Fear is the path to the dark side. – Yoda, Star Wars
Fear is the mind-killer. – Litany Against Fear, Dune
A Torrent of Insecurity
This morning I woke up and, in between bites of lime marmalade on buttered toast, read my social media ‘new feed’. It was one long queue of sensationalistic headlines and attention traps that masqueraded as a procession of ‘important’ information – and I was disgusted. Normally my ‘news feed’ is packed with articles from science magazines (yes, I see the same ‘latest discovery’ related to me by four different ‘magazines’ all of whom are shamelessly copying or reposting from each other) or philosophy sites with witty or engaging quotations and questions. I normally have beautiful visuals of mathematics or magnificent photographs of some of the most mind-boggling fractals of all – Nature in all its glory. But this morning, that is not what was in ‘my feed’ – that’s not what I saw.
Instead, I saw stub after stub of fear-mongering, hate-mongering and the ignominious proselytizing of ignorance. But what sickened me just as much were the comments. So much bilious hatred, spite, ‘moral superiority’ and condescension of self-proclaimed ‘better people’ and I saw it was just as bad on both sides of a widening divide.
It dawned on me then that everything in my news feed this morning engendered a sense of insecurity – one way or another. From uncertainty about the veracity of what I was reading (who really paid for that study? Was there even a study at all?), to the fear of what violence was boiling-up from other people’s wilful ignorance. There were articles that drummed-up fear about job security (“how to tell that your boss wants you to quit”), or even pushed us to question the value of using solar power (“going green may not be so green after all”). There were stubs which redirected you to footage of an enormous oil-spill that ‘no one is talking about’, and pointed the finger of blame on you, the reader.
Everything was geared in a way as to make me doubt myself! I was assaulted by hidden questions “How could I have been so blind?”, “Have I adequately prepared for that eventuality?”, “What I thought I knew about this may be wrong and even worse, I’ve been telling others about this!” I felt violated and betrayed by my own mind.
And then it hit me: that’s how they get you. That’s how this world is falling apart. That’s where this animosity is coming from. We doubt and subsequently lose our own capacity to think critically because it has been pummelled flat by a relentless bombardment of doubt-inducing misinformation. When the Internet arose we had so much ‘bullshit’ that we learned to tune it out. But then it cleaned itself up. Gradually it became a means of finding ‘reliable’ information, educational information. We discovered real information, shocking information about things of which we had hitherto been utterly and ‘blissfully’ ignorant. The Internet has made the world ‘our business’, our concern. While that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are things we should know about, certainly, – but it’s just too much for one person. And we’re all one person. Every one of us is assailed by concerns we couldn’t hope to face alone.
But top that off with the enormous amounts of misinformation, distractions; the pathetic and trivial concerns like the issues about whether or not a transgendered person should be allowed into the bathroom of their ‘post-transition’ gender or their ‘pre-transition’ gender (understand me – I’m not transgendered, and I don’t know anyone who has transitioned. I have no family who has had to deal with those issues – and so it should be none of my business. I think I have the decency to see that I don’t have a say in the matter. But then I become a ‘bad’ person by pulling out of the argument. Why? Because other people – for whom it also isn’t their concern – are intervening and causing trouble. So my withdrawal is seen as an active approval of their behaviour. So what am I to do?), It all just builds-up more uncertainty, more self-doubt.
And when you go through your day with a vacuous pit of self-doubt in your stomach, that gnawing feeling of not knowing whether you truly know right from wrong, not knowing whether you really can tell truth from falsehood, not knowing whether you are a good person or a bad one – then fear, and mistrust grows. If I can’t trust myself, if I can’t trust my own sense of morals, how on earth can I trust anyone else? If I try to trust, does that make me weak? If I’m kind to someone, am I laying down and giving-up? If I try to post something ‘interesting’ or ‘amusing’ to break the stream of fear – am I promoting ignorance? Am I contributing to the distractions? And what else am I not aware of? Am I unaware of these things deliberately?
It is insane to think that being kind is anything less that courageous. It is insane to think that showing respect is a sign of interior weakness. It is insane to think that giving consideration is outright acceptance and submission.
When you show someone respect, you do so from a position of complete strength. Equality is the state of highest strength – neither one of us is higher. If I respect you, it is because I know that you are just as strong as I am. If I treat you as an equal it is because I know that we are just as valuable. If I am kind to you, it is because I am strong enough to do so. If I give you my time and attention, it is because I am secure in myself that I have that time to spare. If I trust you, it is because I trust myself. I trust myself because I know where I stand on these issues. I know what I will stand for – and I stand for it. I have my views, but in my strength and confidence, I have the generosity of spirit to consider your views. If you have evidence that show my views as wrong then I have the courage to recognize them as such. I have the integrity and confidence to change them without losing anything of myself – indeed I am improving myself.
That sounds nice, but it isn’t easy. For one, we need to stop doubting ourselves. The way to do that is to pay attention to what we expose our eyes, to what we expose our minds. It’s pernicious and pervasive.
There are even things that might seem overtly un-problematic, even beneficial. Look at the runaway best-seller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity” by Yuval Noah-Harrari. A brilliant and creative historian who put an intriguing twist on ‘our story’. He posits that what made us special (gave us the evolutionary ‘edge’) as a species wasn’t just our opposable thumbs, or our intelligence – but our capacity to tell stories that other humans would believe as true – which in turn enabled large-scale cooperation. He then exposes some ‘stories’ that we don’t normally think of as fictions: money, human rights, agriculture, and more. Indeed, they are ‘fictions’, which became and remain real only while everyone believes them. But how does that make us feel about ourselves? We feel like we’ve been fools – the worst kind of fools: those who fool themselves and others. We put the book down and look around us and see nothing but delusion. So many ‘social conventions’ are stories we ‘tell ourselves’. While such a perspective can be very effective in allowing us to pull-back and look at the bigger picture, we must we aware of what it’s doing to our guts. What is it doing to our self-trust, self-respect, and self-confidence?
So my exercise for these next few days is to be vigilant of where my self-doubt is being fed. I recommend that you do the same. You may be surprised. If you are, have no fear! Inside you is a very strong moral compass. You know what is right, and if you’re not sure, you can trust that you’ll soon find out – be that by your own research, or by finding-out the hard way. Life will give you a swift kick in the pants if you do wrong. You know it will. Trust yourself, trust your gut. But for the love of Life, have the courage to be kind, have the integrity to recognize what is none of your concern – and have the strength to consider others as equals, and have the dignity to replace your ignorance with understanding.
Love is strength, and deep down, you know that.