Today, we’re going to revisit a topic that I attempted to write about for what would have been the second article on the site way back in the summer of ‘17- fear. As you’re going to learn here shortly, “fear is the mind-killer,” since we so often lose before we even begin due to our fears preventing action. We’re going to take a look at the origins of fear, its effects, and how to deal with (or perhaps just act in spite of ) fear. Let’s start with the Litany Against Fear from the phenomenal book, Dune (one of the only fiction books that I recommend everyone read) by Frank Herbert:
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Our particular experience of fear is perhaps the first human emotion. I’m not describing the kind of fear that an animal feels when it sees a predator, mind you. Unlike animals, we’re able to imagine the future and feel fear for things that might happen, rather than only for things that are happening. We worry about the infinite possible bad things that could come to pass, and each of those is, as the litany suggests, a small death. There’s a Shakespeare quote that comes to mind:
“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
In our modern lives, it’s often especially silly that a circuit designed to keep us alive runs as often as it does, because most things you’re afraid of aren’t even life-threatening. However, the nature of the petty ego is such that when our mental attachments are felt to be threatened, we interpret that as an actual attack on the self. Consider the nonsense going around the universities about “words are violence” and you’ll begin to see what I mean.
We’re often so deeply accustomed to our fears that we’ve forgotten that they exist. There’s a Discordian (that’s a rabbit hole to explore) concept called the Black Iron Prison (borrowed from Phillip K. Dick, who may have borrowed it from Gnosticism), which basically argues that we build these mental prisons for ourselves based on our attitudes about the world, and because we’re so accustomed to them we can’t see them any more.
Fear is like that.
The root of fear is, as with all bad things, ignorance. You’ve certainly heard before that “we fear what we do not understand,” and this is fundamentally true. Think about the utility in that- if you’re walking in the woods, you’re ignorant to whatever is moving in the trees, and if you don’t know if it’s going to kill you, it’s probably safer to fear it than it is to not. As far as evolution is concerned, you’re better off being scared of something that isn’t scary than to not be afraid of something that you should be scared of. This is all well and good, but it’s left us in the awkward position of having to overcome ignorance and face our fears.
The root of all fears is the fear of death, and death is inevitable. Our fear of death is, in a sense, a denial of this fact, but it’s also an acknowledgement that we don’t know what the experience of death is like (re: we’re ignorant of it). Notable here is that people who have had near death experiences or profound psychedelic/meditative experiences generally report a significantly diminished fear of death- few things in this world are as scary in reality as they are in your head.
As with many situations, there is a Fight Club quote for this:
“First you have to give up, first you have to know- not fear, know- that someday you’re gonna die.”
We spend our lives thinking that, “Oh, no, not me, I’m not going to die, if I just avoid all that stuff that scares me, I’ll be safe.”
This is chief among all delusions in this life.
When you avoid confronting the fact that you are going to die, you begin to justify all kinds of stupid nonsense like working in a cubicle, selling out your dreams for money, not pursuing your passion, watching daytime television, settling in relationships and in life, accepting the shit state of the world, living in a forgettable way, caring what other people (who are also fearful) think about you, and effectively wasting the very precious time you have on this earth.
Ignorance leads to fear, fear is an inhibitory mechanism- fear prevents action. One of the greatest (and the worst for us modern people, as well) examples of this is the fear of failure. I recently discovered one of the ways that I’ve been letting this fear hold me back, and I came up with something I call Inertia’s Razor:
Any philosophy/ideology/belief system that leads to inaction is a fancy way of making excuses, and is, thus, bullshit.
Or, more simply:
If you have to explain why you’re doing nothing, it’s an excuse.
Why is this? Like I said, fear prevents action. We experience fear, and it tells you, “It might be dangerous! Don’t move and it won’t see you, or run away so it doesn’t catch you.” However, because we’re experts in both lying to ourselves and pretending that that lying isn’t actually lying, we like to pretend that our fears are justified, so we rationalize them.
This seemingly simple fact is actually the explanation for most of the world’s belief systems, in a roundabout way. We develop entire systems of ethics that we use to make ourselves feel better for throwing our fucking lives away out of fear, and we get to sit there and feel smug about the fact as death comes creeping ever closer.
Go read some of the regrets of the dying and let me know how that works out.
Someday, you will die. Whether you want to accept it or not, you’re a part of this world, and you live because other things have died to either birth you, feed you, protect you, free you and your country, or in some other way contribute to the unlikely event of your existence. You can try all you want to tell yourself that you’re not this miracle of evolution, the apex predator, killing machine, weapon of fate that is the human animal, and that you’re somehow disadvantaged or it’s someone else’s fault that you’re a fucking loser, but know this:
At your core, you are the pinnacle of all evolution and life itself.
You, everything that is you, from the chain of amino acids that codes your very existence, has survived for billions of years, enduring every extinction, plague, ice age, predator, climate, environment, and obstacle that has ever existed. You are fundamentally a perfect, adaptive tool, your mind is the tip of this spear, and there is literally nothing preventing you from doing whatever you set it to in this world.
Nothing but fear.
Here’s the best part. Me, personally? I don’t care whether you accept this or not. Most of the time, I write the things on this site for myself, and this is largely one of those times. If you’re here reading this, it’s not because you’re studying for a test, there’s no final where someone is going to check if you can recite this information, and no piece of paper that will “prove” you understand it. You can go on giving everyone around you excuses about why your life is the way it is, and you can justify your bullshit job, and why you’re miserable, and as long as you don’t start trying to regulate me because of your shit life and loser behavior, I truly don’t care beyond the fact that I hate to see wasted potential- it’s far too common, believe me.
The only person who has to understand this, who can do anything about it, is you, internally, within the private place in you mind where fear comes to whisper to you. That is the test you’re practicing for, the final you will face, and the degree that will say you succeeded is the moment of your death, when you can close your eyes one last time knowing that you have no regrets, that you gave this world everything you have, and that you did not submit to fear and the ignorance that breeds it.
How do we confront fear and ignorance?
We face it head on. Go in the direction of what scares you- pain is inevitable, so make it the pain you choose to bear. The more you challenge ignorance in yourself, the more you illuminate the dark forest that fear likes to hide in, and eventually, you come to find out that the only thing hiding from you was the secret motivation inside you that says, “I don’t think I can handle the challenge.” This is what fear is, at its core- the child you once were, not the capable person you are now, that you are continually becoming.
If we’re being totally realistic, you don’t even have to be a tenth as badass as your ancestors. You’re not likely to be working in a coal mine, or getting scurvy on a ship with no GPS, or hunting tigers with a sharp stick, or fighting a war with a single-shot musket, or surviving as the black plague tears through Europe and you watch everyone around you vomit blood and die. Nope, all you have to do is follow your dreams and maybe live in a tent for a while. Nothing too extreme.
Your job is to fight back against this culture of ignorance.
As a culture, we have enshrined ignorance as acceptable, and we have institutionalized fear. We’re getting dangerously close to losing the right to free speech because these infantile people are not capable of handling the mere thought of things that scare them. Ignorance is inevitable, but willful ignorance is the truest form of evil that exists.
It’s one thing to be afraid- we all are, and it’s perfectly natural. However, when you cannot accept that it’s fear and begin to call it something else with excuses, that’s a different matter. What’s worse is when you’re so eager to believe your own excuses that you use the government or some other authority as a means to defend your lies that you become a monster.
Marxist philosophy is one of the primary expressions of this- Marx never had a real job and he was a gigantic fucking loser, so instead of saying “I’m scared of trying and potentially failing,” he wrote endless tirades about why the world wasn’t fair and he’s the victim and oh, god, isn’t it just so bad how they’re taking advantage of the working class that he literally was not a part of- his rich friend Engels financed his lifestyle, ironically.
Ignorance is bad, but willful ignorance is evil. Anyone of sufficient intelligence to write a few books has to be held accountable for the fact that they’re simply lying to themselves about how the world works- the hundred million dead from the applications of Marxist philosophy in the 20th century is proof of that.
Wait a minute, how could anyone deny that?
This is the truly insidious part of fear- when we make excuses for our own fear, we invest petty ego-attachment into it, and we defend that attachment as if it’s us. This means we’ll deny, evade, or misinterpret anything we can to ensure that we don’t have to face the fear we’re afraid of confronting.
To accept that Marxist philosophy is fundamentally irrational is to confront the fear that reality presents us with.
Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people, and we are destined to fail.
This is correct, but it’s an incomplete statement. This is the world as defined by fear. Let’s try it again, but this time, we won’t stop at the place that fear arises:
Life is not fair, but there are rules to the game and you can learn them.
Bad things happen to good people, but way more bad things happen to bad people and that’s not an excuse to not try to be good, or to resent the world as some inherently awful thing.
We are destined to fail, because each and every failure is a stepping stone on the path to success.
You can live a lie for the entirety of your life, but you will be forced to confront some harsh realities at the end, because all your fear will not keep you alive forever. When the time comes, you’re going to die, and if you’re not prepared, you will die in regret and shame, and you’ll meet the reaper like a coward. You can pretend some unemployed jackass figured out all the secrets why your life sucks, and guess what(!), it’s not your fault you’re a loser(!), and never mind the fact all those people died every time, it’ll work this time(!)…
or you can take some goddamn responsibility for yourself and face your fears.
The most bitter of all things in this life is have any kind of potential at all- if you were just a useless person, your life would be a thousand times easier, because you wouldn’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations, least of all your own. However, if there’s even a chance that you could do something with your life, you’re automatically damned. It’s an indictment, even if you avoid dealing with it.
Potential is an obligation to act.
To have potential in you is to be forced to move, to go in the face of fear and inertia, to transcend and conquer your ignorance, to fight the whole fucking world, in vain, if need be, because this is what you were born to do.
Never before has there been so desperate a time in human history.
We’ve been darkly fortunate to have been occupied by the horrors of nature that we were able to avoid the far greater horrors that lurk under the surface of the Self. To know your true nature is to be condemned to die in the pursuit of the unattainable perfection that is the world you are capable of creating. Why is it unattainable? Because it’s something that you have to commit to striving towards forever, ever improving, never satisfied, eternal struggle.
To choose life is to consciously choose to live, and life is conflict.
To live is to suffer, to choose the suffering, and to meet it, bloodied and beaten, but unbowed, with a smile.
To choose fear is to choose inertia, and inertia is the unmoving cold of the grave.
Make your choice.