© 2007, 2013 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
Is there more fear in the Modern World than in the Past?
Fear has always been part of the existence of mankind but is the modern world filled with more fear than in times past? The modern world is no stranger to the concept of fear. Communication world-wide is superior therefore perhaps the awareness and level of fear appears to be higher. The various reasons for fear may have changed, but confrontation with fear is inevitable.
Fear In the Past
Since time began, other than breathing, fear has been perhaps the most basic of human instincts because fear is required for survival. To preserve life has always been to react to any given stimuli, instantaneously understood or not. The most primitive bottom line was to quickly move away from danger, imagined, perceived or real —or hide from it. The ultimate value of a cave became ever apparent. Understandably cavemen lived in fear of saber-toothed tigers, and giant mastodons shook both ground and the hearts of hunters carrying wooden spears, making them appreciate fire —and question their hunger.
Ancient fear of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and other dinosaurs is within our contemporary understanding. In Alberta, Canada, a recently- discovered skeleton of a Tricertops, the triple-horned dinosaur – was found to have a skull the size of a modern Smart Car. That beast was clearly large enough to instill fear in anyone foolish enough to get close to it.
Lightning, thunder and earthquakes commanded respect and awe, characteristics that are in fact based upon fear in the primal human mind. The appeasing of Gods was invented to allay fear. Sacrificial virgins were tossed, not arbitrarily, but with purpose —into volcanoes, —either before or after their hearts were cut out with obsidian knives and held up to the Sun for approval. Appease the Gods with ritual expressions of fear and we shall be safe. Volcanoes, hot lava, vast floods on the earth, severe weather, comets, eclipses and wonders of the skies above the earth all contributed to fright and flight —and also molded the beliefs of society.
Invaders brought Fear
Invaders came. Enemy tribes sacked winter supplies, killed at random and took women and slaves at will. In the process they evoked extreme fear and tested the nerve, willpower and the very right of survival of some early civilizations. The response to invasion was the building of enclosed villages fenced with brush, sticks, and later sharpened stakes and logs, the first gated communities. Village communities became forts, and castles were built by slave labour for the safety of the nobility and the rich. Surrounded with moats filled with foul water, stone structures so built became almost impenetrable until appropriate methods of war were developed to penetrate them, nevertheless, the establishment of huge encampments of attackers just outside the gates was a genuine source of fear.
Pursuit of Riches and Ideology
The eternal pursuit of gold also made the hearts of people cold with fear. Endless and savage pillaging of riches and treasures regardless of where they existed contributed to history; the Barbarian hoards, marauding bands of thieves, pirates on the high seas, and warfare; countries invading and being invaded for gold, but for other reasons including riches, revenge, religious conquests to convert, and territorial conquest for land, power and influence.
Fear of the Small and Powerful
Humanity soon learned other humans were not the only enemy. The size of an enemy causing fear was no longer relevant, – mastodon, lion, man, jackal, or virus. Fear of disease spoke mightily in the Black Death of Europe; the Bubonic plague, a pandemic illness borne by tiny fleas that killed millions of people; their fear was justified; death was endless and non-selective. Spanish Influenza killed millions more people in 1918; discovered to be caused by a virus, that pandemic proved the diminutive size of an attacker did not minimize the fear generated in the attack.
In modern times, world-scale wars have shaken the foundations of mankind with fear and uncertainty. Millions were killed in seemingly mindless warfare to stem the tide of ruthless political dogma and the purveyors of unwanted conquest. The horror and madness of ethnic cleansing in Europe added justifiable logic to warfare, making it unthinkable for free men to lose.
The deployment of the Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki contributed a new kind of fear to that era; weapons of mass destruction.
The Nuclear Age arrived bearing grave concern for the very existence of humanity; if it was not the madness and gruesome threat of mutual assured destruction, it was the haunting specter of radiation cast upon the populations of the world, the knowledge that world-wide nuclear contamination would not only create an uninhabitable earth and cause illness, death, and mutation; but it would also cause a nuclear winter, the cooling of the earth, and even the dying off of all species on earth.
Fear in the early nuclear age expressed itself in the construction of bomb shelters and the cold war, the tit-for-tat stockpiling of nuclear weapons of the superpowers, threats of insane political willpower to use nuclear weapons, -and the instantaneous diving of students under their desks in school upon hearing blaring sirens in the street. Safety drills were studious but virtually useless knee-jerk reactions, a desperate response to fear and perceived danger.
Vietnam, Fear and Defeat
Vietnam. The knowledge that the United States, the greatest military force in history could be beaten -created uncertainty and challenged the confidence and esteem of an undefeated power. Fear of human inability to defeat an ever-present enemy magnified the enemy within. The parallel subsiding of the cold war with the failure and breakup of the U.S.S. R., the taking down of the Berlin wall, and the movement in Poland to democracy seemed to relieve the apparent immediate need for both bomb shelters and the urge to dive under desks but uneasiness remained. Did the ex-U.S.S.R. member-states lose control of nuclear weapons? Nobody really knew.
The Evolution of Fear
It appears that in ancient times, the danger could be seen coming. Life was indeed fraught with danger, and fear was common fear because of the visibility of immediate danger. Run or be eaten. Hide or be taken as a slave. Flight or fight. Fight or be killed in wars not of your own making. Fear has now evolved to fear of the unknown and the immediate threat is fear of the future.
Meanwhile, the gap between poor countries and developed ones is ever widening. The fear of impotent economies in the third world are evolving to be ever more dominant. Countries with a grudge have power to attack. Do suitcase-sized nukes exist? No one really seems to know, but the insistent terror is alive and well. Are there home-grown terrorists in our own country? It seems there is more than enough fear for everyone, unjustified or not.
Fear of the Un-winnable War: 9-11
The 9-11 attack on the World Towers changed the reasons for fear forever. In the old days a war was winnable. The armies could be driven off, their weapons could be taken away from them, and countries could be taken over and occupied for years if necessary. No longer. Terrorism is the new war that invoking fear that may never be completely eliminated because it is not identifiable; the enemy wears no uniform and his mindless attacks are not only vicious and indiscriminate attacks on the innocent -they are suicidal attacks on the mind. The mind is no longer at rest.
The modern world fails to understand the logic of terrorism, because logic is non-existent. We pretend that we do not know what terrorists really want —and flail at windmills. Apparent solutions remain unacceptable and inadmissible.
It is impossible to eliminate terrorism caused by insane extremism and unprecedented religious fervor. Worse yet, it is impossible to eliminate the collective human insanity that yields to fanaticism, filling our present-day world with fear. The modern world is filled with more fear than in times past, but strangely, it is of our own making.
Is that Incoming I hear?
Photo credit: By Jon Parise from San Francisco, US (Tyranosaurus Rex Skull Uploaded by FunkMonk) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons