Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” But recently I watched this old Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life episode, hosted by Alan Watts, that mentioned an unintentional counterpoint to this piece of rhetoric. He was talking about being in a state where one understood the unity underlying our seemingly individual existences, and, after understanding this that one could not be fazed. He then went on to elucidate by claiming that this wasn’t a sort of state where you repress your emotions to the point of their nonexistence, but, “It means, rather, that you’re no longer afraid of being afraid. You’re no longer afraid of grief, of pain, of being sensitive. You’re no longer afraid, in other words, to go into life with total zest.” After digesting this for about a day, I came to see Roosevelt’s phrase as another in the endless stream of vacant American aphorisms, that, although possibly well intentioned, does more harm than good by existing in its generally accepted position.
I think for most of my twenties, which just ended, I spent way too much time trying and failing to avoid fear, to the point where it consumed my life and became the basis of most of my actions and outlook. There were many spots of time where it was my default setting. I could tell that this was the case when I randomly didn’t feel any fear and it felt so weird that I started to get afraid of my fearlessness. I only know this because that’s presently not the case, and I have an outside vantage.
Bill Hicks, to end his last major special, divided the whole world of choices into two distinct categories: fear and love. I’d watched this special tons of times, but never took the message to heart, probably because of all the deconstruction of self it implied, all the removing of the roots linked to my patterned existence that needed pulled from the fear source of inspiration. The longer you avoid that process, though, the worse it seems to get. Conditioning yourself to be afraid of experiencing that fear is just a compounding of the problem. It exponentially glorifies and prioritizes that fear by utilizing it as a seeming reaction against itself in a spiral like manner until you’re in its inescapable embodiment of your self. The fear you find yourself in when trying to fight off fear isn’t the reaction—it’s the experience itself. Like mirror upon mirror upon mirror, fear utilizes a false image of itself to provoke a reaction into its own experience. It’s like fighting extremism with extremism. It’s just a perpetuation, an amassing of negatives untempered by any positive. In this way, you could say that it’s cowardly, more full of suffering, to try and avoid experiencing fear.
Fear was an L.A. based punk band from the late 70s that I never really listened to, but know of because they were one of the first, if not the very first punk band to appear on SNL. Also, the lead singer, Lee Ving, played Mr. Body in the movie Clue. I recorded this movie off of HBO when I was a kid and watched it a lot. I wish Hollywood would take more creative risks like this—making a comedy movie based off a board game. Just imagine the possibilities with the wide open template of a Sorry! movie.
Fear of Music is a Talking Heads album I’ve never listened to. I really haven’t gotten past ‘77 and Remain in Light.
Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy was one of the few rap albums I’ve ever owned. I haven’t listened to it in probably close to ten years.
Fear was an early Marky Mark movie that I never saw, but because commercials and other mostly useless specifics from my childhood have a quicker draw in my mind than other, more necessary bits of information, I know this.
“Fearless” is my favorite song on Pink Floyd’s Meddle. This album really deserves to be more popular than Dark Side of the Moon.
“Just See Fear” is a song on Here and Nowhere Else by Cloud Nothings. I only got into this band earlier this year, but they’ll probably be the band I’ve listened to most in 2015. I like that they’re from my home state, from the city where I saw all my formative concerts. I like that they started out making catchy pop punk and moved into darker territory and sound, sort of a reverse trajectory from the norm of punk bands as they get more popular. Their sound is the sound I’ve always wanted to make if I had a band.
“Waves of Fear” was one of the only songs that resonated with me from Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask. I feel lucky that I got to see him perform it live.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was probably more important to me as a movie than it was as a book. I’d seen the movie probably close to seven times before actually reading the book. Like most naïve and impressionable kids coming of age, Hunter S. Thompson’s outrageous lifestyle was inspiration toward a life that broke the mold of typical existence. I’ve come to see him as a bad role model, though. He’s kind of mixed in with that whole concept of extremism and excess now in my head that seems to have exhausted itself, and myself in the process.
Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard, although interesting sounding, is one of the many books of philosophy that I’ll never read.
I Live in Fear is an Akira Kurosawa movie. I think it’s an early documentary, but I’m not sure. I actually just got done binging on his early stuff, but for some reason skipped over this one. I even read his sort-of autobiography during this time, but it didn’t mention this movie, even though it mentioned the making of everything up until Rashomon.
No Fear was (is?) one of the many douchey clothing labels that I grew up amidst.
Last year I read the whole Old Testament and the Gospels because I felt like I’d dismissed Christianity at too young an age without having given it a full chance. One of the many phrases that gets repeated maybe more than a couple of times is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom,” which kind of reminds me of William Blake’s claim that “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” I’m more likely to agree with the latter, just from my own experience, although at times that wisdom seems extremely flimsy, if it is wisdom at all. If we went back to Hicks’ dichotomy, it’s kind of weird that God is supposedly Love, while at the same time wisdom is achieved by fearing that love. I was receptive and gave the Bible a wholehearted chance to impress me, but there’s too much crazy and contradictory shit in there. What am I supposed to make of Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and having their way with him so they could have children, and God endorsing this (Genesis 19:35)? Maybe I just have a faulty point of view on religion, which, at its heart, really, is just a mechanized mythology. Joseph Campbell has this to say:
For since mythology is born of fantasy, any life or civilization brought to form as a result of a literal mythic identification or inflation, as a concrete imitatio dei, will necessarily bear the features of a nightmare, a dream-game too seriously played—in other words, madness; whereas, when the same mythological imagery is properly read as fantasy and allowed to play into life as art, not as nature—with irony and grace, not fierce daemonic compulsion—the psychological energies that were formerly in the capture of the compelling images take the images in capture, and can be deployed with optional spontaneity for life’s enrichment. Moreover, since life itself is indeed such stuff as dreams are made on, such a transfer of accent may conduce, in time, to a life lived in noble consciousness of its own nature.
Perhaps not taking the Bible, or any religious scripture so seriously is the actual key to understanding it. It’s also probably the method for allowing it to benefit your life while not allowing it to interfere in others’ lives. But the element involved that doesn’t let this become the norm, and which probably turned all these fantasy fables into doctrine, is fear. Fear of death, uncertainty of the afterlife, as well as the fear of experiencing life and the natural world all drive a person to scripted dogma for a remedy—words instead of reality. These maps of the spiritual allow for laziness in the moral work each individual should do for himself or herself, as they are only maps, not the experienced terrain of life. To me this is the only ‘should’ actually involved in being human, because the lack of others doing this moral work is, broadly speaking, in conjunction with personal idiosyncrasies, what generates all my fear, and probably that of others. The powerful institutions of religion are fueled by fear against actual moral development. Western religion is a congealed island, a knot of fearful thoughts seeking distinction apart from reality, and in turn, it turns their ardent believers—not necessarily the passives who identify with a religion, but don’t actually read the literature—into people not living in reality, but living in a horrifying world of abstract concepts.
It’s not like secular life is much different. Imagine living in a world made up of implanted concepts—that’s all any ideology is, even the supposed lack of one—and waking up to it, realizing that most of what flows through your head on a daily basis has no connection to who you really are, or to the actual flow of forms throughout nature. Imagine that the ritual pattern of soundbites, clickbait headlines, junk mail, talking points, inflated poll numbers, botched data, out of context interview snippets, and other personally inexperienced trivialities that fill in those empty gaps of your day are now woven into a large chunk of what constitutes your self. Imagine knowing this and honestly wondering if you can trust yourself to make good decisions or have valid opinions anymore.
But then again, as Alan Watts once said, “If you can’t trust your own nature, how can you trust your own mistrust?”
I wish I knew how to comprehend that, and put its essence into practice.