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Fear Makes The World Go Round

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fear makes the world go round

[Translation of El miedo hace girar el mundo (Fear makes the world go around) by Gabriel Laguna published in Tradición Clásica on 4-Sept-2006.]

The number of things that human being do as a result of fear are innumerable. I don't believe Freud, when he says that the single motivation for the human species is the sexual drive. Neither am I convinced that mankind is driven by a dual motivation as proposed by Arcipreste de Hita: subsistence (the preservation of the individual) and procreation (preservation of the species).

Como dise Aristóteles, cosa es verdadera,
el mundo por dos cosas trabaja: la primera,
por aver mantenençia; la otra era
por aver juntamiento con fembra plasentera. (Libro de Buen Amor, estrofa 71)

As Aristotle said, One thing is certain,
the world works for two things: the first,
to have sustenance; the other,
to have pleasurable union with women. (Book of Good Love,
Juan Ruiz (ca. 1283 - ca. 1350) was Archpriest of Hita)

No, the universal motivating factor, the ubiquitous engine that drives the world, is fear.

The baby at the breast calls out for food and devotion from its mother with its cries, because it is afraid: of dying from starvation, or being trodden on or being beaten by an older sibling. The kids at school bully the weakest because they themselves fear that they will become the victims of others: they promote fear because they themselves are afraid. Because we fear of loneliness and social exclusion, we forge friendships with others. This same fear leads us to form groups (it is said that, “In union there is strength”) as in associations, clubs, political parties and trade unions (trade unions: almost mafia-like societies for mutual protection that armour its members against everything outside). We study and develop professional careers because we are afraid of “being nothing” in the human jungle and so of not being capable of providing our nourishment, medical attention and protection against hostile forces during our lives. When we are in love, we engage in the worst sorts of indignities and abasements out of fear of being rejected or abandoned by our lover. People become partners and marry the wrong person for fear of isolation. We have children because we are scared of imagining ourselves alone in our old age or because we try to overcome the fear of no one will remember us once we have died.

Many people are attracted to power and wealth (as we saw in Lucretius) because such qualities give us an apparent feeling of security and release us from fear. We intoxicate ourselves with drugs or alcohol make us forget because we are terrified of facing up to reality. We cling to life because we are afraid of death, like Hamlet:

For in that sleepe of death, what dreames may come,
When we haue shuffel'd off this mortall coile,
Must giue vs pawse. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life
For who would beare the Whips and Scornes of time, […]
When he himselfe might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardles beare
To grunt and sweat vnder a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The vndiscouered Countrey, from whose Borne
No Traueller returnes, Puzels the will,
And makes vs rather beare those illes we haue,
Then flye to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of vs all,

Or, in contrast, those who are desperate opt for suicide: they seek death out of fear of life. The worst iniquities and injustices are perpetrated because of fear: people cheat, rob, kill, abuse others because they are afraid of being victims of such actions, and so they opt to do them to others first. Examiners at universities delay making decisions because of fear: they prefer to promote candidates who can be trusted, those who don't overshadow them or frighten them, and so they deny places to the most able because of fear. Tyrants behave more tyrannically the more they fear those around them. When the tyrant Kreon exiled Medea from Corinth, he said, “libera cives metu” (Deliver the citizens from fear: Seneca). To move on from the psychology of the individual to that of the group, nation and states undertake wars out of fear that the enemy will take that initiative.

I also believe that both the smile and depression arose out of fear. The smile was a contortion of the mouth with which the early weak primates communicated the message that they were not a threat to those who were dominant. It was the timid ones who smiled (those who were afraid, from the Latin verb timere). Depression, with the passive and timid attitude in the individual with which if is associated, serves to transmit an identical message of surrender and defencelessness to potential aggressors. In summary, fear is the driving force that stimulates human beings to interact with their environment and with others. I even believe that those who write blogs do so out of fear of being nothing, of being considered as no one on the Internet. Fear, always fear.

Javier Marías, in his novel Tu rostro mañana. 2. Baile y sueño (Madrid: Alfaguara, 2004. Your Face Tomorrow: Fever And Spear) describes how criminals defend themselves in the final judgement for their crimes and wrong-doings:

Y los acusados responderían siempre: “Fue necesario, defendía a mi Dios, a mi Rey, mi patria, mi cultura, mi raza; mi bandera, mi leyenda, mi lengua, mi clase, mi espacio; mi honor, a los míos, mi caja fuerte, mi monedero y mis calcetines. Y en resumen, tuve miedo”. (p. 162).

The accused would always reply, “It was necessary, I was defending my God, my King, my nation, my culture, my race, my flag, my legend, my language, my class, my space, my honour, my family, my strong box, my money and my socks. In short, I was afraid.”

Lucretius, the apostle of the epicurean philosophy in Rome, develops the theme that the reason why people commit all kinds of iniquities and crimes during their lives is due to the fear of death (De Rerum Natura 3.59-73):

denique avarities et honorum caeca cupido,
quae miseros homines cogunt transcendere fines
iuris et inter dum socios scelerum atque ministros
noctes atque dies niti praestante labore
ad summas emergere opes, haec vulnera vitae
non minimam partem mortis formidine aluntur.
turpis enim ferme contemptus et acris egestas
semota ab dulci vita stabilique videtur
et quasi iam leti portas cunctarier ante;
unde homines dum se falso terrore coacti
effugisse volunt longe longeque remosse,
sanguine civili rem conflant divitiasque
conduplicant avidi, caedem caede accumulantes,
crudeles gaudent in tristi funere fratris
et consanguineum mensas odere timentque.

And greed, again, and the blind lust of honours
Which force poor wretches past the bounds of law,
And, oft allies and ministers of crime,
To push through nights and days with hugest toil
To rise untrammelled to the peaks of power-
These wounds of life in no mean part are kept
Festering and open by this fright of death.
For ever we see fierce Want and foul Disgrace
Dislodged afar from secure life and sweet,
Like huddling Shapes before the doors of death.
And whilst, from these, men wish to scape afar,
Driven by false terror, and afar remove,
With civic blood a fortune they amass,
They double their riches, greedy, heapers-up
Of corpse on corpse they have a cruel laugh
For the sad burial of a brother-born,
And hatred and fear of tables of their kin.
(Text from Project Gutenberg)

[Translator's note: Possibly what the author of this piece has forgotten is than some people can overcome their fear in some circumstances. It is at that point that the greatest achievements of mankind have their origin.]


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