After living for many years in quite a few Third World countries I have long been curious about the level of fear which is apparent in the developed world compared to those countries, which, because of their circumstances and nature have good reason for most to fear many things, much of the time and yet, where the Fear Factor is less.
What is it about developed nations which has them scrambling to gather together and maintain, a myriad of potential fears along with a host of imagined ones?
Is it that the archetype of Fear is and must be a part of human life, to lesser and greater degrees and when we have little to fear in any real sense, we must invent things to fear? And is it also that in a world where most have little faith and no trust in any God and little or no trust in those ‘authority’ figures of the past who could be seen as trustworthy, that we feel more vulnerable and frightened?
I am not arguing either for faith in God or faith in authority figures, in fact, quite the opposite, but merely exploring the source of such largely irrational and unnecessary fears and ultimately questioning why it is that we are drawn to fears and then to the need for some authority figure to quell those fears.
There is no doubt that ‘real’ and tangible fears are easier to deal with in some ways because they are identifiable, and we are always more comfortable with certainty, however much of an illusion it might be, than possibility.
Perhaps finding something to fear, which can be called real, whether it is or not, diminishes the fear factor because we know and can see quite clearly with what we are dealing. And if society agrees this is a real fear, we feel even more comfortable although the fear may only ever be something ‘agreed upon’ within the society which is why it exists in the first place.
So, while living in a literal war zone, or amongst severe poverty and oppression, will always bring demonstrable and real fears in ways that living in a civilized and secure nation does not and cannot – in the absence of fear, so we may feel comfortable, fears must be found.
Perhaps, without real fears and subjected to ‘free-floating anxiety’ with fear being a natural part of the human condition which kept us ‘alive’ and ‘safe’ from monsters, mastodons and marauders throughout millennia, we are therefore driven, albeit unconsciously, to invent fears in order to assuage the underlying anxiety and create an ‘illusion of certainty’ in regard to what we feel but do not understand.
And of course, when we invent fears we must then find ways to handle those fears, because to live with fear and do little or nothing, is for most intolerable. And for that we also have an innate impetus – we need to find someone or something we trust to save us.
God was very useful for this in the past because God in various forms was more powerful than we were or than mum, dad, or the king would ever be and was good at multi-tasking. God could pretty much take care of any fear, anywhere, anytime, or, at least offer the illusion that this was being done depending upon one’s ability to have faith.
The question in the modern age, in those nations which have least to fear, seems to be: Where can that fear be ‘hung’ in the first place so we can tell ourselves we know what it is we fear, and who, or what, can we summon to deal with it and save us from its threat? And there must be a ‘place’ to put our fear, whether real or imagined, and there must be someone or something who can save us, for without either, the path leads only to madness. That too being a part of human nature which we sense even if we do not know it as a literal truth.
In times past people put their faith and trust in God, priests, kings, queens, lords, leaders, politicians, teachers, lawyers, bank managers and those supposedly reliable and trustworthy bastions of society. But those days are gone and these days the ‘person’ it seems who is generally most trusted, is likely to be a medical professional, a nurse or a doctor. And also up there will be those who are involved in the realms of keeping us safe in some way, as research into who it is, or what profession is it, that we most trust.
The evidence is that Americans are the most fearful people on the planet it seems, fearing their Government in ways that other developed nations do not, despite being the most religious of developed nations, so clearly having God around does not help much. The Americans invented the Preppers, a group of people, numbering millions, who are so fearful of what might happen and the potential dangers they may face, that they feel a need to dig a hole and bury themselves along with huge quantities of guns, water and baked beans!
Although, to be fair, the religious belief in the main in the US, is invested in a God of fear and retribution so there is little comfort and more fear added to the equations. But the Fear Factor seems to be part and parcel of modern life in the developed world to lesser and greater degrees, everywhere.
Finding out the source, and/or the focus of our fears can be aided by knowing which professions are most trusted. Human nature being what it is, we are going to need to trust those whom we consider to be most useful to us.
Americans trust doctors and nurses most of all, swapping around with the number one spot. The British also trust doctors or nurses the most with teachers second and scientists third, so one and two fall into the ‘save us from death, disease and danger category.’
Australians are a bit more pragmatic with, in 2013, doctors coming sixth on the list of professions we trust and nurses at number four. However, Firefighters, Paramedics and Rescue Volunteers at one, two and three, are also connected with death, disease and danger, as are Pilots at number five- and who would get on a plane if we did not trust them – and Pharmacists at number seven, and so equate in general with the new religion and faith in the ‘medical’ profession, or rather, those professions and systems which we believe can keep us safe and alive.
And Europeans are more akin to Australians with 1. Firefighter | 2. Nurse | 3. Pilot | 4. Pharmacist | 5. Medical Doctor, but the common factor in all is that trust is placed in those professions involved in the areas of death, disease, danger.
Given where people choose to place their trust it is not surprising that the most prevalent fears revolve around disease and death in ways which are delusional when one considers the circumstances in which most live in developed nations. Most people do not face starvation or even malnutrition and neither do they face a threat of deadly epidemics given the high levels of sanitation. If they are injured badly in an accident they have ready access to a hospital which offers surgical and trauma skills of which people in the past and still in the Third World, can only dream.
There is no denying that the greatest skills of modern medicine are in surgical and trauma! Living in the Third World requires a degree of acceptance and pragmatism where a car accident where you are injured is likely to have you transported, as I learned from experience, to a clinic some hours away where a doctor might be on hand and where the décor is largely blood-spattered concrete and the X-Ray machine, if it exists, is broken, or there is no-one around who knows how to use it.
And yet, with less certainty, and perhaps because of it, people living in such circumstances are less consumed with fear than those cossetted by First World standards and care.
We have never been better fed, living in more secure, safer and more sanitary conditions and we have never faced less threats and yet people living in the developed world seem to live with more Fear than those who still do face such real threats as famine, war, poverty and disease.
It is as if we cannot help ourselves. If we do not have something to fear we must invent something to fear. It is as if we do not have a God in some form that we fear we must invent a God that we fear. It is as if we do not have some terrible threat in the form of advancing hordes of murderous barbarians or the Black Death breathing in the gutters of our streets, that we must invent some terrible threat.
The wailing and raging and moaning and fearing now goes not into the sight of ‘fires burning on distant hilltops which signal the enemy is near,’ nor in’ pustules appearing on a neighbour’s face as rats scurry around the kitchen’ but in what we eat or do not eat, how often we exercise or do not exercise, whether we have obeyed the instructions from the health professions which we are told ‘will save us’ and had the myriad countless tests, the modern version of Christian absolution in ages past, which means we have been good enough and have been obedient enough, to have been ‘forgiven’ for the countless sins we must surely have committed as members of this new crusade against the heathen enemies of disease and death.
It most certainly keeps many, perhaps most, distracted if not obsessed and as pious and as righteous in their faith as people have been throughout history. There is still religion, it is just a new religion. There is still God, it is just a new version of God. And there is still the most terrible fear driving it all.
Plus ca change….. or, the more things change the more they remain the same. We remain, as human beings, not much different to that which we have always been and forgetting this fact means that we will not have beliefs so much, as beliefs will have us!
And the new belief, faith and trust has been vested in science/medicine – for good and for ill.
As Olivier Clerc so insightfully articulated in his book, Modern Medicine – The New World Religion, the imagined fears are mostly fixed on health, which really means an obsession with death, and where the new God to be placated and pacified, is modern medicine in the form of your doctor!
As Clerc says:
“Medicine, then, has become the new world religion. The specific myths, beliefs and rites of Christianity have been unconsciously projected over medicine since Pasteur. As I explain in detail in my book, we can establish a very close parallelism between the catholic religion and modern medicine, although, for lack of space, I cannot go into all the details of each comparison in this article. In brief:
– physicians have taken the place of priests;
– vaccination plays the same initiatory role as baptism, and is accompanied by the same threats and fears;
– the search for health has replaced the quest for salvation;
– the fight against disease has replaced the fight against sin;
– eradication of viruses has taken the place of exorcising demons;
– the hope of physical immortality (cloning, genetic engineering) has been substituted for the hope of eternal life;
– pills have replaced the sacrament of bread and wine;
– donations to cancer research take precedence over donations to the church;
– a hypothetical universal vaccine could save humanity from all its illnesses, as the Saviour has saved the world from all its sins;
– the medical power has become the government’s ally, as was the Catholic Church in the past;
– “charlatans” are persecuted today as “heretics” were yesterday;
– dogmatism rules out promising alternative medical theories;
– the same absence of individual responsibility is now found in medicine, as previously in the Christian religion;
– patients are alienated from their bodies, as sinners used to be from their souls.
People are still being manipulated by their fears and childish hopes. They are still told that the source of their problems is outside them, and that the solution can only come from the outside. They are not allowed to do anything by themselves and they must have the mediation of priest-physicians, the administration of drug-hosts, and the protection of vaccine-absolutions.”