Fearing Fear Itself


If everyone who protests racism, sexism, misogyny, bigotry or any other “y” or “ism” actually experienced such things, there would be no argument that America is a pretty bad place.

But they don’t and it isn’t.

These are people who have been taught to fear those “y’s” and “isms” the same way people are scared of vicious characters in horror films. Pennywise the Clown from “It”, Freddy Krueger of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, Jason of “Friday the 13th” movies are all emblematic of such characters – but when you think about it, they also represent the real world.

The more “Nightmare” and “Friday” movies we have seen have reduced the fear factor because we have repeatedly experienced a hypothetical situations and know they are not real…now new inductees to a franchise might (and I say might) be induced to fear if they haven’t experienced the movies and accepted they are not real. Basically, in order to be scared while watching a horror flick requires that you believe it could happen even though you have never (and likely will never) experience anything even remotely close to the theatrical terrors presented in the theater.

What is more interesting to me is that some people like being scared and seem to find safety in fear but that’s not a good way to approach things that are falsifiable. To simply fear when the fear is irrational is a mental illness.

There are a number of reasons people enjoy fear – they get to experience with a safety net, they experience the “fight or flight” reaction and the concordant rush of adrenaline and release of endorphins and dopamine (they get a “natural high” and feel good), they enjoy a sense of self-satisfaction for pushing their personal envelope, they get a feeling of belonging with people who experience the same fear, and they can indulge their curiosity about danger.

In short – the more we experience an event without experiencing personal loss or damage, the less power it has over us – but we may continue to go back for those experiences hoping for the same exhilaration we experienced the first time.

People who haven’t and will never personally experience racism but are taught to fear it because it is their chosen Pennywise the Clown. They believe the stories and anecdotes told to them in such a way that they equal a movie production. They never experience the specific “y” or “ism” but fear them and convert that fear to action in the real world – often it is demonstrated in seeing one of those “y’s” or “isms” under every rock or interpreting something that isn’t one as one of them.

That is not to say that those “y’s” and “isms” don’t exist – because they do – as do monsters like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson. The point being that those people are rare in society, as rare as the personal exposure to those “y’s” and “isms”. However, we don’t let our fear of these human animals deter us from getting on with life, nor do we engage in massive protests because serial killers exist.

FDR famously said “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…” and this phrase from his first inaugural speech exhibits a high degree of applicability to the current gestalt that exists in society today.

I think we do fear fear itself because for some, that is safer than finding out their worldview isn’t real – it is just “Nightmare on Elm Street – Part 26”.

Talk Amongst Yourselves:

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