Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fear the FEAR!

We humans like to connect the dots - sometimes to the point where we start adding dots so we can make better connections. I've been doing that a bit myself lately, and as I've been able to blog almost every day this summer (expect my output to drop drastically in a couple of weeks) I'm starting to piece together something that motivates much of what I write.

I'm tired of fear. More specifically, I'm tired of unnecessary fear. I have almost a knee-jerk reaction to it - the point where you could maybe even say I fear fear. Or maybe I'm just a huge fan of FDR's famous quote.

It's good that we human beings have the ability to feel fear. Imagine how long we would have survived as a species if we didn't fear all those things that wanted to eat us. One of the reasons why the dodo became extinct was because it lacked fear (as it had no natural predators until human beings showed up in their environment).

Fear is necessary, but just like a lot of our attributes that enabled us to survive, it can be pointed in the wrong direction. We are afraid of a lot of things where our fear either makes no sense or actually does us more harm than good.

How many people fear spiders? Of course, there are some that we know are poisonous and dangerous, but even when a person knows that a particular one isn't harmful, there's still a good chance of that person freaking out. Some people are afraid of bugs in general. I know I am (although ironically spiders don't bother me that much - maybe it's because they eat all of those terrifying bugs). Snakes also freak people out. You can prove to those who fear them that a particular snake isn't poisonous, but it's not going to matter. It scares the crap out of them - sometimes even paralyzing them with fear. (And sometimes people act irrationally when they do come into contact with a poisonous one because they're so scared. My dad lives on a ranch near Redding, and he can tell you some stories about people nearly getting bit by rattlers because their fear caused them to attack the snake rather than do the smart thing - slowly walk away. Crud - now that I think about it, I have a scar on my elbow from when I was a kid and ran terrified by a supposed rattler that was ten feet away from me!)

Looking back on many of my posts on religion, my chief criticisms often deal with its dependence on fear. Considering that no religion has ever been able to demonstrate the truth of its claims, I feel like I'm on safe ground saying that the use of fear (and I realize that some versions depend on it far more than others, but there's always an aspect of it there) based on religious grounds is a warrantless fear. It does nobody any good to fear things that aren't there.

Oftentimes our sense of tribalism creates unnecessary fear. We become afraid of "the other" and think that those who live differently from us are out to ruin our way of life. People think that gay people getting married is somehow a threat to them and their way of life. Men are afraid that women gaining status in society somehow threatens theirs. White people worry that as minorities gain positions of prominence that their entire world will be destroyed. I suppose that this could be an entire blog post in itself, but think of how many people totally freaked out and wanted their "country back" when Obama was elected - even though he hadn't done anything yet? Don't tell me that his foreign-sounding name and the color of his skin had nothing to do with it either. (Insert perfunctory comment about how I'm aware that there are legitimate criticisms of Obama that have nothing to do with race and that I even share some of them.)

I have been writing about the GMO debate lately as well, and I think that much of my criticism of those who are against them is due to the fact that the criticisms are based more on fear than facts. (Actually, it's because I'm a shill for Monsanto, as I'm sure at least one person out there must believe.) I'm ambivalent about labeling genetically engineered foods because although its proponents declare that it's about informing the public, it strikes me as being more about spreading fear in order to benefit the organic food industry, as I'm not entirely sure just how "informed" a person will be. (Just because Monsanto and other agribusinesses have money as their highest priority, why do people seem to act like the organic businesses are purely altruistic?)

Are there legitimate things that we should fear - and more importantly, work toward resolving? I think that there are. Climate change is something where the facts are indisputable, and we need to support politicians and businesses that are working toward dealing with that. (And one of those potential solutions is GMOs.)

If you live in the wilderness, then you should definitely be afraid of bears.

How do we deal with runaway fear? I think that this is where skepticism comes in to play. Instead of just buying into whatever fear and giving into that lizard part of your brain that makes you want to freak out at even the mention of something that seems scary, it's best to calm down, look at the evidence, and then make a decision from there. Even more important, don't carve that decision into stone. Let new information allow you to change your mind.

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