2015-10-30

Politics haunted by fear

This morning, I was greeted by a post from my friend and frequent collaborator. He sought my opinion on "Scary Politics" [Slate].
Fifteen minutes later, I had written what clearly needed to become a full blog article. So, after a bit of editing, here it is....


Image source: "Fear" - Pixar Wiki

Fear is an effective motivator. It's instinctive and requires no higher thought; this is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, it can save our skin (literally) when rational decision making would take too long. On the other hand, our innate bodily systems (e.g. the limbic system) override and highjack our rational thought processes. In effect, our mind becomes helpless to the control of fight/flight.

You can see this response reflected in the current conservative base: Fight against perceived threats (terrorism, "lawlessness", drugs that will harm "the children"), run from things which overwhelm your already stressed mind (climate change, social inequality, religion vs reason), prepare for potential problems (tighter budgets, closer to home focus), etc.. Meanwhile, the liberal base is almost blinded by a euphoric abundance of hope and trust. Care for those in need (welfare, healthcare), provide for the future (college loan decrease, better fund education), invite social change and progress (look to the youth, legalize same-sex marriage), etc.. (For initial thoughts on the relationship between fear and trust: "Put your heart into it")

The result of these related but opposite "feelings" is a fundamental clash between ideologies (summarized well recently by Reddit user SnappyCrunch [Reddit]). In my opinion, what's needed is healthy critical thinking on the issues. Sometimes, fear needs to be acknowledged and obeyed. Other times, it needs to be set aside. I try often (and also encourage others) to recognize "The Flinch". Once you recognize that fear response you can engage higher reasoning to determine "Is this something I react to or push through?".

Personally, every time I face a challenge and feel that fear response, that flinch. I would acknowledge it and recognize that -- at that moment -- my body and senses were preparing for what I was going to do. Furthermore, I reassured myself that I had learned and developed the necessary skill to take on what I was about to do at that moment. And then... I proceed with the appropriate action based on those skills and understanding not based on the baser reaction. (If during my honest self-assessment, I felt that I did not have the necessary skill, I would choose not to proceed. Remember, critical thinking is about the decision not the outcome.)

Politically, this means acknowledging the triggers we have as a society and then addressing them on a grander scale with rational thought and respect for those who are struggling to overcome fear and expand their comfort zones. We can do this, but it's going to take effort within the mind of every individual before it will effectively change on a societal scale. As I said in one of my defining blog articles, "Life isn't about panic, luck, and control; it's about love, respect, and trust."
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