Fear Itself

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

Fear serves a purpose. It’s a survival mechanism; it exists to motivate us to act — not to paralyze us into being unable to do anything. That’s when useful fear turns into harmful phobia.
fear of knowledge

It seems as if there are a lot of people out there today who are suffering from this “fear of knowledge.”  No matter how many statistics you show them, no matter now much you explain the logic, they continue to behave as if COVID-19 had a 99% fatality rate and a 1% recovery rate, instead of the other way around.

A phobia is an unreasonable fear that exaggerates the level of actual danger in a situation and that interferes with your ability to live your life. To be afraid of venomous snakes is reasonable and prudent; that fear motivates us to avoid them, to be aware of our surroundings when we’re out where they live, to kill them if we encounter them.

To be so afraid of venomous snakes that we refuse to go outside at all, so frightened that we lie awake every night worrying about one getting into the house, so terrified that we kill every kind of snake or lizard or other snake-like creature we see is evidence of a phobia.

Unfortunately, today at least half of our population is in the grip of a powerful phobia in response to a propaganda campaign that has convinced them that they and everyone they know are in dire danger of death from a virus that has a 99% recovery rate.

Intense fear can cause “brain freeze” – a condition in which a person is unable to think or to act. Whereas fear is supposed to stimulate a flight-or-fight response, some people instead become paralyzed by fear.  That’s what happens to the deer in the headlights, who has time to get out of the way before the car hits him, but doesn’t. 

When I was teaching officer safety at the police academy, I called this state “condition black” in an expansion of famous firearms instructor Col. Jeff Cooper’s color-coded mental states of situational awareness. Condition Red was the state at which the threat is imminent and engagement (or retreat) becomes necessary. Condition Black is that situation where panic takes over and your mind “blacks out,” and you’re unable to react. 

Note that many self defense advocates have their own versions of Cooper’s Color Codes and some designate Condition Black differently or leave it out altogether as Cooper originally did.

Fear, as it manifests in a sudden self-defense situation, is different from fear instilled through deliberate and systematic indoctrination; the latter is much more insidious and is particularly difficult to overcome because in many cases, you don’t even recognize it. It has become an integral part of your world view.  Many of people who are operating now under the influence of their fears would deny that they’re afraid, and they aren’t consciously lying; they really don’t understand the emotional motivation underlying their opinions and beliefs and actions.

It’s possible to learn to resist brainwashing, but it isn’t easy. The CIA and other such government organizations put their agents through intense training and even so, it doesn’t always work. There’s even an American Psychological Association Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control.  And make no mistake: brainwashing (a.k.a. mind control, coercive persuasion, or worst of all, re-education) is exactly what has been happening (with varying degrees of success) to all of us over the last two months.

The techniques have been in use for centuries to greater or lesser degrees – by governments, schools, advertisers, and controlling individuals. We’ve all been subjected to them in some form and some of us have even used them – often, in our minds, for the good of the target subject. One might say that any persuasive speaker or good salesman is practicing a mild form of mind manipulation.

But, subliminal messages in ad photos aside, I have never before in my lifetime seen such a wide-spread, concentrated, and overt campaign to convince an entire population of something that, when examined objectively, doesn’t make sense. Of course, I didn’t live in Nazi Germany or Lenin’s Soviet Russia.

In 2005, I read Michael Crichton’s novel “State of Fear.” That book presented a scary scenario, but not nearly as frightening as the one we’re living with today. Its basic premise, though – the creation of a state of fear as a means to control people’s behavior – is basically the same. 

A friend recently confided in me about just how insidiously the fear that’s been fed to us continuously week after week had permeated his psyche without his realization. He and his wife had been in lockdown since the beginning of this, going out only to the grocery store. He’s been a strong advocate of ending the stay-at-home orders and reopening the economy, and had been shaking his head at the way some of his friends were letting fear control them.

Then, on Mother’s Day, for the first time in two months, they had a prolonged visit with another human being: their son. And shortly into the visit, my friend started to feel the old FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – creeping in and coloring his perception and mood. He started worrying: what if the kid had the virus and gave it to him and/or his wife? What if they unknowing had it and gave it to the kid? What if one of them turned out to be amongst the less than 1% who die from it? What if, what if, what if …

Those what ifs can destroy all reason if you let them. I spent many years watching them take over my mother’s life, and I’ve had to fight them off on occasion myself over the years. I think most everyone who is gifted/cursed with an imagination has had to battle the what ifs at some point in their lives. And they were running rampant through this guy’s brain on Sunday. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to spoil the holiday for his wife and son, but his involuntary fixation on the what ifs certainly ruined any enjoyment the occasion might have held for him.

Then that night, he started experiencing what he knows in hindsight were psychosomatic symptoms: cough, fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, everything except the objectively measurable ones such as fever.  Of course he knew, intellectually, that symptoms don’t manifest that quickly, he was reacting via his limbic system, not his cerebral cortex.

The next morning, he even found himself distancing himself from his wife, unable to get close to her because what if she had the virus now, or he did? What if they both died because of a Mother’s Day dinner?

After all, the media has been painting those kinds of pictures for us every chance they get. People attend birthday party and end up dead. Choir practice at church results in virus outbreak and deaths. Etc., etc., etc. Who could blame him for the paranoia? Never mind that their son had also been isolating for the past two months and had been out “in the world” even fewer times than he and his wife had. Fear isn’t soothed by logic.

All the scare stories on the TV and Internet had him feeling rather than thinking, and the feeling they’ve been pushing is that if you have any contact with anyone outside your quarantined household (and maybe even with them), you’re going to die of this disease, even though the vast majority of people who get it have mild or no symptoms and fewer than 1% actually succumb to it.

Cartoon: Social distancing | Opinions | winchesterstar.com

Me, I’m a stubborn bitch. I’m highly resistant to being told what to do. I’m maddeningly insistent on examining every issue from the standpoint of facts, reason, and logic. I’m naturally suspicious of “experts.” Attempts to hypnotize me have always failed; I’m not very open to the power of suggestion. I can smell hype and exaggeration and lies and coverups a mile away.

But even I am not immune to this most elaborate ever crusade to terrorize the population in the name of public health and safety. At the height of this, I felt the twinge of apprehension when an oblivious jogger veered “too close” as I was walking the dog down the sidewalk. I internally debated over whether to go to the grocery store for something I needed or just stay “safe at home.” I had to squash the second of alarm that rose when Tom was asked to travel to San Antonio for work.

Maybe it’s because I saw what phobias did to my mother for all those years, or maybe it’s because of the strong role model I had in my fairly fearless father that I’ve been able to nip those momentary qualms in the bud and keep my own fears under control instead of allowing them to control and consume me. I made the conscious choice, long ago, that I would not go down that path. That decision has been my lifeline in this situation.

But I understand, and empathize, and pray every day for those who are being chased down that path today.

Fear Fearless Without - Free image on Pixabay

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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