Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions. While highly useful in situations where threat of immediate harm exists, it is the most debilitating and dangerous of emotions when present unnecessarily.
Humans, especially since the Industrial Revolution, have become increasingly protected from the dangers that our ancestors faced in relation to the natural world. But as mankind’s fear of nature and the elements has fallen, in its place many other fears have come to fill the void. Some of these fears have arisen in response to real threats, but many have been in response to things imagined.
“There are more things…likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” – Stoic Seneca
Ruling classes for thousands of years have understood the power of intentionally invoking fear in their subjects as a means of social control. Henri Frankfort, in his book the Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, noted that between 1800 and 1600 BC a fear psychosis spread through Ancient Egypt, precipitated by the invasion of foreign rebels hungry for power and conquest. Initially this fear psychosis was justified by a real threat, yet even when these foreigners were successfully driven far away from Egypt, the ruling powers sought to artificially maintain fear among the population – realizing that a fearful population is easier to control than a fearless one.
The artificial construction and maintenance of fear in a population by a ruling class has remained pervasive from the time of Ancient Egypt up until the modern day. Oppressive governments often maintain their grip on a nation by continually invoking fear, and then proceeding to claim that only they, the ruling powers, have the means and ability to protect the population from such a threat.
The technological advances of the last century have given those in power the ability to propagate their narratives and engage in fear mongering to an extent never before seen in history. However, despite the unnerving situation we find ourselves in, there is an antidote to the power of propaganda and fear mongering: that being, knowledge.
Plato rightly stated that “ignorance is the root of misfortune”, and as long as we remain ignorant of the fact that all too often those who claim to protect us from fear are actually manipulating our fears for their own benefit, then we will be contributing to the misfortune of the world through our ignorant compliance.
The reality is that most of us are not in a position to single-handedly change the world, but we can at least try to rid ourselves of the unnecessary fears which are the fuel for so much hate and destruction in the world.