber of crisis that constantly bombards us. It may be a good way to move product but it fundamentally damages our psyche.
Since I have moved to Australia it has helped me see some things about America that I thought were “normal” that we were really unique to the US. One of these things is the pervasive culture of fear and the obsession with making things “safe”. In American public discourse safety is the opposite of fear and everything must be done, at least in principle, to make things as “safe” as possible. A quick look at a news site and the top articles include stories about national security (terrorists!), football injuries (concussions!), sex (disease! unwanted pregnancy!). The authors spend the first few hundred words explaining why people need to be scared, then the last few hundred explaining how spend the the reader can be safer. However, safety does not exist. There are always “terrorists” who could hurt you, playing sports can potentially impact your health and fucking that chick you met after work during happy hour at Chili’s may get you a rash but in the end those are calculated risks, as is every decision in life. We will never get to 0% danger in anything that we do yet people obsess about all the things that contain a perceived danger element. I am not saying that we should all throw caution to the wind and risk everything, all the time. I would just rather live in a society that accepts the innate dangers of being alive and let people make decisions on what risks are acceptable or not.
Part of being a human is accepting that we are a small insignificant piece of a largely unknowable, dangerous whole. Instead of giving away our rights and privacy for the sake of preventing a handful of deaths from terrorism, completely changing a game that people love to watch and play or becoming celebrate to avoid disease we should embrace the risks inherent in life, take appropriate cautions and embrace life without a fearful outlook. We need to let fear drive us, but not drive us to give up everything in order to attain perceived safety. The risks of a fearful, safety obsessed life are not worth the reward.