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Fear

December 7, 2019

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” – T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

In American culture since 1620 there have been three major things to fear:  God, natural destroyers (e.g. storms, starvation, microbes) and males. In 2016 we added an orange clown.

This page has general applicability, but I’m writing it in the quotidian context of that clown, Herr Trompf, and the question of how anyone can vote for him.  His evil-trickster scariness has cowed, for instance, the Republicans in Congress to the point that they are willing to make public jackasses of themselves, rather than risk his wrath and the wrath of his voters (whose power they have enhanced with their anti-democratic tactics of voter suppression).

Trompf voters are Amygdalians.

I’m thinking that the bulk of Trompf voters are guided in their socio-political, as well as domestic and religious, decision-making by emotions  In politics that means mainly fear, pride, greed, resentment, anger, hatred (they also feel love and joy, for instance, and those positive emotions of wholeness are larger and more powerful, but when it comes to politics they become twisted by demagogues into service of the negatives, which they supercharge).  Especially fear.

So I’m thinking about fear mainly in connection with understanding support for Herr Trompf—understanding his voters, as well as the man himself.  I think that their major motivation, certainly in politics and maybe in life in general, is fear.  Thus their main motivation is an emotion, an emotional response to life.

I think it helps my understanding to keep in mind (as I take it from neurology) that an emotion is a state of body.  That is, it is visceral; it is a physical activity (muscle tissues, skin, cardiovascula, lungs) produced by electrochemical signals coursing throughout the body, and in this case between the brain and e.g. the amygdala.  An emotion is more like my thumb’s experience of a hammer, than it is like Plato’s reasoning about a Form.  My reasoning in response to my fear is much different from my reasoning in response to Plato’s reasoning about a Form.

Plato’s reasoning does not engage my ego (unless I have a moment of pride at maybe having understood it, or embarrassment at once again failing to understand).  I’m thinking, from Jung et al., that what is activated when my “ego” is engaged is my imagination (which is also, of course, a set of electrochemical substances in the form of signals) of a self (also), taking the form of an archetypal image an of individual unit of living matter, and this one happens to be me, taking the “imaginary” form of an archetypal image, called the “ego.”  My ego isn’t me, the whole unit-self organism-being; but I easily confuse the two.

More than anything, life wants to go on living.  That’s not it’s fault.  It’s simply the way things have evolved (at which point I want to acknowledge that my thinking is never 100% correct, and that anyone, especially you, dear reader, is welcome to disagree—but not on the basis of superior ignorance).  The human unit has evolved to be intensely aware of itself, viscerally and reflectively, as a unit; and a major form of that awareness is the imagination, active on both the unconscious and conscious modes of brain activity, including imagining in archetypal images:  Voilà, my ego, as the image of my living unity with its drive to go on living

Et voilà, the amygdala, with its ability to signal danger, a threat to my life.  My receipt of that signal and my response to it includes visceral and then imaginative emotion, fear. But in the context of love, fear can be overcome.

A story came out of the American military experience in WWI.  I don’t know for a fact that it is true, but it makes good sense.  A unit of American soldiers were pinned down in a trench across no man’s land from enemy machine gun positions that were laying down sheets of death.  These soldiers were ordered to attack the enemy position. But when their officer gave the signal to go, the men hesitated to leave the trench, risking almost certain death.  Just as it seemed the attack might falter, the officer shouted to his men, “What’s the matter with you?  Do you want to live forever!”  With a shout of courage and determination, and of acceptance of fatal self-sacrifice, the soldiers “went over the top.” That grim triumphant humor transformed the soldiers’ perspective to one that overcame their egos.  It replaced that potent archetypal image with the greater power of an image of something much much larger than themselves, making their spirits, their larger image of themselves much larger, thereby overcoming their fear of dying.

I’m thinking that in this flat-out moment of life in death and death in life, these soldiers immediately got the joke, the good grim humor of it.  No joke, all humor, they got the essential existential reality of simultaneously the literal, ironic, paradoxical, and a perspective that is so big that it subsumes the duality, and places the moment and the individual in a much larger, much more meaningful experience of reality.  Of being.  Of course they wanted to live forever, of course they were not going to live forever.  What, then, was it, “to live”?  It was to be natural, fully knowingly alive, and to offer their lives to that truth, that way of being.  It was to offer their lives in death in a way that transcends the temporarily apparent and necessary duality.  In the temporary that makes the permanent, in an act that they believed served a living reality beyond their temporary lives (maybe even beyond the finite), they had vowed to obey a just order, to the best of their understanding.  They had promised their lives, if need be, in service to the lives of others.  Now they intuited the vast necessity of both life and death in the wholeness of being.   It was a very big deal, for some the biggest deal of their lives; but in action within the perspective that had just been given them by that officer, it was also “no big deal.”  “It’s nothing, really,“ and it’s everything.  It’s both.  They were given the opportunity to live that remarkable realization; and they seized it, gave themselves to it, and let it all go.

[That’s huge, and I’m thinking more about overcoming larger perspective, on that page.]

Under most ordinary conditions, I’m happy to be able to say, certainly in my privileged time and place, it is a reasonable, good thing to want and strive to go on living.  There are many good reasons for doing so.  I’m grateful to my amygdala for its aid in recognizing and responding to reasonable threats.  Still, sometimes it response must be informed by a higher image.  And sometimes it responds urgently to false negatives, which can seem to be reasonable; then, if my emotion overwhelms my reflective reasoning, and my imagination amplifies the seeming state of danger, I succumb to paranoia and/or panic attack.  My amygdala receives those signals, and, unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, thinking we are genuinely, urgently under attack, it sends out more electrochemicals.  Frankly, that’s no way to live.  It can lead to big mistakes, of judgment and voting.   

I’m thinking that many Trompf supporters live in a perpetual state of paranoia and panic attack.  He encourages that error.  (Perhaps his own narcissism is an overcompensatory defense mechanism that results from his own extreme fear.  It keeps him going, in a constant state of self-defensive self-inflation and destruction of everyone else.)  He speaks directly to his supporters’ amygdalas, and thereby to their egos.  To the ego he says, like many Republicans before him, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”  But then he says, “I alone can save you.  I want you to do me a favor, though.”  

Of course they are all too willing.

[to b revised]

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