9.06.2006

The present culture of fear

Update: Arianna blogs her experiences that night, particularly citing Max Cleland as a hero.


When you sow the seeds of fear, then the result is likely to be a country made supine and weak. We should count up the number of stories such as this one in which we have now sunk so far to our knees that we react irrationally to a bottle of water:

Air passengers from Charlotte to Little Rock, Arkansas, had to hurry off their plane Friday after someone found a suspicious liquid on board.

The flight landed at Little Rock as scheduled Friday afternoon. But about seven miles before it landed, a crew member reported two passengers with two bottles of liquid. Police, firefighters and the bomb squad were called in, but the liquid turned out to be water.

On Friday I was feeling well enough to walk up to our local highly regarded women's college, where Arianna Huffington was giving a talk about her new book On Becoming Fearless. It was very nice to be able to walk to such a cultural event and made me feel quite proud of my neighborhood. I don't live in a big city such as New York, Chicago or LA. Huffington is a good speaker, she had a positive message, and she spoke without pretensions. Her message was not that we can get rid of fear, but rather that fearlessness is the mastery of fear. At the start of her talk she cited the example of senator Max Cleland, and then surprise! Out he came and gave a short extemporare introduction for her.

When you live by fear, everything is a risk, and you feel the need to eliminate the risk. The alternative is to accept that life is indeed risky and not to let it run your life. Being fearless is an acquired skill (she cited the fact that she was at dinner last week and her daughter was at the beach with a friend and was supposed to call her. When she didn't she called her daughter's cell phone, her daughter's friend's cellphone and her daughter's friend's mother's cellphone--all without result--before realising that she was being driven by fear. Of course, her daughter soon called her).

Just as fear can be reduced, so it can be increased (she didn't say this, in fact her talk was explicitly non-political, but I think it follows both from what she was saying and from common sense). One powerful way to increase fear is to characterise certain things as dangerous. If those things are common (types of humans, say Muslims, or types of objects, say liquids) then it is likely that not only will fear be increased when those types or categories are encountered, but we will also tend to see and notice those categories of things more frequently, again, increasing fear.

These specific fears can be supplemented by authorities by non-specific and just general background fears, the causes of which we are not informed about, but asked to take on faith. the color-coding system is a good example of this, as is the output of local and national news programs purporting to examine fear, but in fact just providing more reminders of it.

What are some of the tricks for reducing your feelings of fear? One surprise: Huffington says she always makes sure she gets enough sleep. Huffington also said that you can gain strength from past denials of fear, once you do it (for example, in her case leaving her lover of seven years, the prominant British critic Bernard Levin) and coming to the USA. She also gave tghe example of writing, where you are your own worst critic and reconsider each and every sentence that you write. She finally adopted a technique where she would write a sentence, and if her internal fear-critic judged it badly, simply wrote a red question mark next to it and continued writing, coming back to the sentence if necessary later. In this way she acknowledged the fear, but was not incapacitated by it, and reassessed it later when the emotiuon wasn't quite as hot.

I'm sure there are other common sense techniques like this you can imagine (her talk was not really about these techniques but about examples of mastering fear, nor was it one of those useless self-help guides you see in the stores). The point is that the country right now is mastered by fear. Our leaders share the blame for this due to the way thay have deliberately produced and generated fear in this country. But they will only be successful if we allow them to continue to instil fear in us.

1 comment:

tim said...

Shall have to check out that book. Totally agree with you regarding fear.
By recognising when fear is influencing you, you can start to have some control over it.
Have a look at Anxiety Culture
http://www.anxietyculture.com/
which, underneath its subversive styling, has many techniques to make us less anxious. i.e. http://www.anxietyculture.com/worry.htm