“Man goes constantly in fear of himself.”
— Georges Bataille
Human fear is ancient. It speaks in the tongues of ancestors we wouldn’t recognize and keeps alive by the old ways we no longer understand.
Fear is the oldest part of us. Humans survive by fear. We came together because of fear. We fought, massacred, and enslaved one another and then plundered and destroyed nature all because we were afraid. We found religion and our we found our courage because of fear. This world is a cruel and confusing place, our fear led us to remove ourselves from what was dark and dangerous, and to make a new world in our image, and still, we are haunted by our fear.
We’ve been on a journey to conquer fear but in all the wrong ways. We strive to rid the world of fear rather than to face what terrifies us. Humans have forgotten that fear was once regarded as a kind of wisdom, now we see only weakness, and feel only contempt. Our fears have been regulated to the parts of the mind we no longer listen to and so our terrors manifest in strange ways in the new world. We no longer know what exactly it is we are afraid of, only that where ever we go there is the threat of danger, of suffering, and of loss.
“The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. So potent is the amygdala’s response to potential threats that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.”
We fear our own fear foremost and go to great lengths to avoid it. Fear is an unpleasant emotion, it’s completely understandable. At the first sign of pain, emotional or physical, we learn the first lesson, do not do that again. Do not go near anything that looks like that, that makes you feel like that, that can remotely be linked or lead to pain like that. A hot stove, a knife in an outlet, a car accident, a heartbreak, an assault, a movie scene, the death of a loved one, and so much more. Fear erects boundaries and restricts you from your own life all in the name of keeping you and the ones you love safe.
Fear has no other purpose.
It is rare that fear is a positive force in the human life. Fear seems to bring out the very worst in us. It forces us into a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or fall. Fear draws us in, warps desire, and hijacks the ego. You become a primitive version of yourself, ignorant, resentful, trapped. You lash out, you blame, you become suspicious. Sometimes you become delusional and see enemies where there are none and wish to strike out before you have to strike back. We fear suffering, pain, and loss but what does that mean in a world where our needs are now are so easily met ad we are so far from becoming meals for animals bigger and faster than us. What we are afraid of now no longer looks the way it did when the amygdala was being formed.
The parts of our brains that process fear do not understand statistics or proportion. This is why we hate to fly in planes but drive cars. This is why some of can’t drive cars at all. This is why we manipulate one another and fight wars based on the flimsiest of differences. We are seeking out things to fear now, new dangers and horrors to escape from and there is no shortage.
Like desire, fear can be hijacked. It is to the benefit of government and economy to keep you in a perpetual state of panic. You fear are prayed and played up to keep you under control, to keep you working, and to keep you consuming. This is not a conspiracy theory. It isn’t personal, and I don’t believe it is even intentional or conscious for most public figures or companies. We are only doing what works to make a living and keep the peace, but we are approaching a society so full of fear that no one is able to fully live their lives anymore.
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Most things we fear we’ve never seen, but we can imagine all the worst things in our minds day and night. Fear grows in the unknown and thrives in the imagination. We fear most what we cannot control and the more we try to protect ourselves the more fearful we become. Fear follows right behind us as fast as we can run gaining strength and power.
In the last year or two, maybe more, maybe my whole life on some level, I have suffered from intense death anxiety. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake wondering if this day was my last. I worried when I might die and how. I worried about leaving my loved ones behind, or worse, them dying and leaving me behind instead. I was afraid never to see my girlfriend again. I laid awake worried I had been wrong, and hell was real, or reincarnation, or something darker. What is there was nothing but darkness, loneliness, and the mind going slowly insane for eternity?
The thoughts started to creep up on me during the day while I worked, while I cooked, while I sat talking with my girlfriend. I would think “what if I died right now?” and I would be in a panic all over again. So I did something that seemed to make no sense, I downloaded an app that reminded me 5 times a day that I was going to die and shared a bit of wisdom from a historical figure or book.
Five times a day, Every day for months now I have clicked a notification that says “Hey, don’t forget you are going to die,” and you know what happened? I stopped lying awake at night in terror. The thoughts stopped intruding while I was just trying to live my life. I took control of my fear. Instead of trying to avoid it, which was making it worse, I found validation and let myself feel it, and it lost its power.
I have other fears too. I have a driving phobia. Last month my girlfriend went out of town, and I was forced through my anxiety to drive myself where I needed to go. I’m still somewhat scared, but I’ve gained confidence by leaps and bounds. I see my fear for what it is, and I know now for a fact I am stronger than it. When I am afraid, I ask myself what the worst case might be and what would happen to me. If someone I love dies, I will be sad. If I lose my job, I will find another. If I am afraid of war, or terrorism, or sinkholes, or the earth escaping the gravitational pull of the sun, I tell myself I will survive.
Fear is part of who we are, and like all things human it is better to accept it, explore it, and, as humans do, conquer it. Better to make it your friend. Better to give it space to exist in your life. You can’t escape it anyway.
In between everything you want to do and the things you find yourself doing instead is fear. The things you think about before you drift off to sleep, the thoughts that come to you without prompt and set your heart racing, face them. Think about them, write about them, talk about them, immerse yourself in your fears, find their source and you will find out who you truly are.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
— Marie Curie
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