“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” FDR
“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” Hunter S. Thompson
“Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest mother-fucker in the valley.” Senior Drill Sergeant D.C. Curran, USMC Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC 1967.
It is difficult to pick up the paper (Yes, I still read real papers) or watch, read, or hear anything on TV, radio, or the Internet without coming across the growing idea that fear is a primary driver of our national and world politics and culture.
In this posting I won’t try to evaluate fear politics on the global or national level. While these are vitally important issues, there are plenty of opinions on these matters available from way too many sources already.
And I won’t try to tell anyone else what they should or should not be afraid of. If I did so I might offend some of you, and I have no desire to do that. And of course, I don’t have the answers to those questions about other people anyway – I doubt anyone does.
But I can share with you my answers to the question I have often asked myself: “What are you afraid of Jim?”
Fear drives behavior. For the cave man it was either fight or flight. Do we have better options? Are we “running” or “fighting” needlessly when there is no real danger to us personally. Saber toothed tigers were pretty clearly dangerous. Today, the dangers are more nuanced and less clear.
There are many dangers out there that need to be acknowledged by a wise person. I do strive to be wise, although many would say I have only gotten as far as being recognized as a “wise guy.”
So it is prudent to periodically review what I am, and am not, afraid of because fear drives behavior. Fear can hold me back and keep me from being a better person and achieving meaningful goals. Fear can also save my butt.
Sometimes there is Real Danger, but “What can I do?”
Living in Seattle I am fully aware of the cataclysmic potential of “The Big One.” A megathrust earthquake will occur one of these days in the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Washington State coast. The San Juan De Fuca plate will suddenly slip further under the North American plate.
All hell will break lose all along the southern BC, Washington, and Oregon Coasts. The last time this happened in 1700 it caused a magnitude 9 earthquake. Whole Salish Nation villages all along Washington’s coast and in the Puget Sound disappeared forever. A huge tsunami crossed the Pacific and pounded Japan. For point of reference, magnitude 9 would be 10 times stronger than the largest earthquake ever in California including the one in San Franciso in 1906. It could happen here at any time, and you do not want to be in Seattle when it does.
I am aware that this might happen, but when? And what am I supposed to do now? Leave town? FEMA advises stocking up 3 days of supplies but this does not seem to be much help when the entire region will not have clean water or electricity for months.
Am I better off just getting crushed at the outset or starving to death in the post-apocalyptic mess that would be left? The threat of a megathrust earthquake is very real but I don’t know what I can do about it. So I just hope it happens another 200 years or so from now and, although it is a very real danger, I am not really afraid of it. It does not change the way I live day-to-day.
Other real dangers fall into this category: meteors hitting earth, untreatable pandemics, nuclear annihilation, lightning strikes, drunk drivers hitting you head on with no warning, rare forms of cancer, being killed by an Islamic terrorist, or by some other a wacko with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in a movie theater. There is not much I can do to limit the risk of these events and really, these things will either happen or they won’t.
The risk of any of these terrible things actually happening to me personally on any given day are pretty remote. So I don’t really worry about them much and, therefore, I am not really afraid of them. They don’t influence my behavior very much if at all. They don’t dominate my life.
What am I afraid of?
There are some dangers for which I find fear is a useful ally. This would include some of what I consider “common sense” observations of dangerous situations. For these dangers I allow fear to drive me to take action and/or change my behavior: I no longer drink and drive. I stay away from dark alleys in questionable neighborhoods. I quit smoking and don’t add salt to food. I try not to engage with obviously aggressive people (alone or in gangs) on the street or on the road. I take lots of showers when I am in “tick” country. I no longer run on ice or at the pool or with scissors. I don’t get very near the edge when there is a long way to fall. I am a cautious fellow and I do not have any desire whatsoever to participate in any dangerous sports like wing suit base jumping. I am not a risk taker when there is a clear and present danger.
My biggest fear personally right now is for my son Josh. The uncertainties surrounding his long term and current medical and mental status are daunting and sometimes seem overwhelming. Right now this fear of the unknown overrides all other fears and as such, drives most of my behavior. This crisis situation will hopefully not be the case much longer for Josh and then I can get back to being afraid of other things.
On a lessor scale I am also afraid of my own tendency to overeat and drift towards red meat, deep fried anything, and ice cream. In this case I know the danger/health risks and can make a difference, but I don’t take the steps I should to protect myself. Maybe I should be more afraid here – it might motivate me to do better.
I am afraid of this category of “more present” real dangers, and I try to take actions to avoid them. They do impact my behavior, and I think my “fear based” responses are rational.
Things that don’t scare me at all.
I try very hard not to react or, more to the point, over-react, to those things that are really not at all a danger to me personally. There seems to me no reason to be afraid of things that are really not dangerous.
Included in this category of “non-dangerous” things for me are almost all people I have ever come across except for the aforementioned aggressive types and the NVA (North Vietnam Regular Army) we Marines were fighting in Vietnam. They were actually trying to kill us so yes, I was afraid of them.
I have no general fear of any of the following: Mexicans, Muslims, gays, lesbians, Syrians, immigrants, homeless, bi-sexual or transgender persons, communists, socialists, African-Americans, Arabs, Asians, or for that matter, not even the most feared people of all, the Canadians.
When I left Vietnam I was lucky enough not to have had PTSD and was no longer afraid of the NVA. I would love to go back to Vietnam and actually meet some NVA, especially any who fought in I Corps where I was. Any fear I had of them then was circumstantial, they were serving their country, I mine. The NVA were dangerous then not because they were Vietnamese, but because we were on opposite sides and in a war zone.
Also included in this ‘no fear’ category for me are most of the organizations that I will ever come in contact with: the police, COSTCO, Pacific Medical, organized religion, the IRS, the Republican Party, the Sierra Club, unions, big corporations, committees of all kinds, the dentist, lawyers, or even telemarketers. I may not like them all equally, and some may be annoying as hell, but I see no clear or present danger to me personally from any of them. Therefore, I am not afraid of them. They don’t limit me nor do they dominate my life/thinking.
It’s not all about me.
Well, enough about me and my fears. As noted before, this is by no means a prescription for others. Fears will rightfully be different for every person. I personally have very little fear of ISIS, but many service men and women deployed in the middle east daily face a very real clear and present danger from ISIS or other terrorists. They should be afraid.
Maybe you too can ask yourself these questions:
“What am I afraid of?”
“Why am I afraid?”
“What am I not afraid of?”
“Am I really in any clear or present danger?”
“Do these fears limit me or dominate my life/thinking negatively?”
Peace and love to all,