Fear Is Fucking Us All Up

[disclaimer: I am not a MINDOLOGIST or a PSYCHOHOLIC or in any way an expert on subjects relating to emotion or the human brain, so take all this with a entire salt lick]

I just read an article that literally had the headline:

THIS EL NINO PHOTO SHOULD SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF THE WEST COAST.

(I’m not going to link to it, because fuck that article right in its bloviating trash-hole.)

El Nino is so bad, the article posits, that the entire populace of the West Coast of America should — right now — stand up and just defecate themselves while screaming in terror.

It’s the kind of article whose headline should be read by a wildly gesticulating Muppet whose felt is on fire. Whose plastic googly eyes are literally melting out of his hand-ensconced face.

And this isn’t new. This is pretty much every article on the Internet — everything is either OBLIVIOUS OPTIMISM or PANTS-SHITTING FEARGASM. Your hometown is going to be destroyed by an earthquake probably tomorrow maybe! Something-something super-volcano! Global warming is going to destroy New York City! Something-something crime! Something-something serial killers! Hackers just hacked your wife! Bats fucked pigs and mice in a batpigmice fuckorgy and now there’s a batpigmouse flu and it’s probably one day going to make you sneeze your brain out of your head! Be afraid! Be fucking scared! FIERY DOOM IS ABOUT TO RAIN DOWN UPON YOU WHY ARE YOU NOT PROPERLY WORSHIPFUL OF THE FEAR YOU MUST BE FEELING RIGHT NOW AT PRESENT IN YOUR HEART ALWAYS. Now look at these funny kittens with lightsabers.

I mean, holy shit, have you ever turned on the local news? The national news? It’s just a scare parade, man. Everything sucks. Your town is dangerous. The country is dangerous. Those people who aren’t you are dangerous. It’s like watching a horror movie for the jump scares except the jump scares are things that are actually happening right now apparently right outside your door.

It’s not that we don’t have problems. We do. And will. This is a planet of seven billion people. Shit is going to get fucky with seven billion people bumping into each other and into animals and glaciers and robots and whatever else we have wandering around out there. Global warming is probably the most serious challenge in my lifetime. Right now the abuse at the hands of government surveillance and police is unparalleled. Pretty much any hobo in clown makeup and Nazi regalia can go and buy an arsenal of guns from your local flea market.

This is a time of epic challenges. This is a time of necessary change and, perhaps, even upheaval.

So, being scared is understandable.

But we also have to understand that we’re being manipulated into fear. By the media. By the Internet. By our chosen social groups and echo chambers.

Listen, here’s the thing: fear is not that productive.

It’s productive in the short term, in fear-based situations.

Like, let’s say you’re at the park. And you’re walking along, humming a jaunty tune. Next thing you know: the bushes shake, and out comes a motherfucking tiger. Big. Rangy. Mangy. Starving. You’re it. You’re dinner. And the tiger is joined by a prehistoric claw-bear, and maybe they’re working in concert, or maybe they’re competing to see which one can eat your entire head first.

Fear at that moment is entirely perfect.

It is a necessary response.

Because fear engenders in us two potential responses: fight or flight. Punch or flee. Fuck or run.

You can either stand your ground and try to go toe-to-toe with the tiger-bear combo, or you can haul ass out of that park and never go there again because who the hell let tigers and bears into the park? I don’t want to put up a fence to stop immigrants, but tigers and bears, sure okay.

Fear as a momentary response has value.

Fear as a long-term emotional strategy destroys you.

You look at global warming, and it’s becoming clear that fear-based tactics only engender (according to this article) “denial, fatalism, and polarization.” You either get so anxious about it that you’re like, “Well, fuck it, we’re all going to boil so I might as well just set fire to this mountain of tires,” or you become so angrily optimistic that you grab for any lifeline you read about global warming being a sham or about some new mini-ice age we’re about to get (which is bullshit, by the way). Driving people to a fear-based life — especially when things seem relatively okay outside your window at any given moment — is a great way to inspire a symphony of anxiety inside your head. We’re urged to PANIC PANIC PANIC but the birds are chirping and the sun is up and suddenly we’re feeling OH GOD SWEET FUCKING HELLMONKEYS I HAVE TO FIGHT OR FLIGHT BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO FIGHT AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO FLEE and so you just stand there, paralyzed by uncertainty and fear. The fear stops being a momentary response and becomes a long-term strategy — and fear as a long-term strategy is not a healthy way to be.

I remember that one of the takeaways of Bowling for Columbine (regardless of what you feel about Michael Moore) wasn’t that guns are our problem, but fear was the real problem. Fear was the Emperor Palpatine manipulating us. (And others are in turn manipulating us through fear.) The events of 9/11 were a thing that inspired us to fear-based action — our leaders used that fear to manipulate us. One thing the Star Wars prequels actually got kinda right is how easy it is to puppet a frightening population. Guns are the tools of fear, too. You don’t build up an arsenal for the art of it. You build up the arsenal for the doomsday. For the time when the people who aren’t you come to hurt you, or take something from you, or [insert made-up thing]. You can sell a person a gun by reminding them of all the things they should fear out there in the world. And then you can sell someone else a gun because that person should be afraid of the last person to whom you sold guns. “That guy’s got guns,” you whisper. “And he looks pretty sketchy. Shouldn’t you have one, too? Jeez. What if he decides to shoot up a grocery store when you’re in it? That’d be a tragedy if you weren’t PREPARED. Am I right?”

Fear is like one of those zombie parasites that controls its host.

(Here we hear the echo of FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And then we hear the modern addenda: “And also killer bees and brain amoebas and global warming and killer cops and terrorists and hackers and too many guns or not enough guns and Other People and ebola and volcanoes and earthquakes and tsunamis and did I mention killer bees already okay you know what just be afraid of your entire present and future. So, be afraid of fear, but then also be afraid of all this other stuff. HAVE YOU SHAT THINESELF YET?” FDR asks you with bulging eyes and spit-froth lips. Then he goes back to watching the news, digesting all the horror punctuated by advertising designed to get him to buy things in his fear-blind panic state.)

And the fear doesn’t even have to be real. Fear of science seems to be at an all-time-high. Fear of GMOs and vaccinations. Fear of things we need to actually help us. Sometimes social media helps clear the fog — but it can just as easily spread lies and misinformation, quick as lightning.

It’s across the board, this fear.

Listen, I talk to a lot of newbie writers, and one of the things that always seem to hold them back is — you guessed it! Fear. They’re just nebulously afraid of… things. They’re afraid of agents and editors. They’re afraid of failure. They’re afraid of success. They’re afraid of the horror stories they’ve heard. They’re afraid of getting published but then not selling, or getting published and selling but then selling a second book and oh shit what if that one doesn’t do well and next thing you know, they’re hemorrhaging blood out of their various face-holes. It’s a random rag-tag assortment of fear. And again: it’s utterly paralyzing. Total creative vapor lock, man.

It isn’t healthy.

It damn sure isn’t productive.

I don’t have any answer to this, by the way. This rant is itself unproductive. I don’t know how we get out of the cycle of fear. And I don’t mean to diminish the very real challenges we face — but the challenges we face are presented so often with just klaxons of terror and anxiety instead of solution-based direction. (This is one of the reasons I do like Obama. He presents challenges in a calm, almost comforting way. He doesn’t kick over his podium and barf into his own hands, screaming about how we better do what he says or we’re all gonna die from super-volcanoes.) (Though now that I think about it, this might be how I attempt to get things done in the future: threatening people with super-volcanoes. I mean, no, I can’t make super-volcanoes, but who wants to take the chance? Maybe I secretly do. I mean, what if, right? Maybe you should just give me that hamburger for free because FEAR FEAR FEAR and also super-volcanoes.)

We have to give up the fear.

We’re addicted to it.

We click it. We watch it. We embrace it.

And then we sit, paralyzed. Or we deny.

The change that results from fear is rarely the right kind of change. We need some way forward that doesn’t constantly try to shock our systems with panic and doom. I don’t know what the way forward is, except that individually we have to try to be conscious of when we’re being manipulated into fear and then finding the way around it — like fear is just a traffic snarl on our emotional or intellectual highway, an obstacle to overcome rather than a tool to wield.