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Fear at work in the world

Roslyn Ross has this year become a regular Webdiary columnist, soecialising in social ethics. Her last piece was There's nothing fair in love and war.

by Roslyn Ross

Fear is probably the first human emotion that we experience and sadly, for some, if not many, it is also the last. And while Fear has always been a part of the human condition, there are times when it becomes most of what we are instead of a  very small part of what we can be.

This seems to be one of those times. Just read the papers, watch the television, listen to the radio, pick up a magazine or trawl the net; fear, fear and more fear. From war to fat to food to terrorists there is a feast of Fear on offer to us all.

In 1933 Franklin D Rooseveldt said: There is nothing to fear but fear itself. One could argue that there is really no point in fearing fear although many people do, or at least the feeling of fear, but we certainly seem to have managed to find plenty of new things to fear as we release or remove old ones.

While Love  may be the most powerful force that exists in the world, in truth, it is Fear that appears to be the most  powerful force at work in the world today. Beyond the question of Why is the more important question of what can we do about it? The first thing is to recognise not merely its existence but its power.

There’s a physiological basis to Fear that we all understand; it’s at the core of our valuable ‘fight or flight’ response. But we live in different times when the need for this response, for most of us anyway, is much less than it used to be. Children aside of course, because for them Fear is still a useful companion which encourages caution.

But for the rest of us there really is not much need for Fear. And yet it is all around us.  So many people live day in and day out with the distress caused by an awareness of danger, dread, apprehension, terror or foreboding when there is no literal ‘need.’ Instead of being an occasional friend, Fear has become a constant enemy.

In the past most people had good reason to fear childbirth, war, poverty, hunger, pain, disease and the dark, but for those of us living in the developed world such fears are no longer so great. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

But even if we have lost some of the fears of our ancestors, like that of the dark, or spirits, demons and ghosts, we have shown ourselves to be remarkably innovative in finding other things to fear. Our modern demons are food, disease, crime and now for many, terrorism.

In some ways, with the help of the media and ’nanny-style’  government we seem to live with more and greater fears than do those in the Third World, who really do have reason to fear things like food (it’s existence rather than its nature), disease, crime, war, wild animals, poverty, pain and helplessness. The media push the Fear button because it ‘sells’ and governments do it because they don’t want to be blamed for not doing it and because they are often influenced by powerful lobby groups.

The dictionary definition of fear is ‘uneasiness caused by possible danger.’ Interestingly the physiological response for fear and excitement are exactly the same, the only difference being interpretation. Most people are quite happy to feel excited but work very hard to avoid feelings of fear. The fact that they could remove fear from their lives by changing what they believe seems not to occur to them. And yet, if it did, it would wipe out in an instant one of the most powerful instruments of manipulation at work in our lives.

Because, even while trying to avoid feeling Fear, almost everyone, at some time or another, to some degree or another, uses Fear to manipulate. Parents use it with children, grown children use it with parents, children use it with other children, people use it with animals, employers use it with employees, doctors use it with patients, lovers use it with each other, teachers use it with students, people use it on themselves, do-gooders use it on everyone,  religions use it with their followers and governments use it on voters.

The trouble with making decisions based on Fear is that they will be visceral and therefore more liable to prejudice and ignorance. Take racial or ethnic hatred for instance. This is a direct consequence of our Fear Response. Hatred is really taking the fear response one step further. We justify that fear by invoking certain attributes to others by assuming that they may be inferior, evil or harmful. Your group will reinforce those feelings since all members of the group will respond to the same fear. This becomes institutionalised and the accepted norm for group thought. Governments may manipulate this fear response for their own ends, to varying degrees across a spectrum which ranges from what the Nazis did with the Jews and Gypsies and what the Howard Government did with asylum seekers.

For those who believe that the xenophobia whipped up over the asylum seekers was not racially based I would only ask, 'do you really believe we would have acted in the same way if boatloads of New Zealanders  or Americans had landed on our shores following some disaster?' Of course not.

All of us, no matter what race, religious or ethnic background are susceptible to this sort of Fear Response when confronted with groups  to which we do not belong and which we can easily categorise as ‘other.’ 

In short, triggering and manipulating the ‘fear response’ is the most effective way that Governments have of starting and waging wars. It is not possible to have an enemy if there is no fear; it is not possible to demonise an individual, a group, a nation, a religion, a culture or a plate of food, without fear.

Fear can make us do all sorts things, which, with a bit of common sense and measured reason, we could see for the silliness they are. It may not matter so much when it comes to food but it matters a great deal when it takes us to war or encourages us toward a less compassionate and just society.

Fear, which for our ancestors was a vital tool for survival has become our nemesis and a  force that now does not work for our survival but against it. For an animal, a young child or anyone with limited mental capacity fear is essential for survival but, for the rest of us who can process information, often in a ‘blink’ and can reason, Fear is all too often, more of  a dangerous handicap.

Because we fear Fear so much and will do anything to avoid feeling it, Fear becomes a powerful  force which is used as a weapon and we forget to make use of the most powerful  force of all, which has even greater powers of protection; Love.

Fear rejects and separates in a bid to control; Love accepts and embraces in a bid to experience. Life lives in Love and Death lives in Fear. At core of course, Fear is always about Death, which is about Loss, which in turn is about Fear; and so the cycle turns.

And behind all of it is a lack of Trust. Even those who have strong religious beliefs must, in essence, lack trust or they would not ‘fear’. In fact some of the most ‘fearful’ people are the most religious but then fundamentalism of any kind is no more than an effort to control life by defining its limits. That is why it can become so important to control those within the religion and even to convert those outside; being ‘right’ which means being ‘safe’ which means easing our fears is all important. When ‘beliefs’ are challenged, either within or without, the fear response kicks in and the only way to soothe it is to demonise the dissenter or punish them in some way.

And it is not just religion which does this. Any group that holds fundamental beliefs and pushes them as absolute truths is fuelled by fear. If they were not they would be happy to put their beliefs forward and to see individuals make their own decisions about what they believe and what they wish to do. Whether it is alcohol, exercise, vaccinations, cigarettes, sporting affiliation, nationalism, political parties, feminists or a survivor support group, it’s a sure bet that the more fervent the belief, the more passionate the push to convince or convert others, the more Fear there is at work. Because the only way to stave off your own Fear is to be right! The thought of being wrong, or only half right or sometimes right is just too terrifying to contemplate.

And what does it do to us, living as we do in the grip of Fear, whether consciously or unconsciously? It makes us ‘small’ in mind, vision, compassion and joy. It shrinks the world to a manageable size that can be controlled. Well, it can’t be controlled of course but the smaller we make it the easier it is to convince ourselves that it is controlled, that we are safe and can keep Fear from our lives.

Imagine what sort of people we would be if we lived without Fear. Imagine what sort of thoughts we would have, what sort of decisions we would make, what sort of acts we would carry out.

We would not need enemies because there would be nothing to fear. We would respond with Love because there was no-one  and no-thing to fear. We would live and walk and work and be in a compassionate world because we would not feel a need to seek to control anything or anyone.

And the first step toward that is  learning to recognise when we are making a decision which is based in Fear instead of one sourced in common sense, intuition and measured reason.


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A psychopathic personality?

Roslyn, if you look into the history and alliances of some of the wealthy and powerful families, you can find that dirty deals and skullduggery abound!

John Howard, if you look closely seems to be following the enormously powerful George Dubya Bush and his administration (and that is one family that demonstrates the "born to rule" and "ends justifying the means" mantra). Many of Howard's policies, practices  and new legislation have their roots in existing US legislation (anti terror, Govt. secrecy and deception of the people). I wonder how much of Howard's style of leadership is on advice from his son who went to the US to be "educated" in politics under the Bush administration. Suddenly, last election, Howard was into the annoying phone and email spam campaigning that everyone hated.

Could John Howard be our first political psychopath? Oh, I forgot, Joh Bjelke had that tag!  (I quickly rated him a 27, very close to a firm diagnosis!)

Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)

This is a clinical rating scale with 20 items. Each of the items in the PCL-R is scored on a three-point (0, 1, 2) scale according to specific criteria through file information and a semi-structured interview. The items are as follows:

Factor 1: Aggressive narcissism

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Conning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Socially deviant lifestyle

  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Early behavioral problems
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
Traits not associated with any factor
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

Score 0 if the trait is absent, 1 if it is possibly or partially present and 2 if it is present. The item scores are summed to yield a total score ranging from 0 to 40 which is then considered to reflect the degree to which they resemble the prototypical psychopath. A score higher than 30 supports a diagnosis of psychopathy. Forensic studies of prison populations have reported average scores of around 22 on PCL-R; control "normal" populations show an average score of around 5.

PCL-R Factor 1 is correlated with narcissistic personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. PCL-R Factor 2 is particularly strongly correlated to antisocial personality disorder and criminality.

(taken from Wikipedia)

Dirty deals and skulduggery

Deb, dirty deals and skulduggery are not particular to the wealthy and powerful. I am not saying that vested interests do not seek to entrench and further their vested interests but everyone does this whether it is the anti-smoking lobby or the rich corporations.

Howard (and Blair for that matter) may well be playing copycat with Bush but I suspect this has more to do with the corrupting influence of power than any sense of 'born to rule' in the way that our ancestors understood it.

A Nation in turmoil.

G'day Roslyn.  Do many of the thinkers that our country is fortunate in having, objectively consider the "big picture" of Australia today? After 10 years of Howardism we are accepting lying, corruption and blatant misleading information in our polical landscape - as normal!  With our Military in Iraq (illegally), Afghanistan, the Solomons, New Guinea and East Timor et al AND the continuing corruption and incompetency in our government departments AND the disgrace of our government bowing to U.S. pressure to supply India with Uranium (a non-treaty country) AND Howard wanting Nuclear Reactors and waste dumping in Australia AND foreign policies decided by the U.S. AND more and more legislation that avoids scrutiny by the Senate because Howard controls that too AND Industrial laws which were in force in the mid 19th Century AND removal of people's rights by Sedition laws AND a fascist "dob in your neighbour" policy AND constant divisions being forced on our people using typical Hitler methods AND the removal of Employee's rights and entitlements AND the degrading practice of no unfair dismissal protection while bringing in other "slave labour" to intimidate our most vulnerable people - and there is more - ARE WE NOT A NATION IN TURMOIL?   Doesn't most Australians feel insecure about tomorrow - or the next day - or the next generation - or the next mad decision by the Corporations Government in Canberra?  We are falling into an abyss of a "stuff you Jack I'm inboard" mentality.  I sincerely hope that every person who can join a Union, especially the young, will do so immediately.  Good luck to those youngsters in the Victorian UNITE registered "Business".  They realised that being a business puts them very comfortable in Howard's Australia.  There is no truth however - just the powers that be.

Born to rule are still ruling

Roslyn, here is an interesting article from Howard Zinn in The Progressive magazine which touches on a couple of the class issues (excerpt):

We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was “we the people” who established the new government after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Deb: This is an

Deb: This is an interesting article but America is a very different culture to Australia and has a different political system.

I've spent long periods in the States and have always been struck by how little we have in common beyond a common language, although even that is debateable.

Australia is a much more egalitarian society and it is also overall, better educated and more sophisticated. For one thing, the US has enormous disparity of wealth in a way that we do not. There are a few people who control most of the wealth, a large middle class and an enormous class consisting of workers, working poor, the moderately poor and the seriously poor ... Third World poor.

Australia on a percentage basis has a much larger middle class and does not have the huge numbers, percentage wise (not yet anyway) who fall into the working poor and seriously poor category.

Australia also has a far more efficient education system and this too makes a difference. The US has the highest illiteracy rates for the developed world and great disparities in education.

People who are poor or working to just survive are too busy to think about much other than surviving. Add to this the American belief that the world is America and you get little interest in the outside world. Add illiteracy to this and you get less capacity to seek and absorb information. Add a truly appalling media service which deals not in news but infotainment and you get a combination of ignorance, disinterest and arrogance in Americans which make them much more susceptible to being controlled by the powers that be.

Add to this the fact that 80 percent of Americans do not have a passport and even those who can afford to travel do not. Their knowledge of the world is minimal. Their interest in the world is minimal. They truly believe America is as good as it gets and have no way of knowing how wrong they are.

In addition, a powerful American cultural myth is the belief that those who fail, and that means the poor, do so because of their own fault.... Australians on the other hand are quite happy to point the finger of blame where it is needed and also believe that if they fail there is something wrong with the system. We are also comforted by the battler myth.

So, while this article is interesting I do not see that it has relevance for Australia.

Our ancestors knew all about it!

Roslyn,  Three white, Christian leaders, think that they have the moral and ethical right to invade another country?

I think that our ancestors understood perfectly well that white, religious people absolutely ruled the world (still do). Even today, you will find that many white, supposedly religious and godfearing people believe that they are superior to all other races/cultures. "Born to rule" is just accepted as a given by white society of all classes. The wealthy and powerful within that society have dictated and manipulated the laws, the governments and  the churches for centuries to oppress and stem any opposition to their rule. The people with the entrenched power are the wealthy and the born to rule classes.

Deb: I think we are

Deb, I think we are digressing somewhat and perhaps you could write something elaborating on this theme which we could discuss more fully.

Of course, historically, the aristocracy, the monied and the powerful have run things but I suppose I was talking more about the now when this power has been lessened (I do not claim removed) by the democratic process.

And while three, white Christian males may have been responsible for invading a sovereign nation which made no threat and posed no threat, one could hardly argue that this is a particularly 'white' or 'Christian' thing although it is more easily proven to be male.

Many 'white, god-fearing and religious people' may well believe they are superior to other cultures but this is hardly particular to being white or religious. I spent four years living in India and believe me, Indians believe they and their culture are superior to all others; I spent four years living in Angola and Angolans believe they are superior to whites; I have spent time with Chinese, Japanese, Israeli, Russian and Aboriginal people .... many of whom also believe that they and their culture is superior.

This is human nature. Countless primitive societies have beliefs where they call themselves 'the first people.' Christians may well believe still that their faith is superior but Judaism teaches that Jews are the most important of all because they are God's chosen people. Hindus believe they are superior and so do Moslems. This egocentric view is hardly particular to any religion.

As it turns out the modern world, which is the developed world, which is the richest world, does tend to be 'white' but it was not always so. Here is where we have been at for quite some time but in centuries past Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Egyptians, indigenous South Americans and Mongolians, to name just a few, all established empires which were the power-mongers of the time.

I guess I am not sure where you are going with this or what you are trying to prove. Religion, of all persuasions, has certainly been a common cause in war-mongering and war-making but it is not an absolute as we can see from Hitler, Pol Pot,  Stalin, Jonas Savimbi, or the Japanese emperor, to name just a few.

The wealthy and the powerful do always work in their own interests but so does anyone given half a chance. Look at unions if you want to see self-interest and power-mongering. I happen to think unions have been valuable and still have the potential to be useful but they can hardly claim to have always acted in the best interests of the community or non-unionists.

We live in a democratic, developed nation and should have no reason to fear the wealthy or the powerful because the greatest power available to us is the power of the people. It has not been used enough but it remains available all the same.

King Duncan and son Malcolm

Malcolm B Duncan, I am in shock. I have been living under an illusion. That illustrious ancestor King Duncan who heads our family tree was not the venerable wise man portrayed in that play. It seems evil, stupid and militarily incompetent is the painful truth, so he got himself done in.

Hopes of better things in King Malcolm, his son. Not much. History’s page suggests he was led to his death over some little slight by none other than Willie the Conq’s son. So dear cousin 50 million times removed, I suggest you watch out for some latter day psychopath that might be lurking in the shadowy halls of Castle Webdiary. Stay clear of the Hall of Jays. And don’t count on me to be there when your hour of need arrives. Ethelred the Unready had a bit to do with the making of me, but not before your lot had jumped the family ship. 

Apologies Roslyn, I can see you are trying to have a discussion about something I consider important. Down the track I will do better. But at present am trying to clean up the family haggis off the kitchen walls. Gotta keep your sense of humour somehow.

No conservative

Joghn Howard is no conservative. The sooner true conservatives realise the better.

That's exactly it

Roslyn, that is exactly the motto of the born to rule class "the ends justify the means". The conservatives, aristocrats and big wealth have always been the ones to happily do the dirtiest deeds to others, in their quests for power, glory, and more wealth. I think that they truly believe that what is in their interest, can't be wrong, after all, from the time of their birth these people have had their families, employees and others working to lie, cheat and steal for their desired outcomes. Who cares if others get killed, maimed or broken along the way - it's just collateral damage!

The mentality is inherited,  and and at the core of conservative thought. Howard epitomises the so called "values"of his supporters.

Deb: I can't say I agree

Deb, I can't say I agree with you in this instance and John Howard hardly comes from the 'born to rule' class anyway. I think both Liberals and Labor have, over the years, served Australians well and made mistakes at the same time.

Big business and conservatives have traditionally worked hand in hand but Labor has also taken this road at times. I think the lines are blurred in this day and age and that makes it easier to stay in power once elected and harder to oust a sitting Government.

And I really do not believe that conservatives, aristocrats (if there is such a thing) and 'big money' are necessarily as venal as you seem to believe.

I think John Howard's success comes from his cunning and his circumstances. He has no conscience when it suits him and clearly, in our current circumstances many Australians have no conscience either so we get the Government we deserve.

Fear and Profit

We are all victims of the hyped-up dangers described by government and media about almost anything that exists. The best antidote to being continually fearful is to realise that power and money are to be gained by grossly manipulating the facts. The effect of these distortions is to make the population gloomy and spend money to cheer up.

The government is to spend huge amounts on treating depression. Have they thought of removing the attorney-general as a first step towards making our lives sunnier?

However, with Bush and Ahmadinejad, two frightening leaders outdoing each other in provocative statements, how can we not be be fearful? According to the usually reliable Pepe Escobar (Asia Times online) the Iranian president is actually on a short rein and speaking out for mainly domestic reasons. I fear, yes I fear, that Bush is speaking to the world.

lack of meaning or pure selfishness

Roslyn, I'm not religious in any way, and I probably disagree with you on the lack of meaning in people's lives. I think (and could it be a generational thing) that meaning and purpose is shunned because people have become so "me" centric, they choose material wealth and possession because we have raised them to think that is all that matters in life - getting what you want.

These same people, when they do choose to become spiritual or religious,  then want the religion tailored to reflect their selfishness eg Hillsong. These "new" churches preach that it is OK to be wealthy, don't feel guilty about having and wanting it all,  and God helps those who help themselves.

The only thing that these selfish people are afraid of is having their affluent lifestyles disappear, so they swallow the Howard bait, hook, line and sinker.

Deb: I was never

Deb, I was never suggesting that 'meaning' is synonomous with religion. One does not need to be religious to have meaning in life. One probably needs to be spiritual but while religion should be based on spirituality, spirituality does not need religion to function.

Human beings have found 'meaning' in various ways throughout the ages whether it was through religion, family, community, nation, art, work or anything else which gives a sense of purpose.

In this ever-changing world, where little seems to last very long and families are often spread far and wide; communities are closed and the workforce has become a place where employers have no loyalty and employees because of that have no loyalty, it is harder, I feel, to find purpose and by extension, meaning.

We all like to think that our life is of value, that we can and do make a difference whether that difference is growing vegetables or changing the nation. We live in a world which has become increasingly individualistic and I think that is a good thing. But, the pendulum has swung perhaps too far and we have become so much focussed on Self that we lack commitment to community and family.

That's what churches offer, a sense of belonging, a sense of community; the village in the modern world. The 'new' churches appeal because they also tap into the 'greed is good' mentality.


Roslyn Ross is correct I believe, in her analysis of why people concentrate on the small problems rather than the real and large ones.

We may be playing amatuer shrinks here but the fear that has been generated throughout the world-in the form of "terrorism" which is real but blown out of proportion, and the thought of facing the real threat that we are gobbling up our resourses at an alarming rate, really make us feel quite impotent so it's easier in the end to focus on the "micro" fears. Particularly in Australia where we are insulated from the rest of the world. Americans are insulated much in the same way whereas most of Europe is far more engaged in the real problems of the world.

And this explains Howard's great success. For so many people it's so much easier to really believe he has the situation under control and the thought of changing to an alternative government is probably too much for some. The pace at which we change as well must cause a sort of disconnect for so many people so the history of this country really seems to have begun with Howard's first election. I find it hard to even find people who can remember the Keating years and the Hawke years are now like some fond memory. from a distint past.

Yet Howard has only really been around for such a short time-ten years is so short although it seems like an eon. It's all a sort of a mass fear gripping the population where it's just easier to turn inwards and focus on tax-cuts and rather stupid diversions like house prices and so on while major scandals like AWB just sort of drift over everyone's heads.

Except for the Scots of course.

Caledonean Insurance

Weel, y'see,
All that oil,
In the lovely North Sea -
Its OUR Oil
And that's Scots ha'we.

Michael: The other factor

Michael, the other factor from the Howard years is the rise in house values and the increase in borrowing both because of that rise and because of low interest rates which has made people terrifyingly vulnerable.to interest rate rises. 

Many Australians do believe, as some sort of inherited myth, that the Liberals are better economic managers than Labor and it therefore makes sense to them 'not to rock the economic boat' while they remain vulnerable. Interestingly a study was done a couple of years ago assessing the economic performances of the Liberals and Labor  over the decades and they came out on par. Not surprising of course but myths are very hard to remove and no-one is going to take a chance on testing it when they believe a possible outcome could bankrupt them. Irrationally, they are also more likely to continue to trust the Coalition more even if interest rates do rise. Labor has done a poor job of selling its economic performance. Then again, in recent times it has done a poor job of selling itself fullstop.

John Howard is one of the most cunning and manipulative politicians in Australian history. He is also amoral, if not immoral, when it comes to acting to ensure he remains in power. A part of this I believe, and again, it is playing amateur psychologist, is because he is unaware of his capacity for dishonesty and truly does believe he is right and is doing the right thing. At core he is an 'end justifies the means' man and when he handles the truth casually, I suspect he does so, sure and certain in the knowledge (his belief) that he is acting in the best interests of Australians. He is nothing if not paternalistic.

I think many people do remember the Keating and Hawke years and also remember the valuable work that they did in terms of bringing about radical economic change, the change which has given the Coalition a platform on which they could more effectively perform, but they are a minority.

It is human nature to be self-interested at core, because it is an inherent survival characteristic, and other more recent polls have shown most Austrlians neither like John Howard and his Government, nor approve of them, but fear their financial circumstances in voting for change.

Howard may yet be hoist on his own petard and one can only hope so given the dishonesty and incompetence displayed by so many of his ministers. John Howard's refusal to accept the reality of any wrongdoing on his part or that of his ministers, is, I think, another sign of his capacity for denial and his belief in his own rightness.

A substantial rise in interest rates could bring Howard down far more easily than any proof of dishonesty or incompetence. Sadly.

A lack of meaning

Deb, while I agree with you about Howard, I do think the truly interesting thing is why he has been so successful. There have always been politicians who have played the 'fear' card, it is just that sometimes it works more successfully than others. This is one of those times.

I think the reason why people focus on the micro and ignore the macro fears is because they can believe that at this level they have some power. I think we do live in a fear-mongering world where things are constantly blown up out of all proporation. The media is a part of this but society in general seems to 'need' exaggeration. It is as if we have been over-stimulated and the 'bar' if you like, has now been set so high, we are 'bored' by the ordinary and need the extraordinary to respond.

I also think that there is a greater lack of meaning in people's lives. I am not advocating a return to religion but in generations past, fears were kept in check by faith. It's not necessarily a mature way of living life but it worked. In this age, when science has become something of a God and Mammon rules, people are, I think, lacking real meaning; the sense that life has valid and sound purpose; the feeling that they can make a difference. But that's another subject and a much bigger one.

the fear of today is irrational

Hi Roslyn, good article, and very relevant to the politics of today in the style of John Howard, the person who manipulates xenophobic fears so mercilessly. Nobody in Australian politics has been prepared to sink as low as Howard, with his guttersniping, grubby and just plain nasty, politics of hatred and division. 

I don't understand why so many people are so scared of so little in their ordinary lives, yet the big things like war, ruining the planet for future generations, compassion and humanity, just pass them by without a care.  The money handed out to the greedy families and corporations in the form of tax cuts may as well be opium - keeping them all quiet, compliant and addicted.  

First Came the Bagpipes

If anyone has relatives who came through the Great Depression then surely they have found they lived the rest of their lives in fear no matter how wealthy they became. In fact that depression was enough to spur so many to acheive great wealth out of fear of poverty.

Fear has been used skillfully by politicians for most of the last and this century.

And when those facists finally come for us - let's hope they first come for the bagpipes.

Donne deal

Send not to ask for whom the bagpipes skirl ...

Crap is Still Crap

Dear Lady, you have that on good authority. But I think the Flailing Scotsman may have his -ologies mixed up. The topic may, by my reckoning, have more to do with anthropology than ethnology. There again it may simply be more generally a reflective piece, amplifying stuff that's out there in the mainstream.

A bit of a mixup certainly

Jacob, yes, I agree he has his ologies mixed up and that is what I was saying when I pointed out that my piece was not ethnological in content or focus.

It may well have more to do with anthropology but I wrote it more from a psychological perspective in the bid to understand human nature, or aspects of human nature.

I actually wrote on this theme, the basic construct of this article, last year and was interested to see Ross Gittins piece the other day drawing on similar themes. But, as we all know, nothing is truly original, certainly not thoughts although we must all be careful with the words that we use to convey those thoughts and opinions if we draw on earlier works.

The important thing is that such issues are raised and discussed.


First came the bagpipes. On the serious note on which I started, the whole lot is ethnological bullshit. It was like being back in first year psychology being told about what insects did or what some idiot grafted onto (usually her - remember the piss the islanders took out of Margaret Meade?)  flawed observations of "lower" forms of culture.  You may seek to redefine what ethnology is but, dear lady, crap is still crap.

a psychological maxim

Malcolm, resorting to abuse is usually a sign that one has no argument. It is also a sign that an emotional button has been pushed and the visceral response outweighs any reason.

There's a psychological maxim: That which we condemn in others is that which we deny in ourselves.

I suspect, given the irrational and emotional nature of your response that fear is very much at work in your world and you work very hard to deny its existence.

You may disagree with views expressed but that does not make them 'crap.' I disagree with your view in regard to my views but I would never call them 'crap.' That's the difference.

After taking a deep breath, or perhaps having a cup of tea and a nice lie down, you might like to ask yourself why you responded so vehemently and so irrationally to the topic.

PS. You might also like to look up the meaning of ethnological, just for future reference.


Roslyn, I remember having a conversation to my friend's girlfriend at the time, she was Fijian, a lovely person, I remember her telling me that when Fijians are on a bus or train, the whole carriage spontaneously erupts in conversation, and I have had this same story told to me by older Australians. Why these conversations come to mind, is that what we can understand in the foreground and rationalise may not be the explanation to what is the real cause in the background.

What has happened to the background of our culture, to make fear change its balance? Fear, as you say, when it is natural is there to protect us, it gives us signals and allows us to respond to dangers, but our fears now are manufactured because we have lost our place in society, we no spontaneously combust into conversation with strangers in a crowded train, society has become to fluid and everyone is in constant motion, so how can we really get to know anyone?

We need a relationship to time and self and cultural connections that germinate in our unconscious for spontaneous conversation to occur in a crowded train of strangers. This is the Background we need, the Foreground will than look after itself, Fear will regain its balance. Cultural Time is my answer.

Charles: I agree with you

Charles, I agree with you that we cannot always rationalise our way to understanding cause and effect. But I would suggest that rationalisation often follows an intuitive feeling or knowing about things and that is the way I work. I believe that everything makes sense at some level, it is just about trying to make some sense, or find some sense in what we experience or perceive.

I agree too that there are cultural influences at work. Different cultures deal with fear differently and that must have an impact. Some cultures deny it and many demand that men in particular deny Fear and that certainly has an impact on the ability of men not only to discuss their fears but to recognise that they have them in the first place.

Ross Gittins

For all that missed it, the above's article in the SMH a few days ago is certainly worth a look.

Raising awareness

Scott, yes, I saw this and found it very interesting. I wrote my piece last year but we had clearly both drawn on some similar sources. All good as far as I am concerned in raising awarness of the place of Fear in our lives.

too true Malcolm

Sadly though the world isn't run by Scotsmen - apart from the UK which has a truly mad one at the helm, but is dominatd by an American who seems bent on sending us into a nuclear holocaust.

Clan traitor

I think I'd have to concede that we're not very good at running much more than sheep, a pipe band or the most complex engineering you've ever seen.   Seen one Hiroshima, you've seen them all.   Yet, I must say, a sudden outbreak of nuclear strikes might induce even me to move towards accepting the global warming nonsense.

Does it matter?  Why are we here? I don't have kids; why do I care?   Because I'm human I guess. 

Give us a hug

Ethnological bullshit.   We Scots fear nothing – then we die.

Which part was ethnological

Malcolm: You might like to point out which part of my article referred to  'race' and/or racial characteristics given that ethnology is the branch of anthropology which deals with the division of humankind into races and the origin of those races and their distinctive characteristics.

I was talking about the human condition of fear, which, as any psychological study reveals, is part and parcel of human nature and that includes the Scots. The Scots may do better with denial which is perhaps why high levels of rage have historically been associated with the Scots .... which came first, the red hair or the rage? The latter I suspect.

Behind rage there is always fear because rage is magnified anger and the intensity comes from a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness.

You may well be right when you say you 'fear nothing' but I would see that as belief, not fact and indicative of your capacity to deny or fail to recognise fear when it exists. We all fear things; we do not always know that we fear. Many of our fears are subconscious or unconscious, and, even more so in cultures which, as you suggest, are brought up to believe 'they fear nothing.

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