Sunday, January 31, 2016

We interrupt this message...

I’ve been trying to write the next 3 posts for almost a year.  I’ve written and re-written countless pages, trying to figure out how to accurately describe my perspective, but it just hasn’t felt whole or right.  I realize there was something I danced around in those three posts that I just need to address separately.  So before I can get into the rest of my divergence from popular feminism,  I need to talk about fear.  I need to delve into its causes, consequences, and forms.  

We are mortal.  We feel pain.  We get sick.  We die.  We know these are always possibilities because of our ability to imagine and anticipate, and many of us go to great lengths to avoid, mitigate, or put off those events.  This aversion to death and pain is deeply rooted in our primitive brains and has helped to perpetuate the human race through countless dangerous and traumatic circumstances.  It’s a useful tool and an extremely powerful motivator, meant to help us avoid unpleasant and deadly circumstances.  But I strongly believe that fear itself is a poor companion and guide.  Like our sex drive, fear is just another survival process built into our physiology that doesn’t give a lick about our overall sense of peace, joy, fulfillment, or even love.  The process is there to propagate our carbon-based existence, not our spiritual or temporal happiness or wellbeing.  Thus fear must be perpetually and properly managed, or else it will pathologically influence and control our choices. 

Sidenote: those that haven’t seen Inside Out need to stop reading this and go take care of that right now.  It does an incredible job of creating a verbal framework around some of the intangible and often unintelligible concepts I’m going to be describing.   

If you think about your different emotions and rationale as the team that runs your cognition and decisions, fear is the absolute worst kind of team leader. It is neither concerned with nor capable of things like trust, faith, or forgiveness.  Its 100% interested in self-preservation and its sole focus is avoidance of unpleasant things.  It has no long-term vision and is bad at managing priorities.  It avoids transparency and vulnerability and is constantly in competition with others for greater security and safety.  It forms relationships to find protection and assurance, not love or progression.  

If fear is the driving emotion or motivator in our lives, it’s the white-knuckled crank that refuses to enjoy the drive because to it, the purpose of that drive it to survive, not thrive. It is overly reactive, easily stressed out by any unexpected circumstances, and it absolutely abhors chaos, risk, or getting too close to others.  It refuses to take detours for scenery or pleasure, and it doesn’t want any new thoughts or other emotions distracting it from the task at hand.  The irony is that fear's ‘task at hand’ is to avoid conditions that are ultimately inevitable; namely, pain and death.

We are complex, gregarious, and mortal creatures, and full joy is rarely achieved in the absence of pain.  Often we find fulfillment, happiness, and peace by trudging through perilous circumstances.  Fear would steer us away from all threats, but much of that effort accomplishes nothing.  Life is hard, unjust, and temporal.  Pain is a part of that life.  Fear tries to avoid it, but life has little respect for that evasion, and eventually forces us down one path of pain or another.  Like a two year old avoiding her bed time, these wasted efforts are sometimes more painful than the fate itself.  Living to avoid pain and death is like jumping to avoid gravity. Good luck.

That being said, I do think fear has a place in our internal world.  If you burn your hand on a hot stove, fear is very good at reminding you to avoid that action in the future.  And I think it is important to acknowledge when we feel fear.  It quickly brings our attention to threats, and that’s sometimes a good thing. But I’m almost positive that fear should never be allowed to navigate or take precedence over our other inner voices.  That is no small task.  Fear is a backseat driver, drama queen, and total control freak.  Life is treacherous, unpredictable, risky, and wild.  Fear constantly uses this chaos to support its case for taking charge, but fear is a psychopathic sociopath.  It is selfish and quick to see others as competitive threats to its survival.  If left to its own devices, fear will create nothing but a long, miserable, and deeply lonely life. 

Oh, and one more thing.  Fear has a hard time distinguishing between psychological threats and mortal ones.  And while modern society has mitigated a lot of mortal threats, it has created countless new psychological ones in the process (whether they should or not is another topic for another time).  The blog “wait but why” addressed this brilliantly in Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think.  Read it. It may change your life. 

The gist of that post is that modern-day society’s diversity and social-networking capacities have exposed us to unprecedented social and internal conflict.  This inundation of psychological threats has made fear’s evolutionary advantages obsolete and even counterproductive in creating a life worth living.  I might argue that this disadvantage has been the case since civilizations first formed, but it is definitely more pronounced and exacerbated in our highly connected and diverse society.  Think of the rampant organizational distrust, social isolation, pandemic-like depression and anxiety, and the uptick in suicides and drug overdoses over the last 15 years, most of which can be accounted for by middle aged, white Americans.  But how can such a privileged group be so psychologically under siege?  

In a diverse world, our fear-fueled impulses to conform to and get approval from society (because there is safety in numbers) becomes more intense but also incredibly taxing.  Think of how much mental energy it takes to empathize or feel safe with a stranger who views the world very differently from you.  Now multiply that unit of energy by the number of people you have the potential to interact with.  The more connected we are, the more opportunity we have for disagreements, conflict, social chaos, and, therefore, anxiety.  Add anonymity and the element of surprise to that potential conflict (like, say, an internet troll or terrorist), and social anxiety can quickly escalate into paranoia, bigotry, and demographic isolation.  These divisions are a product of fear's hyper-vigilant efforts to find protection in the herd.  Thus, the ability to incite fear in diverse groups is one of the best ways to divisively turn people against one another.  

One popular method of coping with these divisions is to use the phrase “what an idiot” as a means of reassurance. We disparage those with whom we disagree to mitigate the threat of a new idea or internal conflict. Engaging with and trying to understand the perspective of our ideological opponents requires us to be vulnerable, unsure, and (heaven forbid!) humble.  An ancient survival tactic that fear uses to avoid that vulnerability is to find others who think like us, amass an army, and make war with, marginalize, or disenfranchise those who see things differently.  Because both sides are doing the same thing, this only causes disagreements to escalate, even to the point where human lives are being sacrificed in an attempt to create ideological order.  In our highly-connected social world, these ideological armies can become infinitely large, giving members of each group even more surety that ‘their side’ is the ‘right side.’  Size and perceived moral superiority then encourages them to further abuse and remove themselves from their opponents.  And, ta-da!…we have an increasingly polarized and violent society.  But I’ve digressed…back to fear.

In some ways, psychological threats are worse than mortal threats.  They are often chronic, difficult to identify, and even harder to address.  While caves, homes, and villages have the capacity to give us temporary refuge from mortal threats, it’s much harder to find a reprieve from the threats created in and fostered by our own minds.  We are never at our best when we feel chronically under threat.  We don’t think as clearly, we lack self-control and long-term focus, we become emotionally erratic or abusive and often feel empty and unfulfilled.  Our fight or flight response helps us to act quickly, but not wisely. We are better as a whole when we fight fear as a whole.  Unfortunately, I see a lot of fear-mongering and divisive practices in popular feminism.  I think that those tactics do a poor job of nurturing gender equality because true equality is only achieved through unity. Thus, I have a pretty strong aversion to anything and anyone who employs fear to accrue and motivate followers. 

Again, I don’t think feminism is bad.  Again, I am absolutely on board with the objective of gender equality.   I just feel no need to declare myself as part of a herd that disparages or vilifies other herds.  Gender equality (and human equality) is a fundamental part of my faith, and I feel a spiritual obligation to support any measure that promotes it.  However, I do not accept that equality will ever be achieved if one group is fighting, disrespecting, or marginalizing another.  Inequality hurts us all, and I think the best way of progressing toward equality is by encouraging empathy, self-knowledge, and mutual empowerment, not fear, blame, and shame.  Pockets of feminism are adopting the attitude of addressing disparity is by lifting the whole.  Perhaps if they become the majority, the name will change and I could jump on board that train.  We're not there yet though, and the next three posts are going to address the current practices that I think are getting in the way.  

No comments:

Post a Comment