Gun Problem: Fear Problem

Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society (Vanderbilt University, TN)

I just watched an interview with Dr. Metzl on Democracy Now on the internet, and I know his expertise is very important to the debates, as we now witness the tragedy of another mass murder shooting in a Florida highschool, another one, one of 18 such incidents in the school year so far in the USA. 

Most important in the discussion on the program was the impact on society of such events, which Metzl raised as the "broader questions" beyond all the details and symptoms of these mass murders. I heartily agree, as he says, "In terms of what I think psychiatry and mental health can do.... the question that rarely gets asked at times like this is why do we need so many guns in the first place? What kind of society do we really live in and want to live in? the aftermath of this people start to mistrust each other, all of a sudden, we need more guns in schools, more armed guards, more metal detectors....this mistrust becomes so pervasive," he says.

And, yes, mistrust only can register and grow like a virus damaging the social fabric (i.e., sociality and social trust) if fear is rampant and spreading like a virus. The word fear was not actually mentioned on the entire story Democracy Now covered, or in Metzl's dialogue. I think this is where feariatry (as one of the branches of fearology and the three pillars, in Desh Subba and my books) comes in... we will not get to the roots of what Metzl is concerned about without a serious study of the Fear Problem, as more important than the Gun Problem, and that whole shift would really give us a chance to ask what kind of society we live in and want to live in. Since the mid-1990s these issues have been brought up with the documenting and naming of the "culture of fear" problem in America, but fast spreading around the world... and, actually, this label goes back to the early 1980s. So, clearly, there isn't much take-up of the problem, and much really serious public discourse on fear--and, certainly, in my 29 years studying this all the school systems are loath to get into discussing it. We so lack vision in W. society.

Anyways, there will always be more opportunities, and unfortunately, more deaths... more guns... more mistrust and more fear. Feariatry has to be brought up to help inform psychiatry (and mental health) at all levels. I have written on several of the mass murders about these things for years. So far, no one really is listening too intently and rather people follow the fear trail... and look who to blame ... a point Gavin de Becker made back in the late 1990s as he studied these issues as a security expert... yes, change is very slow. Though, one cannot predict the future totally by the past--thank goodness, otherwise, I'd be motivated to say, "we're fucked!" 




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  • Leonard Berkowitz conducted a study to infer that the things or situations surrounding one propel her/him towards certain type of behavior in tune with such things or such situations. He placed guns and tennis balls in an experiment and found that those who were asked to hold guns exhibited a sort of aggression whereas those with balls seemed sporty. He went to the extent of saying that,”it is not the finger that pulls the trigger but the trigger that pulls the finger.”

    It is here in this kind of environment that the gun wielding policemen tend to be rash and aggressive often, if not always. Same anology , if drawn to fear atmosphere, may hold possible for creating fear in the otherwise normal minds. A boy watching a horror film in the midnight may fear to stay alone. Hoaxes of bombs create panic. Fake news of epidemics or disasters instill feelings of insecurity in the psyche of innocent citizens. So fearlessness is sine qua non of any positive social environment and hence the need to be beware of fear-inducers.

    • I like this emphasis, and critical awareness Maria points to (including the Berkowitz findings); I have for some time been an advocate of the "environmental" schools of thought re: human behavior (albeit, they are not the only explanatory perspective)--for example, my own studies somewhat have led me into analyzing what designers and architects and others in environmental design say about the nature of fear--and, what some more or less argue is that objects, e.g., buildings (e.g., guns) or fences, or signs/symbols (the field of semiotics) ... they may themselves be created by fear-based principles and energy, thus they 'give off' that energy in their very structures, design, architecture itself-- so, I ask, what kind of society are we designing, what semiotic and rhetorical resonances, vibes, energy is being given off and how is that creating a positive feedback loop (i.e., one out of self-regulation control) of communication that produces and consumes fear ('fear' patterning, 'fear' designs)... we have to as Kumar says "beware of fear-inducers" and these inducers are not always human figures per se, nor identifiable even as objects, but more as subtle systems of semiotics --even well below consciousness, beyond normal perception. Psychologists have long known that you can place subliminal information (stimuli) in front of people on a computer screen that sets them into message patterns and behaviors--without them even knowing what "told them" to behave a certain way. This all leads to us thinking more about the arational (hypnotic) and irrational dimensions of our selves--sorry, folks, evidence is showing more and more we are not so "rational" beings as we have come to construct such an image of ourselves. Yes, "fearlessness" is an essential critical standpoint, as well as consciousness, as well as behavior and ethics... all of that... so needed to "snoop out" all these forms of fear-based patterning (I once called this the FPV+ patterning, which stands for Fear Pattern Virus - positive feedback loop)--which is at the basis of all forms of the cycle of violence, oppression, trauma... i.e., the reproducing of a kind of individual and collective replaying out of "post-traumatic" dynamics--really, destructive stuff.

    • Yes Michael! You are right to say that fear inducers are not only tangible systems but also subtle subconscious undercurrents which are not specifically within our control. Unlike breath, we cannot stop heart from beating. Unlike urination, we cannot stop blood from flowing inside the blood vessels. So such physiological systems are functioning without our awareness. But at the most subtle levels, cells know what they are doing.

      Here I would like to quote Bruce Lipton’s model that life is all how these cells respond to environmental stimuli like nutrients/love (positive) or toxins/fear (negative). Firstly, it is the membrane of the cell that perceives what is going on in the immediate environment and how it perceives environmental stimuli depends upon belief systems. As you inferred Michael, the belief systems connote ‘not so rational’ type of behaviour. It may be possible sometimes that cell membrane perceives loving gesture as an attack on itself. If cell (membrane) perceives or believes that something fearsome is lurking in the near, it alerts genes/DNA signalling flight mode. If cell picks up stimulus from the environment as positive one ie love or caring that is non-dangerous or non-threatening, growth genes are activated thereby nurturing fearless body and mind.

    • Thanks Maria for bringing Lipton's fascinating research into this; his work has to be core curricula I think for any biology of fear (epigenetics and perception) studies. I recommend as a start his "Biology of Belief" talks on Youtube

      What remains in my mind, is how the spirit of "fearlessness" may be constructed in between the binary of Love and Fear, the latter which Lipton tends to utilize as well (as Maria also suggested above consistent with Lipton's views)... interesting stuff... 

    • Yes Michael! You have already devised a formula for constructing the spirit of fearlessness, if we go by what Louis Cozolino inferred from his multidisciplinary research of medicine, psychology and theology. 

      As you said, Cozolino also puts emphasis on education. He points out,’education is life... the brain is designed to keep on learning and we need to be stimulated. Exploratory behavior is a measure of the absence of anxiety and fear.’ 

      According to him, brain is not an individual organ but a social organ. An individual brain cannot be studied in isolation but in relation to the relationships that surround that particular individual. If a girl feels fearful, parent steps in and helps her go back to be calm again. It can be a friend, relative or anyone in place of parent while handling fear. It is these so many interactions that go into regulating or deregulating the state of fear at individual or mutual levels. 

      Therefore we can say that fearlessness is directly proportional to a multitude of factors such as: 

      -frequency of positive social interactions,

      -positive physical environment,

      -level of education &wisdom, 

      -scientific temper,

      -positive attitude,

      -hope etc.

      I think it may call for more exploration in the matter.

    • Also, I found this great (simple but relevant) definition for "learning theory- is essentially concerned with the psychological processes which determine the way in which we learn either healthy [e.g, civil non-fear-based] or unhealthy [e.g., criminal fear-based] reactions, mode of behaviours and attitudes." (Lee and Sclare, 1971, p. 134, in the book "Psychiatry")... 

    • Maria, for sure education/brain/mind/body --holistic-integral (meta-)perspective on perspectives is I think the best way to go in constructing a dialectical relationship (ecology) of fear/fearlessness... as dynamic and based on learning theories (of all kinds)... and the many factors you point to above. Thanks for thinking these out in print here, and as reference for future explorations.

      What your comment has trigger for me is my thinking on meta-motivations and a theory I have been examining (see especially pp. 8-9) re: an "ecology of fear" model in Technical Paper No. 38 ("Steps to an Ecology of Fear: Advanced Curriculum for Fearlessness") some years ago, I'll send to you email. Love to have feedback from you and anyone else interested (just email me and I can send this paper to you as well).  

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