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Fear Factor I: A Few General Thoughts on Fear in the Human Sphere

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Let me be clear at the outset. I am not saying that fear is "bad," or "wrong," or uncalled for. In fact, I would subscribe to the idea that if fear weren't an important and useful thing, we --and our many cousins in the animal world-- wouldn't be wired to experience it. We've got fear in our experiential repertoire because it enhances our chances for survival.

In a dangerous world --which is what we're in now, and what the world of our ancestors was however far back you want to go-- it is adaptive to experience in the face of danger the kind of feelings that motivate one to get away from or otherwise eliminate the source of the threat.

That's what fear is.

And I would go further to say that, with respect to fear, a person or a subculture can experience too little fear as well as too much fear. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Winston Churchill perceived that under him Germany constituted an important threat to Great Britain and tried to raise the alarm among his countrymen. At that time, the ethos in Britain was far more dovish than hawkish, and more into avoiding fear than into magnifying it. Britain and the world paid a high price for their being TOO LITTLE governed by fear when Churchill sounded his warning.

But for the most part, I do not believe that to be the case in America today.

I do believe that on the left and among anti-Bushite forces generally, there is a tendency --characteristic generally perhaps of progressive, dovish groups generally-- to deny or minimize the importance of some genuine threats from the world around us (from terrorists, for example, or from a nuclear-armed Iran).

But the greatest problem in America today hardly comes from such minimization of threat.

Rather, the crisis of our times comes from the evil Bushite forces that have already inflicted on America (and the wider world) so much damage.

And the support for that Bushite regime has come not from progressives who may err in the direction of being too little governed by fear but by a wholly different component of the American culture. The parts of America who support these evil forces are precisely those whose worldview is permeated by fear.

And hence for this moment in American history, it is useful to look at fear as a problem, and thus perhaps also at the amelioration of fear as a part of the solution. That's what I'll be trying to do, albeit in an abbreviated fashion, in this "Fear Factor" series.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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