Whether we know it or not, fear of “the other” is deeply programmed within our individual and/or collective psyches. And it can be manipulated to devastating effect.
By Matt Classen
Ah, yes. Fear of “the other”. Whether it’s consciously or unconsciously perceived, the fear of “the other” is a powerful motivator for action. It is, at its core, tribalism made manifest. After all, when we were cavemen (or cavepeople, whatever your preference), anything that was unknown was considered less predictable, and therefore more threatening, to not only an individual’s survival, but to the survival of the entire tribe or community. Since “the other” represented a mortal threat to survival, our programming, which was reinforced over millennia, became so hardwired into our collective brains that even today we are having difficulty with unconsciously over-reacting to it. This is to the absolute chagrin of an ever globalizing world. Almost every “other” that lives on the planet is bumping up against other “others” on a continuous basis and thus triggering our fears for survival.
It is because of the above scenario, or clash of civilizations, that we find ourselves tempted with racist, xenophobic tendencies. After all, when “the other” gets into our perceived territory they threaten our very survival. When we feel our survival is threatened, tribalism kicks in and we become completely
unconscious and irrational with our fears. Of course, there are times when “the other” indeed represents a threat to the safety of those who would tolerate them in their space. But, in a globalizing world, and due to the fact that most people want to live in peace and harmony, the notion of “the other” threatening the indigenous society in which they live is highly irrational, and therefore unlikely. In fact, with a normal mindset, a foreigner who is surrounded by the sheer number of a native population is of course going to think twice about lashing out. The only way in which this would not be the case, is when “the other” feels threatened enough that they have no other choice but to lash out.
Thus, this is the situation with which we find ourselves consistently confronted. To some readers, the above information is obvious. To others, it may not be. But one thing is clear, the above is fundamentally true and presenting a massive dilemma in a globalizing society where we are told consistently that we can no longer feel safe. Unfortunately, the basic human tendency of fear is something that political leaders can, and do, very easily manipulate with predictable reactions. A less enlightened population may not realize that this kind of manipulation is very much in play, but it has been for a very long time. In fact, it’s been in play for so long that the psychological science behind it has gotten increasingly complex, and refined. For those of you who would like a fantastic, fascinating education on the history of mass psychological manipulation, check out the following BBC-produced video entitled Century of Self, narrated by the highly-respected Adam Curtis.
As the above video clearly indicates, political leaders and the interests who benefit have been at the manipulation game for a very long time. We’re told to fear and hate the brown person, the black person, the Muslim, the Jew, the Christian, the Trump supporter, the Clinton supporter, Fox News, MSNBC, the gay, the transgender, the Chinese, Russians, socialism, feminists, the educated and on and on. Facilitating this kind of division triggers our fight-of-flight survival mode. It even takes on a life of its own. So much so that the momentum of the trajectory of societal division and discontent need not be further prompted, only guided towards an outcome that benefits those who hold the strings.
The above information is not from a “liberal” or a “conservative” viewpoint. It is from the viewpoint of a rationalist who clearly sees how manipulating the collective fears of “the other” is reaching a fevered pitch that we must beware of, lest the beast that lies dormant within is stirred to conscious action with devastating effect. From my own inner observations, I find myself continuing to choose between perpetual outrage, and the realization that my outrage is due in large part to the workings of those who would seek to trigger this predictable reaction for selfish gain. And of course, the social media algorithms that track my media consumption ensure that I only see more of what I click on and less of what I don’t. To put the above to the test, simply go to YouTube and see what pops up for you to
watch. Better yet, observe just how much you seem to crave the outrage stimulus that you’re meant to receive when choosing which of the videos, or media, you want to consume. It’s almost as if you can’t get enough of the outrage and you find yourself hooked. You even find yourself sharing your outrage on social media within a “friend” circle who is already overwhelmingly on the side you’re on and as equally outraged as you are. The echo chamber of outrage has gotten so loud and discombobulating that rational, objective thought is superseded by an intense desire to simply be angry at “the other”. Have you caught yourself jumping to judge others lately, without really listening to the facts? You’re not alone on this.
So, what is the solution? It’s amazingly simple on the one hand, but damn hard to practice on a day-to-day basis on the other. The first step it to realize, and deeply accept, that our innate fear of “the other” is hardwired into our individual and collective programming. The second step is to realize that this fear is, and has already been, manipulated to alarming degrees. The third step is to practice reaching out to others occupying the encampment of “the other” side that you so irrationally fear. Practice a sincere curiosity for why it is that they feel the way they do. Relate to them. Empathize with their fear and pain bodies that have manifested so much anger and frustration. Ask questions, and avoid at all costs the tendency to judge and cast aspersions. While this will be exceedingly hard, it will completely negate the vicious form of knee-jerk reaction that is already far too easy to occur in our increasingly divided world society. If more and more people can awake to this simple form of peaceful resistance, we may have a chance to see what comes next. If we can’t, our growing fears of further destruction will prove more than justified, sooner or later.