Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Hannah Arendt once said, " Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival." Contrast that with what ex-Vice President and all-around bitter human being Al Gore said in a speech yesterday:
Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.

Gore uses "fear" as if it were a dirty word, when in fact, fear is a perfectly normal emotion that we are (thankfully) hardwired to experience.

In previous posts, I have explained how destructive it is to rely solely on one's emotions as a strategy for living one's life. But is equally irrational to completely ignore feelings and pretend that you don't feel what you do. In other words, fear may be an extremely rational response to a dangerous situation.

Emotion can be an important source of information about reality; or at least, an important source of information about one's internal reality --which sometimes has to be understood, challenged and compared with the external world to ascertain whether what is being felt is a valid guide for action.

Animals do not have an intervening rational process between emotion and action. When they feel fear, they react. Humans, when necessary--i.e., when in imminent danger--will react the same way as animals because we share a similar physiology. But humans are (hopefully) able to understand and appreciate fear in a way that other species cannot. We possess a rational faculty that when used correctly can expand and refine (or consider and discard when appropriate) the information emotions give us about potential threats. Thus, humans are able to deliberately plan and anticipate for future threats--a flexibility not available to most animal species, except where it is already programmed.

But in order to do that, we must still be able to experience fear and listen carefully to what our fear is telling us about reality.

The person without fear tends to achieve death far more quickly than a person who understands what he is feeling; why he is feeling it; and acts on the feeling, when appropriate and necessary.

Now, it is true that fear may indeed drive out reason. But that occurs when fear replaces reason, instead of augmenting or enhancing it. The normal course of events--for humans anyway-- is that a person experiences the fear and then determines (sometime very very quickly) what the best response to the emotion is. Again, thankfully, through a series of reflexes, we are programmed to jump out of the way of attacking rhinos without much reason or intervening thought.

The less imminently threatening scenarios where fear is likely to "drive out" reason is exactly when our psychological defenses distort an unpleasant reality and make us inclined to pretend that something dangerous isn't really so. In other words, when fear goes underground and is covered up, the blissfully ignorant are merely waiting patiently for the slow-moving rhino to strike.

I'm sure Mr. Gore envisions fear making everyone run around in circles like chickens (or donkeys) with their heads cut off; but in that case, fear has been replaced by hysteria--an emotional overreaction to events (although it is hard to overreact when your head is cut off).

We all feel the emotion of fear. And it is good that we do so. Fear and all our other emotions are the software "shortcuts" that encourage our mind and body to act. An emotionally mature individual tries to understand his or her fear--i.e., he or she uses the rational faculty and reason-- because in doing so, one may determine the appropriate course of action for countering a perceived threat to youself or your loved ones.

Pretending that you aren't afraid; displacing or minimizing your fear; ignoring the slow-moving rhino heading in your direction or other dangerous realities; are hardly effective strategies to deal with the many threatening things in the world today.

In an earlier post, I discussed the defense mechanism of denial:
Denial can be thought of as a complex psychological process where there may be some conscious knowledge or awareness of events in the world, but somehow one fails to feel their emotional impact or see their logical consequences.

Denial is an attempt to reject unacceptable feelings, needs, thoughts, wishes--or even a painful external reality that alters the perception of ourselves. This psychological defense mechanism protects us temporarily from:

-Knowledge (things we don’t want to know)
-Insight or awareness that threatens our self-esteem; or our mental or physical health; or our security (things we don't want to think about)
-Unacceptable feelings (things we don’t want to feel)

Think of it this way. Every one of us has at one point or another in our lives had to face an unpleasant reality or painful truth and at the very least probably desperately wished it would go away.

This is psychotic denial; completely out of touch with reality. A similar defense mechanism of dissociation -- or, neurotic denial as it is sometimes called-- allows us to replace painful ideas and affects with more pleasant ones that are not disturbing. (e.g., "Ahmadinejad is a reasonable person. Surely he does not want to destroy Israel!")

With this defense, our consciousness is dissociated from our self. This defense is notable because it is one of the only psychological defenses that can be voluntarily and consciously deployed.

There are many ways to alter our consciousness and to separate it from reality--through drugs, alcohol, meditation, self-hypnosis, lying to ourselves; acting etc. etc. We can pretend to be happy, when we are not. We can pretend to not be afraid, when we really are. The opportunities are endless.

So are the potential destructive consequences.

Both psychotic and neurotic denial are methods of eliminating unwanted feelings, thoughts or knowledge. In the case of the fear that Al Gore would prefer we not feel; these defenses represent the methods being used to deny the current reality of the world. It is remarkably sane and rational to be afraid of the insane and irrational psychopaths who are out there and who are planning to indiscriminantly kill as many Americans as possible. Being afraid of them is the first step. Logically deciding what to do with that fear is the second.

Let me be clear. If you pretend that the various Islamofascist threats including Iran's goals obtaining nuclear weapons and of wiping the US and Israel off the map are nothing to be afraid of, then it is doubtful that you will be able to take evasive action from the charging rhino--no matter how slowly it narrows the gap between you and its horns.

The proper role of emotion is to be an "early warning system" that alerts us that something good or something bad is on the way. We ignore our feelings at our peril; and alternately, if we rely only on them as a method of determining reality, we are equally screwed.

But, when emotions are used in concert with reason, we are able to optimally deal with the real world.

Contrary to what Gore suggests; fear does not lead to the "politics of destruction"; rather, it is an essential emotion and absolutely necessary for survival.

Only the very foolish and the very dead do not experience fear.

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