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More noodling on fear

Replying to comments here,, where I asked "To what extent is having irrational fears a luxury?"

The context was a comment on alt.poly where someone who lives in an urban area said zie had an irrational fear of SUVs. My thinking went something like this: "Some people live in circumstances where they need an SUV. If a person lived in such circumstances, zie couldn't really afford to have an irrational fear of SUVs. So to an extent this person is able to have an irrational fear of SUVs because zie's privileged not to live in a situation where zie needs to have an SUV or needs to deal closely with other people who have them. Therefore, it's a luxury."

Rethinking this:

1. Hm, actually it's not strictly true that anyone needs SUVs. Some people live in circumstances where they need a truck or something with high ground clearance or something with four-wheel drive, but it doesn't have to be an SUV per se.

2. I'm conflating fear with the ability to avoid the feared thing. In some cases being able to avoid a feared thing could be considered a luxury, or could be considered the result of having a lot of options in one's life, and having lots of options could be considered luxurious in some senses. But that doesn't mean the fear itself is a luxury.

3. I'm assuming that if one has no choice but to deal with the feared thing, one will get over the fear, or perhaps have irrational aspects of the fear replaced with a more rational view of the feared thing. I think that's true sometimes, but certainly not all the time, and certainly it's not a good default assumption for addressing fear.

gconnor, you brought up some good points, which I might noodle on as "being able to cite an irrational fear as a way of manipulating other people might map to some kind of luxury."

elisem, you talk about people beating themselves up with the idea. It sounds like you mostly come across people who consider "luxury" to be something that's not OK. I don't use it with that connotation. Mostly I use it to mean access to more choices.

Papersky, yes, your comment about "putting it in perspective" was very close to what I was getting at (and much better said).

kyubi, I like your definition of luxury, and I agree that being lower on the Maslow scale doesn't offer freedom from irrational fears. Do you think being lower on the Maslow scale might map to having somewhat different irrational fears, sometimes? I like the notion of the shadow side of creating meaning. I definitely think irrational fears are one way that shadow might manifest.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 24th, 2002 10:01 am (UTC)
My host parents in Australia used to drive regularly up the Birdsville Track, and some corollary roads, from rural South Australia to the southwest of Queensland. Once they got chased by a storm and lost, and had to sit in the mud for about 20 hours as the storm passed them, created a quagmire, then the quagmire dried out. They needed a vehicle with two gas tanks, room to sleep in case they were stranded, space to carry water and food for two days, and that had four-wheel drive. They, like many rural Australians, had a Toyota Land Cruiser, and had one from the mid-seventies on.

I know people around here who own massive SUVs because they go skiing in Tahoe a few times a year and need something that can handle roads. The thing is, my car can handle those roads until they're closed, and even if I needed to go up with four people and a load of equipment, thus needed more space, it's cheaper to rent an SUV every so often for those trips than to own one all year.

I know people who have bought SUVs simply because they don't feel save in small cars on the freeway what with all the big vehicles on the road.

I don't hate SUVs in and of themselves. But I think they should, at the very least, have to meet automobile environmental standards rather than truck standards.
Oct. 24th, 2002 04:29 pm (UTC)
People in rural areas are more in need of the features of large and/or four-wheel-drive vehicles, yeah.

I'm just lucky that PhotoShop doesn't emit hydrocarbons, because the way I use it, it's like driving a 747 to the corner store.
Oct. 25th, 2002 07:24 am (UTC)
That's brilliant.
Oct. 24th, 2002 10:19 am (UTC)
you are added :) thanks for your post at bbw :)
Oct. 24th, 2002 10:42 am (UTC)
Interesting. We're covering irrational beliefs in my cousneling classes right now, and I think that the discussion on this has been enlightening and interesting :) Thanks for posting!
Oct. 24th, 2002 10:54 am (UTC)
Stepping in...
I've made almost this same comment about irrational fear. I have rethought it, too.

First, for this discussion, I will limit "fear of" only to those fears which persist over time. These can be rational or irrational.

Second, I will define "irrational fear" as a perception of and belief in a threat where no threat exists or is minimal.

Starting with those ground rules, I think irrational fears are created and flourish within societies of privilege. Often privilege looks a lot like luxury, but they aren't quite the same thing. Note, that I'm not talking about personal privilege, but social privilege.

Human beings have a biological mechanism, like all animals, for self preservation. When a society is sufficiently privileged, preservation drops down the priority list. We worry over "lesser" concerns. But the mechanism is still in place watching for serious threats to our personal and tribal existence.

It is my opinion that in the absence of real threats, that mechanism becomes hyper-sensitive. It's threshold drops to absurd levels and the testing criteria lacks grounding.
The mechanism adds to the list of threats those things which merely startle us or make us merely uncomfortable.

Our primate selves learn to fear what our family/tribe fears. With modern means of communications, it is possible to suggest a threat and fear will spread in increasingly virulent rings. The threat learning mechanism assumes that it is not being lied to.

We are evolutionarily ill-equipped to deal with privilege and several of our basic animal mechanisms have run amok.

As privilege increases in a society, it becomes more and more important to learn intentionality so that we create a garbage collection mechanism to scour the irrational from our lives.

(My friend just suggested that creating the garbage collector is very suitable for long-lived creates. And humans have only recently become a member of that group.)
Oct. 24th, 2002 04:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Stepping in...
Second, I will define "irrational fear" as a perception of and belief in a threat where no threat exists or is minimal.

I would also add "a perception of and belief in a threat as a result of not understanding the feared thing." It's possible to fear something that's inherently dangerous in an irrational way.

Often privilege looks a lot like luxury, but they aren't quite the same thing.

Excellent point.

And interesting theory in general.
Oct. 24th, 2002 03:29 pm (UTC)
I have an irrational fear of tornados. While tornados are certainly something to fear, my worries about them are far beyond what is actually warranted considering where I live - it's a phobia.

However, I do not let that fear rule me. I get very nervous when we have the kind of weather that frequently leads to the formation of tornados, but I don't go about rounding up the kids and making everybody sleep in the basement. My father did that to us, and it was the only thing I ever knew him to fear - which is why they scare me so much. I don't want to pass that on to our kids.

I think indulging irrational fears is - well, not a luxury per se, but unhealthy.

My sister has an irrational fear of German Shepherds. We all know why, and exactly where/when it originated. A German Shepherd in our neighborhood went rabid when we were small children. She and I were toddlers, and we were playing in the back yard. The dog came over the fence and was only a few feet away from my sister when a neighbor shot it.

She's in her mid-30s now and absolutely refuses to go near one of those dogs. She won't visit friends if she knows they have one. If she arrives and there is such a dog, she leaves immediately. If she sees one in her neighborhood, she won't leave her house and gets very upset if her husband leaves. She is ruled by that fear, and she is completely unwilling to do anything to get past it.
Oct. 24th, 2002 11:32 pm (UTC)
What you describe sounds to me more like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) than like an irrational fear.

There are a number of ways of reducing the grip of PTSD, or of learning to deal with it in ways that cost a person less, in terms of limiting their daily life, etc. But a person has gotta wanna. It's not something that can be installed from the outside. (Unlike the PTSD itself. *sigh*)
Oct. 25th, 2002 06:47 am (UTC)
I haven't thought about it that way before. I have PTSD - nothing to do with tornados, as far as I know. I hadn't thought about my sister having it before, though. Hmmm . . .
Oct. 26th, 2002 02:16 pm (UTC)
How is PTSD not about irrational fear?

Oct. 24th, 2002 09:30 pm (UTC)
I didn't post earlier, because, actually, what I've got to say is not relevant. I'm the person who posted about having an irrational fear. But the fear isn't of SUVs, actually: it's of people driving light trucks as if they were cars. So, were I in a situation where I needed an SUV, I'd have no problem, nor do I have a problem with people who do need SUVs: our downstairs tenants have two SUVs, my parents have two SUVs. Our downstairs neighbors, and my father, are all contractors, and I've got no problem with that. I *do* have a problem with my mother's SUV, which she drives because it's the only vehicle she's found that she *can* drive, because of the weird way she needs to sit to be comfortable because of her fibromyalgia.

But: I do sorta consider this fear a luxury. I like having a couple irrational fears, as long as I don't let them get in my way. I'm also afraid of revolving doors, but I never let that stop me from going through them.

(Growing up, I was terrified of revolving doors, and my sister was terrified of escalators. Getting us into shopping malls and the like was a challenge for our mother. Mind you, we had real good reasons for our fears: I was completely aware that revolving doors only turn one way, and my sister was aware that escalator handrails can come off the track and catch arms; one of our cousins broke her arm that way.)
Oct. 24th, 2002 10:14 pm (UTC)
That makes sense about SUVs being driven improperly.

When I was a kid, I was terrified of escalators too. I don't remember having a specific reason for it, though.
Oct. 25th, 2002 09:52 pm (UTC)
I think "fear" when embraced binds one to the earth as a serpent...facing "fears" is like an eagle that swoops down to grab the serpent and takes to flight therefore setting itself free from the bondage of fear.

Great post...great comments too.

Thank you SOOO much firecat.

HUGZ and have a great weekend.

Oct. 26th, 2002 02:16 pm (UTC)
Fascinating discussion. And happy birthday. :-)

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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