Fear and a General Social Theory
-R. Michael Fisher [notes: June 16/20]
Introductory Issues of the Social & World
Recently, it occurred to me that no one will really ‘get’ my work adequately until they ‘get’ that my work is foundationally a social theory of fear (management/education). I am deeply a social thinker/theorist and philosopher and educator, who has, unfortunately, not helped the waves of mis-understandings of my work for 31 years because I have not systematically written out my general social theory as context for my work. I am beginning to take on this daunting project. This essay consists of beginning shreds of what is on my mind and is by no means a ‘finished’ work. It is noticeably somewhat nostalgic, at least for me, in that to recover the ‘social’ in my work, and in my life, I have had to return to the past of my first systematic studies of knowledge and disciplines when I was 20 years old to my 30s. If these references seem ‘old’ or ‘out of date’ to readers, I won’t apologize for how important and relevant they are in ‘messages’ for today—but, certainly, this general social theory I am attempting needs up-dating with newer thinkers for sure—yet, all in time. I want to keep things relatively simple to start with. I appreciate your patience with my somewhat nostalgic turn.
As part of Social Sciences, social theory seems essential to my fearanalysis project  on the Fear Problem. It is an approach to all phenomenon (e.g., especially fear and its management/education) primarily through the lens of the social sphere of reality. Social theory today, in the Anthropocene era, also has to be part of Biological and especially Environmental Sciences, because global cascading crises are putting the survival and quality of life on this planet at-high-risk, moving existence regularly into emergencies. COVID-19 is the latest episode showing how vulnerable Homo sapiens is.
The basic purpose overall of these Sciences seen through my own value-based lens, is that of “making man [sic] more aware of the consequences of his actions.” Awareness has to do with learning, and that is why my profession is Education. I turn now to explicate my evolved, yet still evolving, social theory as a synthesis of many others’ critical thinking and research. It is not too embarrassing to say my social theory is quite unique in the history of thought.
Theorizing: Natural Sciences Are Social
It is essential for humans as a whole, and for me to remember that the aim of the knowledge quest (i.e., learning and education) is to,
....establish the process of human development as the goal of the process of social evolution, both the process and the goal being understood to be open to further transformation as we advance in the practice and understanding of them.
And furthermore, there is a search still going on across large domains of societies functions, and within the inner searching and reflecting that humans do at times, to find a better “image” of our selves—of our nature, of our potential—and to do so, as crucial so that we don’t become crushed by harsh realities of the everyday human condition (i.e., of a good deal of suffering). Markley & Harman (1982) spoke to this in a way that made sense for me in my youthful scholarship days, and still resonates today:
It seems evident that the characteristics we postulated for an adequate image [of the human] cannot be fulfilled unless such a new type of policy paradigm comes into existence—a paradigm that provides a far closer reconciliation of C. P. Snow’s ‘two cultures’ (the sciences and the humanities) than has heretofore seemed feasible [in modern times]. Central in this pursuit would be the reconciliation of the objective inquiry methods found suitable for learning to manipulate the external/physical environment and the inquiry methods which are emerging to similarly explore the subjective/internal/psychical environment of our living. Likely such an umbrella paradigm will not be possible without the emergence of other, somewhat more specialized but nevertheless holistic [-integral], paradigms to support it.
In Markley & Harman’s profound search for a “moral science,” “moral economics” and politics for a sustainable, healthy and sane future, they know that a “moral paradigm” lies below them all, which is something I have always been interested in but I am not a “moralist” or “virtues” prophet/teacher or thinker. That’s a topic that arrives much later in this essay and social theory. Suffice it to say at this point, my approach to ethics and morals and the ‘good’ and ‘true’ and ‘beautiful’ will be strongly tainted in this work with the social as environment—and, it is this environmental emphasis that is most conducive to pulling out and foreword why I think the social is so critical to any good fear studies (and fear management/education) today and in the future. To note, the marriage of objective and subjective that Markley & Harman recommend, not totally radical, is very important to my own holistic-integral approach to knowledge and living, of which Wilber (1995) has added another vector of polarities to build a more adequate and complete (and moral) epistemological quadrant analysis. He adds: individual and communal sphere. When I speak of the “social” so forthright and as forming everything in human affairs, I am not excluding the other quadrant inputs into the social sphere of reality but including them, even if they are lesser focused on.
I more or less ‘hated’ public school. I was born and raised poor working class. The whole system seemed rigged, even though I am a white guy (Canadian), to benefit those who already were privileged by class. The more would get the more and doing well in education was seemingly their way of greasing their wheels of progress (success). Post-secondary schooling nor societal success meant anything important to me until my 19th year of life (after graduation from high school in a technical curriculum stream for the ‘dummies’). One course in grades 10-12 really was a place for me to shine—Biology. I was a budding naturalist (thanks to my dad, my uncle, my older brother). Learning science was hard but I did it and learned things I cared about—that is, how Life works. By my 19th year I was dedicated to pursue secondary education and make a career in science (e.g., forestry or something). The rest is history. As I went through careers and more and more degrees, “Science” grew in scope and dimensions in ways I could have never predicted back in my late teens or early 20s. Today, I reluctantly, would call myself a “scientist” but at-heart I really am. I am a little more comfortable being called a “philosopher” at-heart, an “artist”—and yet, my graduate Ph.D. training ended with a doctorate in Education.
Fear is Social
A most basic premise of my life’s work is that fear is social, or more accurately, that the nature and role of fear for humans cannot be understood without a social perspective. At some level, thus, my hypothesis is that: social fear is the best descriptor for all fears and fear itself. Contentious perhaps. I’ll return to that topic later. Now, I wish to claim that science is always social—and, the corollary, all science is social science. Let me explain.
Scientists are Social
It is no surprise that from anthropology to ecology and evolutionary studies, many scientists have concluded that “Homo sapiens” is a social species. It sounds simple to conclude. It seems true. What it exactly means and the implications are much more profound, as I have found to be the case over the decades. I think most people don’t really think about this.
Despite the history of Science being diverse, with all its twists and turns and shifts in its role and the ways scientists themselves saw their efforts to build scientific knowledge, it is likely true that at the end of the 19th century most scientists were relatively “unconcerned as to where they ought to be going. They saw no point in formulating social goals for their professional work, because they regarded science as an end rather than a means.” And many then, as still now, do not want their scientific work determined by social (e.g., economic and political) agendas of interest groups or the public at-large, according to Dubos (1970, p. 229). More characteristically, the scientists overall have not seen their own profession as a social enterprise itself—that is, shaped overly by influences from the social sphere including by non-scientists.
It is hard for the vast majority of scientists (maybe less so today) to believe that what they do intellectually may be socially-determined—in whole or in part. Kuhn’s (1970) classical analysis of the paradigm shifts of the scientific enterprise validates just how social science communities are. Scientists likely find that thought of socially-determined, socially-responsible or “mission-oriented” science rather loathsome, and beneath their self-integrity. They are very proud of their elite scientific training. I remember, the same feeling when I was fully in science education processes and working as a scientist of sorts. To get a masters or doctoral degree in some science adds to their privilege and sense of self-esteem. They see they are in a scientific establishment and career in order to best perform good (or even ‘pure’) science. No one should be telling them or even much influencing them who isn’t a scientist. The very reason of bringing this issue of Science to the foreground to begin my general social theory explication tells you something about how important I think Science is today; And especially, it tells you that I agree with Dubos (50 years ago) that the best way to talk about the current (at least Western) society is under the umbrella term “scientific civilization.”
Civilization Types: Evolving Fear(s)
As civilizations, many humans have thus evolved from tribal, to agricultural, to industrial—all because of an advance in Science (and technologies). Since late-modernity, that’s been recognized as a mixed blessing for those of us in the latter forms of civilization. Myself included, we have begun to realize the paradox of progress via Science that is now creating some of the worst nightmares of which are capable of extinguishing all civilization (e.g., nuclear weapons, anthropogenic accelerated global warming, clear-cutting forests, mining, etc.). It is arguable, that there have been new fears created and overcome at each level of civilization type listed above. However, it is also arguable, the current chronic level of fear(s) in the highly scientific civilization type is accumulative (post-traumatic) and worse than other civilizations. If so, it is another hypothesis of my social theory that with increasing progress, comings increasing social fear (of the most destructive kinds). But let’s return to my thinking on Science before focusing on other aspects of my social theory (of fear).
Need for a Social Theory of Science
It has been a great gain to knowledge generally to develop the history of science and open-up the world of Science to historians and the public. It may well be, as Dubos suggested, that it is more important for citizens in a true democracy to be critical in their literacy of how Science functions than needing to know all the facts of science and its applications. It is great to have a grasp of both, but at least it is important to learn about science as a social activity that ought to serve social purposes, as well as intellectual purposes. For example, to learn about science is to learn as a layperson that “scientific knowledge is never absolute or final, yet it remains valid when considered in the social and intellectual framework within which it was developed.” Another example, “scientists hardly ever disagree on the validity of the facts themselves, but only [mostly] on the interpretation and use of the these facts.”
The argument I am making, as did Dubos 50 years ago, is that all science operates with shifting “fashions”—that is, it is socially contextualized ‘not an island to itself’ and visa versa “all social decisions now have scientific determinants,” whether we recognize them or not. Snow’s (1959) lecture on The Two Cultures—of facts (science) vs. values (social morals and/or religion)—raised critical questions of the long modern separation of these realms; and, suggested how they ought not be fully disengaged from each other. Integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, notes that Snow called both facts and values inherently “cultures” and thus serve as social phenomena. He argued knowledge is best for cultures/societies when they are not totally battling, competing, and thus end up dissociated and divorced; but rather, today we have to work to repair their ancient marriage so that a higher holistic-integration of knowledge can once again yield wisdom and guidance for the modern, late-modern and post-modern times. There’s a need for a new thinking today—and, more so than ever it will have to be around the notion of fear. I am calling my version of this, as core to my methodological concerns, integral social thinking.
Methodology of Integral Social Thinking (IST)
As I attempt to introduce this emergent sense that my social theory itself has to be based on integral social thinking—troubling questions of knowing arise. Philosophers call this ontological and epistemological issues. I’ll start with the “integral” part of thinking—which, comes from a long venerable tradition of integral philosophies and theories in history, of which, for example, Wilber (1995) is one of the most prescient of these thinkers, and has influenced my ways of thinking since the early 1980s.
Yet, there is a further problem not so overtly dealt with as an epistemological problem in integral thinking and style, which I must mention. In the study of fear itself (meaning, the human-fear-self-social relationship dynamic) there is a problem of attempting to know something (perhaps, a prior conceptions that are faded or invisible) that is escaping its very knowability. You open a black sealed box to study something locked away inside for generations, but in assuming the light you shine on it will reveal its essence, you more or less destroy the operation and object/subject you are analyzing because it is not the proper ‘method’ to disclose the essence of that which lives in a ‘black box.’
Using this ‘black box’ as metaphor or analogy, this is what I learned in my youth when I (and others) first encountered the nascent field of “ecology.” I cannot help but be an ecological thinker, but that gets massively more complex than approaching an ecological problem of studying Nature when one brings the light of investigation to Culture—in this case, my pursuit of a social theory and a fear theory simultaneously—things get very tricky, to say the least. I’ve hinted at this problem (part of the larger Fear Problem) in my earliest works in the late 1980’s into the early 1990s and why I demarcated my subject of study of fear as ‘fear’ with (‘) marks to signify something I really didn’t know even what it was I was studying or what methods would be best for doing so). The progressive futurists Markley & Harman (1982) touched somewhat on the enigmatic attitude and sensibility in which a researcher has to imbue when after a topic, with humility, with the arational and rational modes, as they articulated one way to capture the same troubling question I am now explicating:
How does one study a priori conceptions which, by definition, are fundamental to and lie beyond the [standard] rules of inquiry of any particular discipline [of knowledge, and knowing, and understanding]? (p. xxi)
I chose to assume “fear” (and ‘fear’) as already embedded in a black box of a prior phenomenon/conceptions and no one discipline or even a couple disciplines could unravel the hidden subtle nature of fear (‘fear’). To be playful, I enlisted a neologism of “fearology” to act as a transdisciplinary approach to the topic. However, there was more I had to deal with in Markley & Harman (1982) and what they called “bricolage thinking” – and my attempt to:
....discern fundamental and usually unrecognized influences on our societal problems, on our social policies, and on our hopes [aspirations] for the future....our aim is to break out of set patterns of thinking (and hence recognize useful new ways of thinking and imaging” (p. xxi)
More specifically, my nascent methodological rationale was built upon both a defence against, and an offense for, a better knowledge about fear (‘fear’) that was already socially embedded in culture—which I soon would discover other scholars talking about how near everything today is embedded in a “culture of fear” (which by 2000, I talked about as a ‘Fear’ Matrix and/or a decade before that, I talked about a largely invisible ubiquitous form of oppression called “fearism”). I felt intuitively, and theorized from my reading, research and phenomenological experiences, that fear was already ‘hooked’ into living inside a black box that for many good reasons could not be opened or if it was it might yield more than the investigator could handle anyways (e.g., you may note the analogy here with the myths of Pandora’s Box, Icarus, Prometheus from ancient Greek as ‘warnings’ to human hubris—likewise, in psychoanalytical theory and practice there is the cautionary of any inquiry into the unconscious).
The invocation from the start of my study of fear to be in search of “fearlessness” was not by chance, albeit, I knew little of what complexity and black box I would bump into as well on this latter subject. In a nutshell, I assumed (sometimes concluded) that the deep territory of fear was an a prior social taboo (and ‘fear’ was even more elusive, denied, repressed and dangerous territory). All fear is a priori social—social fear (i.e., we humans are sociophobic, in other words, and I do not just mean this term like contemporary clinical psychiatrists would use it—as “fear of the social”—although, in part that is applicable too). Thus, I had stumbled in my early years in and around this troubling situation of the social sphere and how much or how little to let it into my investigations of fear. It seems that transdisciplinary study pushes one into creative synthesis of methodologies and multiple ways of knowing, and asks us to be not overly disciplined in trying too hard to control your subject and tools of inquiry....
[to be continued....]
Dubos, R. (1970). Reason awake: Science for man. Columbia University Press.
Fisher, R. M. (1995a/12). An introduction to defining ‘fear’: A spectrum approach. Technical Paper No. 1. In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute.
Fisher, R. M. (1995b/12). An introduction to an epistemology of ‘fear’: A fearlessness paradigm. Technical Paper No. 2. In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute.
Kuhn, T. (1962/96). The structure of scientific revolutions. [3rd. ed.] The University of Chicago Press.
Markley, O. W., & Harman, W. W. (1982). Changing images of man. Pergamon Press.
McIntosh, S. (2007). Integral consciousness and the future of evolution: How the integral worldview is transforming politics, culture and spirituality. Paragon House.
Odum, E. P. (1972). Fundamentals of ecology [3rd ed.]. W. B. Saunders.
Scruton, D. L. (Ed.) (1986). Sociophobics: The anthropology of fear. Westview Press.
Wilber, K. (1998). The marriage of sense and soul: Integrating science and religion. Random House.
Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology and spirituality: The spirit in evolution [Vol. 1]. Shambhala.
 Cf. to Skoll (2010) “Social theory of fear: Terror, torture, and death in a post-capitalist world.”
 Overtly, I co-founded the In Search of Fearlessness Project (1989-) for this work, more implicitly this is a fearanalysis I am doing on the entire phenomenon of humans and fear and life. I have several short publications on "fearanalysis" but the book on this is still to be finalized and published (with the first draft of "An Introduction to Fearanalysis" still sitting on my shelf from 2016).
 Dubos (1970), p. 229.
 Quote from Dunn (1971), cited in Markley & Harman (1982), p. 156.
 Ibid., p. 157.
 Ibid., p. 219.
 “[M]any scientists are more interested in the advancement of [scientific] knowledge, than in its possession [by non-scientists]” (Dubos, 1970, p. 209).
 Ibid., Chapter 5.
 Ibid., p. 215.
 Ibid., pp. 217-18, 219.
 Ibid. p. 220.
 “Rapid and profound shifts of emphasis [on what and how things are studied scientifically] have repeatedly occurred in the scientific community, in part because fashions change in science even more than in other types of endeavors, also because social [and economic] concerns inevitably affect intellectual preoccupation” (Dubos, 1970, p. 217); see also Kuhn (1970).
 Ibid., p. 207.
 Wilber (1998).
 One could make a massive long list of ‘integral’ thinkers going back to ancient times; they are the ‘renaissance’ types that integrated vast domains of different spheres of knowledge, arts, sciences, religion etc. More recently, in philosophy, one can identify several thinkers and lines within philosophy itself that have the qualities of the holistic-integral thinker (and/or “integral consciousness” and/or “integral worldview,” according to McIntosh (2007) some recognizable leaders of this integral movement are Georg Hegel, Henri Bergson, James Mark Baldwin, Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, Jean Gebser, Jürgen Habermas, Ken Wilber (pp. 151-54).
 Odum (1971) refers to this (after G. E. Hutchinson’s notion) ‘black box’ conception as hololgical (p. 22) and which refers to complex systems that one can only study by realizing the “internal workings...are but vaguely known” (and may not be known) (p. 105).
 Fisher (1995a, 1995b).
 It is not by chance the first major initiative (I know of) in academic work to bring “fear” study out from under the umbrella of the hegemonic dominating grips of the biomedical and psychological fields (i.e., Natural sphere), into the Cultural (social) sphere—via anthropology/sociology/social psychology was called sociophobics (Scruton, 1986). The Spiritual (religious, theological) sphere, including much of philosophy also had taken on “fear” study but that is beyond the scope of the discussion here.