A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Monday, October 13, 2014

Populations in States of Strategic Fear

(Please, read the previous essay, Fear as Adaptive Device…, before reading this one.)

While our experience of life in the present world says otherwise, human societies are very unnatural structures.  We talk of nations, religions, mega-corporations and other vast collectives as though they have substantial existence and understandable definition; they do not.  In another of the many paradoxes that attend our present “realities”, the bigger and more complex the structures of our organization, the simpler, more primal and less generally adaptive must be the principles holding those organizations together – the less full human expression and experience can be manifest in them. These large collectives are organized around single emotional/behavioral states like greed, fear, and illusory wellbeing; whole societies can be characterized by the primary emotion of their structure. [1]

It would seem that this should make social collectives understandable and give them substance, but no; each individual unit, the human animal, that makes them up has all the complexities of the evolved species and, thus, is both diminished by the acts that fit them to their society and floundering in their struggles with the unavoidable demands of their biological complexity.  Ultimately, a huge collective must adapt to being organized around some powerful biological/emotional element that has predictable consequences on the collective’s participants: that emotion is almost always fear; just as, it was said, ‘all roads lead to Rome,’ all large-scale social organizations have adopted fear as the central principle.

This has been going on for a very long time, for as long as human social collectives have been numbered in the thousands or more.  Fear-based social organization is so ubiquitous, and our projection of fear-based processes onto the world beyond the social is so complete, that it is almost impossible to realize another option.

Wellbeing is the other option, but because wellbeing is based in a gestalt of needs satisfied, the structural principles are diametrically antithetical to fear-based societies; there is no paradigm of transition from fear to wellbeing in the structure of large collectives even though these two conditions are (were) completely mutually supporting in their origins.  How to deconstruct, then reconstruct those relationships and apply them to larger social organizations than the tribal communities of our origins will be the measure of our future as a species.

First, fear-based societies: How is a fear-based society recognized? It is simple; make a list of what you are afraid of.  Here is a sample: crime, being cheated, losing a job, being slandered, being devalued, the power of authority, police, taxing agencies, other drivers on the road, the anger (really the fear) of others, disease, costs of medical and legal services, lack of accurate information, strangers, the “enemy,” loss of freedom, economic or social collapse, people who believe differently, people who don’t like you, environmental collapse, random violence, sexual perversions, God’s wrath, the elderly, the young, the future and all the specifics and variations that can be made of these. 

Such societies tend to have a fear du jour.  The habit of fear makes this a simple process.  In fact, without a fear of the day the free-floating fear state would not have a ready reference, and could become dangerous to the economic and political elites that use fear as a controlling principle since the focus of ‘national’ anxiety might turn on the, actually, easily observable, dangerous actions of the elites.

Now make a list of how society supports your sense of wellbeing.  This is a more difficult list; don’t let it be only a list of how fears are limited or relieved (see the footnotes).  Here is a hypothetical example: my neighbors and I share resources so that no one is forced to face dangers alone; I can express my ideas and concerns freely knowing that I will be heard with respect; the principles and forces of social order are designed to respond to my interests, not to enforce my obedience to some arbitrary standards:  Since we live in a fear-based society, these are more wishes than statements of our condition!

I leave it to the reader to fill in specific examples of how the fence lines and corrals of fear control daily movements and actions, for both themselves and for the sub-communities of which they are a part.  But these will most likely involve money, credit, social prestige, loss of material standards of living, militarized authority and an amorphous physical fear of the desires and powers attributed to “others” beyond our immediate experience. The sense of wellbeing will come from close association with trusted friends and from illusions of protection supplied by religious and related pathologies. [2]
* * * 
In modern societies only human action seems significant; biophysical processes are seen (if they are realized at all) as substrate conditions upon which “real life” occurs or inconveniences to be overcome.  This is amplified by the fact that many real dangers do come from the effects of our human numbers, the design of our economics and vast influences of our technologies. But, even though these dangers are certainly real, the use of strategic fear by economic and political elites has been to increase them rather to diminish them.  In other words, the fears of the general society are used to make societies more dangerous rather than less.

This last has been, until now, very difficult to see from the position of the so-called middle class societies of North America and Europe.  These centers of illusory wellbeing were organized around the relief of fear, not genuine wellbeing; and we are beginning to see how easily the transition is made to the direct use of fear in those societies as the power elites move to globalized control of populations and resources.  

There are primarily two real dangers to fear, and to act on in the natural pattern of this essential emotion: (1) the disruption of the biophysical systems that allow complex life to exist and (2) the insanity of a power elite that works assiduously to maintain their authority and their incredible excesses of resource use.  The plethora of dangers we are told to fear – the fears du jour – focus our attentions in the wrong direction, with purpose.  We must find our sense of real wellbeing in supportive community, refuse the strategic fears delivered to control us and realize the real dangers from the power elite and the destruction of environment (the two are closely connected).

The redirecting of fear is itself frightening – changing old habits of such great consequence – but it is beginning; one need only look to the real attitudes of your neighbors and friends.  And since the refocusing of attention is beginning we can expect the quality of the dangers served up to us to increase, both in illusion and reality.  But, the nakedness of the attempts to control societies by fear will only become more and more obvious as the dangers are made more and more real.

[1] Fear and wellbeing are primal motivational (emotional) states; temporary relief from fear is not wellbeing, though it has come to be seen so.  The full emotional state of wellbeing has become rare.  Greed is the infantilization of the normal developmental process, an emotional neotony.

[2] Religious behavior has not always been pathological, though it has always been illusory.  When humans lived in intimate contact with biophysical reality, the details of which were beyond their understanding, adaptive processes adjusted behaviors to function effectively.  Explanations for the behaviors were most often fantastical, both because detailed understanding wasn’t possible from the existing knowledge base and because the fantastic could have poetic power.  In today’s world, religions are madness driven by biological impulses with only circular self-referencing as guide; they are a perfect vehicle for the delivery of illusory fear and illusory wellbeing – the very essence of strategic fear.

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