culture of fear (34)

In 2007, the well-known sociologist of fear (in the UK), Frank Furedi, published a catchy article in both the prestigious American Journal of Sociology 32, and on his own blog site "Spiked" online. The title: "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is the 'Culture of Fear' Itself" (which is obviously his play on U.S. Pres.  F.D. Roosevelt's quip from 1933). I have followed Furedi's work on fear since the late 1990s. This article in 2007 (10 years ago) still speaks well to the phenomena that is going on today around the world, but especially in the UK and USA (even Canada): here it is: Furedi pdf  

As far as I can see over the years, and from my correspondence with Furedi, he has utilized much of my research on fear to expand his own work but never once has he cited my work. I have virtually always cited his work since the late 1990s. Anyways, despite that unfortunate turn, I agree with lots of his notions on fear and disagree with lots too. He's a sociologist and not transdisciplinary enough for my liking when it comes to the complex Fear Problem.

That said, I really like what he says in this 2007 article: "Fear is often examined in relation to specific issues; it is rarely considered [in academia and social sciences especially] as a sociological problem in its own right"--leading, he continues, "to a stituation where people are talking about fear (and risk, etc.) and doing so via "under-theoritisation of fear." Right on! 

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Ecology of Fear: Invoking the Primal Foundations

Prairie Falcon - predator - ecology of fear 

Some of you may know that I am a "birder" (naturalist) and have been seriously (off and on) for 50 years. My deep connection to the land and ecological relationships of all things, more or less, began when I was a small child barely able to walk. I loved being outdoors in Nature, and my most important character-shaping years from 2-8 years old were at an old house we lived in on the escarpment of the Bow River valley. I literally walked 30 meters from my back door into the "wilderness" of the escarpment community of plants and animals--that is, the "prairie" biome, as it is called by ecologists. The escarpment is an 'extreme landscape' so steep and erodes and can landslide easily, so cities cannot build on these places, and they thus tend to become "natural areas" carrying the diversity of plants and animals that are not possible in the rest of the urban landscape/city today. This area and my interactions with the environment of the "prairie" shape my life--I have an 'escarpment personality.' Btw, Just two days ago, I was "slow birding" on a hill and spotted a "Prairie Falcon" which I studied for several hours up close as it was hunting ground squirrels along a major highway going through the city (of Calgary). I'll return later in this blogpost to why I practice "birding," still to this day, in order to become a better fearologist. I recommend "birding" (i.e., "naturalizing")[1] to everyone, but especially to budding fearologists.

Me With Spotting Scope - Campbell Hill, N.E. Calgary                -photo by Barbara Bickel 2017

If you have followed my research on "fear" (and 'fear') at all, you'll have picked-up my ongoing interest in developing a very important primal foundation for the basis of fearological work. Fearology itself as an inter-/trans-disciplinary study has to be able to engage all sorts of discourses and disciplines and traditions that have something to say about fear management/education. Fearologists of the future have to have some regard and competencies (as much as possible) to 'speak' to researchers, practitioners and others who come at the topic of fear from many directions and perspectives, for e.g., the physiologist-biologist, the evolutionary behaviorist, the psychologist, sociologist, philosopher, artist, architect, political scientist, cultural studies scholar and so on. Having an extensive vocabulary and basic knowledge of these fields of study and their approach to fear takes a lot of years to develop. For e.g., as well as there being new scholarship available recently on "ecology of fear," one can find similarly on the "sociology of fear," "geography of fear" and on and on... My goal has been to be able to have some confidence to speak to them all and at least show them I respect their views from their particular biases, and yet, as an integral-based fearologist it is my aim to not be overly-dominated by any of these views and their inevitable biases--and, that is because they are not holistic-integral perspectives in and of themselves. Rare is it to find someone who has a holistic-integral perspective. Now, to the question and focus of this blog:

What has the ecology of fear discourse to offer to the field of fear management/education, at least from the point of view of the integral fearologist (i.e., my point of view)? 

FYI, my first love of learning in high school was in grade 10 when I became very curious with biology, the living science, as it helped to explain so many things I had experienced in my body and in Nature for many years prior. I pursued two post-secondary degrees thereafter, one in Biological Sciences (Ecology Option) and one in Environmental Biology (specialized in zoology and ecology) between 1972-1978. So, it is quite natural in the later years of my life, after several other career tracks, to return to this bio-ecological science background I have because it is my most profound ongoing experiential base of real-life empirical "practices" and "knowing" that I will argue is most primal (natural). To understand "fear" well, in all its holistic dynamics, the fearologist has to be in-touch (in some ways) with the primal-instinctual and Natural domain of reality, and to do so without that domain being totally submerged and conflated with the Cultural and Spiritual domains of reality. I became fascinated with psychology, culture and spirituality much later in life.

The integral fearologist keeps a 'balance' (integration) of the three domains of knowing and reality (NCS), and does not privilege any one of them over the others but rather respects their differences and similarities in an evolutionary sense-- whereby (arguably) the Natural is the oldest and wisest in terms of how to "survive" well and sustainably on this planet that depends on ecological healthy relations/systems. The Cultural is next oldest (and not very old at all) and Spiritual follows as the youngest and advancement and corrective on the problems that the Cultural realm creates--that's a more complex evolutionary theory I utilize and will not go into here.

A lot of the contextual influence regarding my interest recently in an ecology of fear has come from tracking experts (i.e., bird language study by the teacher Jon Young [2]) and "Indigenous" philosophy/worldview and "primal awareness" practices through my 10-year study of the 71 year old teacher Four Arrows' and his scholarship and practices (as I am currently writing an intellectual biography on his life and work) [3]. Oh, and for those of you wishing to see other things I have published on this topic of ecology of fear see the resources in Notes [4]. There are many topics one could cover, and I'll have to focus on only one here--the ecology of fear and/or the "ecology of predator-prey relations." 

So, there is a long evolutionary discourse (both W. science and Indigenous prior) that have articulated the importance value of pre-human species and their ecological relationships--because they are in a sense our "ancestors" and some of them have lived for many tens if not hundreds of millions of years. The principle point of this research and knowing is to say that any wise human ought to listen well, and learn well, from its "ancestors" and what they learned about fear and its management on this planet since the beginning of life--and thus, in some way, arguably, the beginning of fear. Life in fact makes that "life" vulnerable to extinction (i.e., death). So, the complex, evolutionary, and ecological relationship of fear to survival (i.e., our instincts and motivations to live)--are primal foundational curriculum material for any fearologist. 

The particular study (dubbed in the last 30 years) "ecology of fear" (or "ecology of predator-prey relations") is one I find particularly useful to study. It has many implications for the human world as well. Ecologists are starting to address just how important the ecological systems (i.e., living and non-living things and processes) are impacted greatly by predator-prey relations (i.e., in simple language, the "fact" that all living things are susceptible to being eaten and thus at the same time are putting other creatures at risk because they also eat to live). The entire dynamic of Life on this planet is turning out to be that everything is eating everything, and thus, everything can be prey and/or predator at the same time. And behind that empirical truth, then there is the sound foundational evolutionary principle that: "nothing really wants to be eaten" (i.e., die) (i.e., fear of death). So, thus begins this complex ecology of "fear of dying" (including injury) in one form or another, which become more complex the higher up the evolutionary chain and with advanced consciousness capacities--right up to "self-reflective" species (brains). A whole other dialectical principle is that the "spirit of fearlessness" is right there helping the organism both survive, but also thrive and heal if injured.  

I won't go on and on, in order to keep this blog short. The thing I find interesting to remember is that the human being is a "top predator" ecologically. And, we best not forget that empirical truth, within the frame of evolutionary theory at least. Being a top predator means, more or less, we are making all other species "afraid" more or less. That's where "birding" comes in. It teaches me the lessons of evolution and Nature every time I go out there and walk with my binoculars and spotting scope. When you learn bird (animal) language, you realize they are continually giving alarm signals (more or less intense) as you walk into their territories, be it in the city or in natural areas. You are a threat. Now, apply that to all predators (which is, all living creatures)--and, the outcome logically is that everything is making everything, more or less, afraid of it (because, everything is eating and/or preying upon everything else). Of course, you could come up with arguments that cooperation is also going on and that not all creatures are "preying" upon others actively, e.g., some are scavengers of already dead organisms. My generalization is really intended to act as a baseline reference for human beings--that is, "top predator" in the food chain. Because, that is whom the fearologist is addressing in their work. Human beings and how they make themselves and everything living around them afraid, more or less. It is really hard for the "humanist" ideology to take this reality in--and, that's why I offer this counter narrative of an ecology of fear to the more humanist sentiments that see humans as more benign (certainly, not as a predator). 

The predator-prey behavior and evolutionary strategies that are ancient, are critical to understand in our theorizing about risk, threat, security today.The ecology of fear plays a critical role in all these areas that are getting a lot of attention--especially, in a so-called society that is driven/motivated by what many critics are calling the "culture of fear" dynamic --which is, another form of the more primal predator-prey ecology and/or ecology of fear. I would recommend studying this connection between risk, safety, threat and violence and fear in the work of Gavin De Becker, a well-known respected security expert today [5]. I have followed De Becker's work and corresponded with him for near 20 years. Much of what he writes about (like Jon Young) is all about the ecology of fear, as far as I am concerned, though neither of them use that language or research and discourse (including, Four Arrows). So, fearologist can improve this whole field of risk management/education, and fear management/education and safety and security domains by a primal study of the foundations of fear in the Natural world. That's my basic point. As Four Arrows (and the Indigenous worldview) suggested, that in order for us to become "connoisseurs of Fear" we ought to start asking where is it best to "know Fear"?--and, his response: 

"To survive and thrive, wild animals must be experts in Fear. Humans who wish to express their positive potentiality must also be connoisseurs of this great motivator." [6] Basically, Four Arrows, like myself, suggest strongly that if you want to "know Fear" then study Nature, be in/with the Natural domain as you observe, experiment, inquire, record and study the topic Fear--and, that means, study it as part of an "ecology of fear" (of predator-prey relations). Btw. researchers using this term "ecology of fear" are also including plants as "teachers" of how this all works. And, sure, we always have to be cautious not to try to directly apply everything from these ecological studies to "humans" (and Cultural and Spiritual) and the complexity of our lives, but some of it does apply, and will give us creative and fresh views into the nature and role of Fear on this planet. 

Oh, and why do I go "birding"? To continue to develop my primal brain! I am always learning to trust it's instincts and intuitions--and, you never know when you may need them handy to help out. And the basic corrective, healing principle I am particularly developing in the birding world is "slow birding" (I've coined the name)--to enact a counter to a world where everyone (even birders) are spinning out there way too fast, too many pictures, too many this and that... so, I return to the Indigenous-based wisdom in regard to Nature (the Natural domain), and cite Four Arrows (relating the lessons from Mexican shamans), who  wrote, "Nature cautions us to go slowly." [6] 


1. One could just as easily use the term "Indigenizing" here, as my colleague Four Arrows (aka Dr. Don Trent Jacobs) would do so. 

2. Young, J. (2013). What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World. Boston, MA: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

2. The book is to come out in 2018 with Peter Lang publishers, entitled at this moment: Fearless Engagement of Four Arrows: The True Story of an Indigenous-based Social Transformer. 

3.. FM Blogs: see "Rhetorical Ecology of Fear: Scholarship" (Oct. 7/16); "Bird Watching/Listening: Teachers of the Ecology of Fear" (Oct. 14/16); and Technical Papers see "Further Steps to an Ecology of Fear" (Technical Paper No. 52, 2015) and "Steps to an Ecology of Fear: Advanced Curriculum of Fearlessness" (Technical Paper No. 38, 2012). 

4. De Becker has published several books now, but his classic text is "Gift of Fear" (1997). See a good talk De Becker with Sam Harris on the "wild brain" as De Becker calls it and "true fear" (intuition) that predicts violence ( ; and just to be clear, I do not necessarily embrace all of what these guys are saying in the video--rather, I'm quite critical.

5. Jacobs, D. T. (1998) [aka Four Arrows]. A True Story of Survival, Transformation, and Awakening with the Raramuri Shamans of Mexico. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

6. Ibid., p. 226.

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Erosion of Sociality: Fear

 I found this quote from an article which I have not read as a whole as it is not easily available online (or for free):

Overcoming Fear Culture and Fear Itself

by Julie Hanus

Utne Reader, January-February 2009

 For the first time in history, fear is tearing society apart. In the past, fear has engendered solidarity—as it did in the 1950s, when nuclear anxieties bound Americans together. Contemporary fear throws wedges between us. This isolation, in turn, renders the public ever more fearful. What’s more, media outlets, politicians, and businesses all have learned to capitalize on this distinctly modern sense of dread, and thus profit from finding ways to cultivate it. Until we find a way to resist fear, we’ll live at the mercy of these emotional entrepreneurs—and in doing so, be party to the personal, cultural, and political consequences.

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This is my most "complete" summary of my work on Love & Fear for the past 28 years. I highly recommend it as the "basic reader" (document) to consult to get you familiar with and to guide you to further study on this universal problem that we have to understand and resolve--the sooner the better. Here it is in pdf Love-Fear & Uni-Bicentric Theorem (2017)

Here is the full title of the article and Abstract

Love-Fear: Uni-Bicentric Theorem as Basis for

the Fearlessness Movement


R. Michael Fisher

Technical Paper No. 65



Abstract  This is the latest articulation and upgraded version of the Love vs. Fear theory/discourse found universally across historical time. The author traces a summary of his own working with these “forces” under the label of archetypal metamotivations. His own articulation of the Fear Problem is only part of a more encompassing Uni-Bicentric Theorem he discovered and has promoted for 28 years, all as part of the Fearlessness Movement/Tradition. He claims that the language/theory of Love-Fear, rather than Love vs. Fear, is more healthy and effective for liberation than the language/theory of Good vs. Evil (dualism) underneath the discourse of Love vs. Fear. His unique Uni-Bicentric Theorem offers the foundational thinking to make this shift in our dominant current guiding kosmologies that tend to default to Good vs. Evil when under pressure and less than ideal conditions. He also critiques his own work, while drawing upon (mainly but not only) the theories of Ken Wilber and Abraham H. Maslow. He suggests viral ‘Fear’ complex is a different ‘beast’ than fear or Fear, and so the entire Love and Fear discourses/theories all need revision, via a confrontation with the Shadow (e.g., ‘Fear’ Matrix, and/or “culture of fear” meta-context) and a thorough ontopsychosocial therapy (or therapia). 

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I have just written and published Technical Paper No. 64, entitled "Fearism" as an analysis of the literature of scholars in global migration studies. Below is the Abstract for this technical article:


 Although terrorism was coined in the French Revolution over 200 years ago, fearism has emerged in scholarly and popular culture in the past 25 years, articulating a new critical perspective on the nature and role of fear. This is the first review study of scholars using “fearism” overall but with a focus on uses and misuses within the fields of global Migration, Ethnic and Citizenship Studies (MECS). The 13 MECS’s publications reviewed, with the first use of fearism in 2009, indicate discourses conform closely, yet with differences which require conceptual and theoretical clarification. MEC’s discourses suggest we ought to think critically about fearism as a postmodern complex concept, phenomena, analytic framework, discourse, rhetoric, ideology, imaginary and matrix, with historical, traumatic, sociopolitical and cultural implications for migration problematics in the 21st century. Nearly 80% of the MECS’s authors, more or less, quoted and/or cited the same excerpt, that is, a 24-word definition of fearism (Fisher, 2006, 51). Unfortunately, the excerpt is a truncated definition, when the original definition is more complex and radical as contextualized by Fisher. This author recommends how to correct this truncated, often inaccurate, reading of Fisher’s original definition which MECS’s discourses tend to rely upon.  

  Keyword:  fearism, fear, fear management, hidden curriculum, migration


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If you haven't seen it already, I recommend watching the 70 min. interview of Dr. Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor at MIT, author of over 100 books, and critic--go to Democracy Now, Apr. 4, 2017. I have been following Chomsky's work for decades, off and on. He has written often about the "culture of fear" in various countries and the problems with it in terms of undermining civil societies.

In this latest interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Amy introduces a question from the viewers as she introduces it as a question about "Trump exploiting fear" and Chomsky answers (a repetitive analysis I have heard him say this several times over the past decade about America):

"[T]his is a very frightened country. For years, this has been probably the most frightened country in the world. It's also the safest country in the world. It's very easy to terrify people [here]."


Let me say a few brief comments about this statement/observation. To say the least, I agree with Chomsky on the Fear Problem in the USA, and not that I agree America is the most "frightened country" but it is at least right up there in the top of them in the world, especially countries that are under dictatorships, I'd say they are more frightened. But one can't measure this so easily and no data is presented by Chomsky, only some 88 yrs of observations of being an American, and that counts! He's an astute and brilliant social critic of our times. His voice ought to be taken seriously. Yet, so disappointing amongst all his fans and they must be millions around the world, I do not hear any concentrated effort or advocacy of how to handle the Fear Problem, not even from Chomsky himself in terms of fear management/education strategies. That's what tends to gut his emphasis on America as "the most frightened country in the world." You can say this, and it may be plausible, as I say, I agree more or less, yet what is there to do about it directly. I mean to go to the source. Chomsky's general solution is just to have a more rational and civil democracy that works well, and the fear ought to decline. That's pretty much the operating assumption. It's no doubt partially true. However, my 28 years researching the Fear Problem (and "culture of fear" specifically) tells me that this will not be a solution, and it also will not happen without some major intervention (e.g., 'fear' vaccine) to turn America around in another direction away from this chronic frightened state--kind of like a general anxiety disorder on the scale of a whole country. That is pretty much Chomsky's diagnosis. I don't disagree basically and other critics of the "culture of fear" phenomenon has said as much for decades, e.g., the sociologist Barry Glassner amongst the more popular authors.

I have written about Chomsky a year ago. Fisher, R. M. (2016). In defense of fearism: The case of Noam Chomsky. Technical Paper No. 58. Carbondale, IL: In                    Search of Fearlessness Research Institute. I argued he would in all likelihood support the philosophy of fearism (at least my own theory of fearism)--because toxic fearism is like terrorism but works in the more subtle infrastructures of societies to create this chronically frightened (anxious) state, where as Chomsky says, it becomes "very easy to terrify people." So true. I have lived in the USA for 9 years and I feel it and see it among Americans. Now, I have gone out to make myself present here (Carbondale, IL) and reached out to many activist groups, to clergy to political leaders to non-profit organizations, to school system leaders, etc. And they have little to no interest in the Fear Problem, even when they sort of agree with me it is a big problem in the USA. This I have found empirically disturbing to see how they will not, on the whole, or in small groups, focus on the root of all the rest of their problems that makes them so susceptible to being "very easy to terrify." It is like they are so terrified as the 'normal' condition they also are so arrogant that they are "fine" and that they already know how to solve their social problems, etc. They must be in a state of denial and psychic numbing, as far as I can tell. Even Chomsky, will say the core of the problem is fear but he offers no other analysis, or insufficient analysis as I point out in my Technical Paper No. 58. And, I have always said, to Americans I meet and who are so quick to reject or just ignore my efforts to help them, that sure maybe you don't want to be a "connoisseur of fear" (as Four Arrows and Sam Keen and myself suggest) but could you at least consult with people like me, a fearologist, so that you get that expertise to help? No, they do not. I can tell you in all these years, they do not ask for it. This is the real Fear Problem, is when you know you are operating out of so much fear (and thank you Chomsky for calling it out), and you don't do anything substantially different to change it.

All I can say, is that Americans didn't get here over night. It has been part of their European history coming to America, part of their slave trade to build this country--all points that Chomsky has pointed to historically, as have others. The American "culture of fear" or "politics of fear" (e.g., Corey Robin's analysis) has a long intricate history that must be understood and taught in our school systems, and generally it is not, and only as so partial and then with no follow up in terms of teaching fear management/education in the radical ways I have suggested for nearly 3 decades. So, Four Arrows has said it recently in our work together that the Indigenous Peoples of the world, practicing the 'old ways' have a worldview where they are taught not to fear fear itself. This has never really been part of the non-Indigenous or Dominant worldview on the planet.

I'll leave this commentary with the comment that Chomsky threw into his interview (and the quote above): "It's the safest country in the world." Too bad he didn't give statistics for this, and too bad Amy didn't ask him about this. Let me explain where it is coming from, as far as I can tell, because when you read the quote as a whole it is so paradoxical and ironic, that the most frightened country is the most safest in the world, according to Chomsky. Many of the culture of fear theorists, and critics have said the same things (Glassner, Frank Furedi, Gavin DeBecker, etc.). So what is going on here? The argument of these  critics is that America has created the "safest" society but yet it is the most "frightened"--and, there is a real 'disconnect.' One indicator these critics give is that the rates of crime have gone done for decades but on surveys the population as a whole keeps saying that they have a higher "fear of crime." All the critics pin this problem down on how media creates this fear by exaggeration and repetition on TV and other sources of mass media, and they do so to "win" viewers to their programs because nothing gets attention like fear--as they say. It is part of the "economy of attention" as some scholars have called it. It is part of the "culture of fear"--and then, when you get government leaders, activists, and corporations using this economy of attention--that is, economy of fear to manipulate people's opinions--then, fear keeps going up, no matter even if the society is relatively safe and secure.

I agree with most of this "culture of fear" and "politics of fear" analysis to explain the 'disconnect.' It is a very troubling psychic and social state going on, and I have witnessed it here in the last 9 years. But more disturbing to me, is how Americans are so arrogant, and ignore-ant, as a whole, to actually attend to this Fear Problem 'disconnect.' I also am a critic that you can't use simple statistics on "safe" and "secure" to measure a society that is living in a post-traumatic condition and culture of fear as ongoing chronic context. There is always, says, Brian Massumi the cultural critic, a "low-grade fear" that isn't even normal anxiety or fear--it is like another phenomena we haven't easily been able to "name" or study. I have called it toxic fearism.

It would be great if someday, Chomsky and others like him, and the culture of fear critics will take my work seriously and engage with me, instead of deny we need a much better fear management/education that is systematic in all curricula.

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From: Time magazine (March 27, 2017), p. 24.

THIS IS THE WORLD young people live in today, through the eyes of an artist/cartoonist who perceives and creates images that depict often what is more in the "collective unconscious" (much like a good filmmaker), and yet we all know that we are living reality as something like this "dream" image that is depicted, as the arational space in which artists work. The image above can be interpreted in so many ways, and one of the reasons I liked it was it relates to my last blog on schooling and fear/anxiety (see below). How can educators, researchers, psychologists, pretend to make the study of "fear and learning" so clean cut and "scientific" and "statistical" when the lived reality of a child or adult going to school (in this cartoon by John Atkinson) a bit of a "nightmare" --even if an exaggerated one (dreams and nightmares exaggerate for a reason). Clearly, this is what it is like living in a post-traumatic culture and century, as several critical observers I have read speak about. I and others simply call it the everyday "culture of fear"... whatever the name, I like that we have pictures of this phenomenon, and that's why this art image is so important to reach the other-side of our rational brain and communicate what we often tend to deny and repress due to the predominance of the logical side of our brain that keeps busy and distracted in the everyday "conscious" world of affairs.

I see images like the above as not attempts to scare us most, but to wake us up to how scared we already are--and how we are living in a psychic numb state--which is definitely not healthy. We'd be much better to admit the fear(s) and work through them, as a good fear management/education would teach us how to do and not only teach us, would allow us to re-connect with our primal instincts of knowing how to manifest the spirit of Fearlessness in the face of Fear.

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Once again, or rarely these days, I'll pick up a journal issue from the American Research Education Association. My life-partner is a member and receives their regular journal called Review of Educational Research. In the April 2017 issue [1], I scanned through Fong et al.'s paper "Psychosocial Factors and Community College Studies" a meta-analysis of data/studies. Okay, I am attracted to how they define psychosocial development, but it is typically pretty shallow and trapped almost completely within the framework of an individualistic "psychological" model/paradigm. The research they summarize is virtually about teaching and learning strategies and mostly about the individual learners characteristics and what they can do to worsen their learning outcomes and what they can do to improve them. Fair enough, this is important. But it all depends on what you are going to pull out of their psychosocial development that will really make a big difference, even a transformative difference, that's where I get critical of this research I see over and over again.

Let's look at the five broad areas these researchers take as likely most important in psychosocial development--and, remember they are focusing on how these relate to learning outcomes (i.e., primarily cognitive-behavioral psychology). So, they list the five, of which I am glad they list Fear (i.e., Anxiety): (1) motivation, self-perceptions, attributions, self-regulation, and anxiety. They discuss each one briefly before they do their huge meta-analysis of all the studies that involve these categories in some way, again, with focus on college student success. There's no big questioning about "success" in any sociological, cultural, historical or political context. Anyways, here is what they say about Anxiety:

Anxiety - "As the most widely studied academic emotion in the educational literature (Zeidner, 1998) [2], anxiety is not only conceptually distinct as a psychological factor but also highly prevalent in today's college campus culture and student population. Although some degree of stress [i.e., fear and anxiety] can indicate a healthy interest in the task and a response to appropriate task difficult, many students experience overwhelming amounts of anxiety that ultimately [negatively] affect their performance." (p. 395).

What is great about this is the up-front acknowledgement of the powerful negative role of anxiety/fear [3] in learning and successful performance, and that it has been obviously recognized by enough researchers and others in the field of Education to be "the most widely studied" of psychoemotional variables. Wow. Great. But then, after this great introductory sentence, and surely one could generalize that this finding on the major negative affective impact of fear for college students could easily be applied to K-12 schooling as well. I'm not up on the latest research, but I know as a professional educator for 40 years this is no surprise to education researchers and teachers. They know fear is crucial in educational learning successes and a whole lot of other things that go on in schooling environments/cultures, never mind society at large. But, I can tell you there is very little about this psychoemotional factor brought out into the common Education discourses, policies, practices. That aside, once I look a little deeper into this statement on anxiety, in the study, there is a disturbing finding of this large meta-analysis by Fong et al. (and, yes, it is related to statistical meta-analysis studies in general), these researchers admit in their Results section:

"We observed some differences as well between our review and Richardson et al.'s. Anxiety and stress were found to be consistently negatively associated with college achievement by Richardson et al. [4]; however, in the present meta-analysis, there were no significant [i.e., statistical] relationships between anxiety and achievement." (p. 414).

So, because their statistical meta-analysis did not pick-up any significant correlation of anxiety/fear to learning, guess what? They don't say another thing of any substance about this psychosocial domain--I would call Fear. Nope. They talk only about significant correlations issues, all the while I am asking yeah, but, what about the claim you made when you folks described "Anxiety" earlier in the article? If you re-read their statement (p. 395), again, so positive to me in admitting this is likely the most studied because it is the most powerful "academic emotion" recognized [5]. Yet, Fong et al., leave it behind and no new educative knowledge or ideas are shared about how to deal with this worst problem. It is astounding how 'blind' researchers can be. We spend our time on the less important, less worst problems in contemporary literature on education. That's the basic reality of Fong et al.'s study. Once more, Fear is side-lined to the shadows, and education as a whole does not progress, in my view. It regresses, and gets distracted. Okay, there are more problems in this study.

Besides both systematic reviews (meta-analyses), Fong et al., and Richardson, et al. being totally enwrapped in the limited world of Psychology discourse, and besides the problem of limiting (reducing) Fear to an "academic emotion" as if that can be restricted to academic concerns only, or even accurately--then, we see that this entire study does not study the "culture of fear" as an over-structure (meta-context) today in education but society in general. They ignore that, as likely is the case with most of the "success" interested studies in Education. Sure, they'll mention anxiety, but that's only a "variable" or "factor" not a context for these educational psychology folks. Big mistake. And, when I looked up in the references of Fong et al.'s article to who actually said that "anxiety is so important (i.e., the most widely studied academic emotion in the educational literature (Zeidner, 1998)) it turns out so problematic in that the Zeidner reference is a text on "test anxiety." All the focus is on cognitive achievement, behavioral outcomes and all within the context of "testing" achievement success. This is so disturbing because the Fong et al. study is on psychoemotional development, a notion they repeat in the article, and I agree it is so important. But "testing" is where the researchers go to find out how important anxiety/fear is. Wow, that is a big mistake. No wonder, they end up dissing Fear in their article, especially once it is not shown to be "statistically important"--etc. Also, it is disturbing to see their reference for the quote on the importance of anxiety/fear is now two decades old. What? They couldn't find a more up-to-date reference on Fear and learning? This is really not good scholarship, and it also shows how little they cared about this variable, they name "Anxiety" in psychosocial development. Typically, I have found educational psychology researchers to be very 'heady' people who love statistics and rational arguments--trying their best to get funding and credit for their "scientific" studies. And what gets lost in the mean-time beneath their own agendas, and their own fear of fear (to be frank)... very, disturbing for me as a fearologist to see this kind of research still filling major journals in education to this day. There has been such a major shift in American (Western) cultures in two decades, and anxiety/fear have to be looked at seriously in contextual ways of framing what is happening to our students in all schooling settings.

Oh, and I ought to finish this initial critique with how uneducational this education research continues to be. Let me quote Fong et al. again, with what they say about anxiety/fear management now [bold added for emphasis]:

"... many students experience overwhelming amounts of anxiety that ultimately [negatively] affect their performance.... To reduce the deleterious effects of anxiety on performance, anxiety requires management through a process of awareness, reflection, and control for students to analyze how their affective reactions to learning are manifesting and hindering their performance." (p. 395)

Added to this quote they note studies showing the negative associations overall between "anxiety and academic performance." Again, all psychological-individual based discussion here, including management strategies. Oh, to be fair, Fong et al., do say near the end of their article one of the limitations of this study is that it doesn't assess structural aspects of student learning (e.g., schools themselves, "college climate" and relationships,  organizations, structures, politics; see p. 416). However, that is tucked away as a caveat way to deep into and at the end of the article. Sorry, it doesn't cut it. The reality, is very clear what is being ignored virtually by Fong et al., and nearly every other researcher on student learning success. I want to know why the larger structural context(s) are ignored, not just acknowledged that it is ignored. We will never be able to address "many students experience overwhelming amounts of anxiety" as the real problem at the root of (most) all learning problems. We have known this intuitively as human beings since near the beginning of history. Tell me (tell us) something new would you please! Tell us something new about the nature and role of anxiety/fear, which you as researchers actually point out "anxiety [fear] is not only conceptually distinct as a psychological factor" --I agree, it is. But the article says nothing about why it is conceptually distinct. That is so disappointing. Again, we are not learning anything much new about this "most widely studied" (obviously, most important) factor. Again, your statistical analysis left it behind to be not seen, not conceptually distinct (aka important). This is so unacceptable research because we have the ethical imperative to actually help our students who are, as you admit, and research shows consistently, suffering "overwhelming amounts of anxiety." The construct "culture of fear" has to be taken into account, because "fear" is not an isolated phenomenon in education, learning, teaching. The current immigration (DACA) situation with so many students in the USA right now under the Trump administration being one driver of overwhelming fear of the vulnerable and yet it is bigger than that. I have documented this "culture of fear" and "education" literature some years ago (Fisher, 2011) [6]. If we are going to take the "social" seriously in "psychosocial" then we are obliged to always include a cultural/social context to any research on fear and learning/teaching.

I guess, I trust you all (including Fong et al.) will apply "self-regulated learning" to your own research and this article, and perhaps correct some things in future writing. Yes, I'd like you to "reflect" on what it is you are saying, think about what is important ethically--that is, in what is causing the major suffering (i.e., mental health issues)--and, especially, as you say in the article, anxiety/fear levels most negatively impact already susceptible ("primed") students--already "fearful" (p. 395). 

I hope you get lots of good feedback on this article: Dr. Carlton J. Fong,

I also am glad to assist, if you wish re-thinking educational research that is actually truly educational for the real problems of student suffering (and, thus, their success as well. Feel free to contact me: Dr. R. Michael Fisher,


1. Fong, C. J., Davis, C. W., Kim, Y., Kim, Y. W., Marriott, L., and Kim, S. Y. (2017). Psychosocial factors and community college student success: A meta-analytic investigation. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 388-424.

2. Zeidner, M. (1998). Test anxiety: The state of the art. New York, NY: Plenum.

3. My 28 years of research on anxiety/fear shows there is overall no distinguishing "actual" or "important" difference between these two constructs, even if many researchers will disagree, and give me the simple (operational) definition they use in psychological research. And, by the way, this also applies to existential thinking, although, I would have to go into far too complex of a discussion about this to nuance special attention to existentialism. For a review of my own thought on this you can go to any of my publications, and precisely, see Fisher and Subba (2016), look up "anxiety" in the Subject Index for several references, and note the issue of definition (contra fear) on p. 20. Fisher, R. M., and Subba, D. (2016). Philosophy of fearism: A first East-West dialogue. Australia: Xlibris.

4. Richardson, M., Abraham, C., and Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students' academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 353-87.

5. Calling anxiety/fear only an "academic emotion" is also highly problematic, as my work continually has argued that we have to see "fear" as much more than an individual and psychological construct or "emotion." That emotion discourse is way to restricted, and insufficient to diagnose the Fear Problem on this planet (see Fisher and Subba, 2016).

6. Fisher, R. M. (2011). "Culture of fear" and education: An annotated bibliography, 1990-2011. Technical Paper No. 28 (2nd ed.). Carbondale, IL: In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute.

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With all the different emotional reactions on either side of the political spectrum, especially in the U.S., since Trump's presidential victory, we need to find larger perspectives for analysis and not merely be caught up in the either/or binary of arguments and aggressive fighting back n' forth.

So, the other day, thanks to Dan McKinnon in Calgary, I received a copy of a draft that Ken Wilber, the integral philosopher, has been sending out to some people on his application of Integral theory (and Spiral Dynamics beneath it), of why there is an evolutionary correction going on that had to come out eventually, and it came out in the 2016 US presidential elections. Like it or not.

Wilber, is one of my mentors, and as a philosopher he understands cultural evolution, especially in America, like no one else I know of, especially with his meta-theory and contextual worldcentric and kosmocentric view. His arguments I find very compelling, and always have in his critique of postmodern excess and pathologies (e.g., narcissism and nihilism via relativism). Anyways, I won't say more but I'll post his 90 page document here KEN%2BWILBER%2BTrump%2Band%2Ba%2BPost-Truth%2BWorld.docx

I only got to page 6, I haven't read the rest. And on page 6 I found the "truth" I was expecting would be in his argument, but I love the way he said it. This may not make full sense to the rest here on the FM ning, but I'll put it into the perspective of fear, and the culture of fear which I study.

Basically, Wilber is saying that cultural evolution had gone forward on a leading edge for quite awhile, at least in human terms, since the 1960's especially (in the Western world). This was the time of radical cultural (r)evolution, and the Love Generation. I grew up in that too. We thought Love would take victory over Fear basically and make the world a better place.

Wilber, using Integral theory, tells how the leading-edge of cultural evolution (i.e., postmodernism) got twisted and extreme (especially in academia in the humanities and arts) but also in the general popular culture. The idea was in this Love culture of equality and pluralism (Lower Left quadrant reality) and all the good stuff of postmodernism there was an problem with what I call Culturalism, in that cultural ideas (media) had taken over casting a better view of life than was actually being had. This is the virtual (unreality) of Culturalism and people believed it until the structural social reality (Lower Right quadrant reality) was so grossly out of synch with the Culturalism view, because greater disparity of health, income, and freedom, etc. was occurring as the "middle class" myth collapsed (especially, in the US). This gulf or gap between Cultural and Social Reality, to use Wilber's analysis, really brought the whole System into such contradictions that something big had to change.

Wilber says on page 6 "the culture was lying" (and had been for about 60 years, more or less). This, from my perspective, is because we were living in a growing culture of fear (as many critics have recently claimed) not a culture of love. Darn! This has brought the evolutionary system into a bit of regression and chaos, and who knows what else... but Trump rode the falsity of it all, the anger and frustration of the contradiction. And, he led with contributing and flying along the waves of the culture of fear not the culture of love--and, his predecessor Pres. Richard Nixon, once said exactly that-- it is not love that changes people but fear, that is, if you are a leader and want your way to dominate. Welcome to the power-game. Trump is riding in there well suited, more than any other candidate to play that game. But what will the next (r)evolutionary correction be after Trump's time in office? We'll see...

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Michelle Obama Cares About the Role of Fear

I mean if Michelle Obama, now First Lady to Pres. Barack Obama in the USA, back in Aug. 2007 was feeling afraid, and they lived a very comfortable life, you can imagine what the vast majority of the American population was feeling. She spoke to supporters in rural Iowa in regard to why she and her husband agreed to go for the presidency:

"And as more people talked to us about it, the question came up again and again, what people were most concerned about. They were afraid. It was fear. Fear again, raising its ugly head in one of the most important decisions that we would make. Fear of everything. Fear that we might lose. Fear that he [Barack] might get hurt. Fear that this might get ugly. Fear that it would hurt our family. Fear

You know the reason I said 'yes'? Because I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of living in a country where every decision that we have made over the last ten years wasn't for something, but it was because people told us we had to fear something. We had to fear people who looked different than us, fear people who believed in things that were different from us, fear of another right here in our own backyards. I am so tired of fear, and I don't want my girls to live in a country, in a world, based on fear." [1]


Wow! I hadn't seen this or heard this speech by her. It really hits the soul of things, and trust a woman to say it like it is in this realm of the affective side of life--living in a culture of fear that has truly not been anything but growing for quite a long time, and especially after 9/11. You'd think this would be the "grist" for the mill of American society, and especially American education systems to get out the best of our intelligence and figure out why it is that everyone is so afraid of everything down here!


End Note:

1. Excerpt of Michelle Obama's speech, taken from Glassner, B. (2009). The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. NY: Basic Books, 243-44.

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How Hard Is It To Keep Going On the Path?

Now and then it is important, I believe, for anyone, especially leaders of liberation to talk about their struggles. Not to over-indulge or anything, but to share the journey of fearlessness so that others can sense what it is like for others and leaders. If you were to read my boxes-full of my personal journals over the decades you'd get more than a handful of pages about the struggle to keep going. I sometimes just express "distress" and "despair" and "depression" and lots of rage and righteous indignation. Sometimes I get valuable insights. Mostly, a lot of sadness of how it is so hard to get others to 'take up the cause' and join me and/or join the Fearlessness Movement on the planet in their own ways. I certainly don't need to be the leader of it all. I look for fellow companions, comrades, and peers who are also leading this work. It's so hard to find them, and when I do they are so busy with their own worlds of goings on that they don't have time to engage with me usually very in depth. So, I suffer from an intellectual aloneness pretty much daily. 

The following excerpt from my journaling the other day is I think a good example of my struggles and how in journaling (often) I find some resolution to my internal conflict and other negative feelings and heaviness due to exhaustion of carrying out this work of fear and fearlessness with so little positive rewards from society. I certainly don't generally get paid for my primary cultural productions or efforts. I am financially dependent on my life-partner, not a situation that ever feels good to me or her. Yet, it is reality. 

April 22, 2016 - Fearism-t is not to be side-stepped, displaced by some simple elocution or filing away in a locked-up storage vault!!! -- in my mind. 

If I look at the underlying 'cause' of 80% of my mental and soul suffering daily it comes from my own (with others) forgetting that fearism-t, in one way or another is operating and tearing me down. All the triggering manifestations that disgust, sicken and hurt me (an other beings) are based in an ideological formation so hard to define and to keep a finger on. Let me tell ya! I just know intuitively, every few weeks or months, to pick up my own book/writing/teachings, especially the last book Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue (co-written with Desh Subba), and actually hold the book when I am in the midst of my despair and sickness of how the world is, of how I am. To hold that book and actually open it up and read it, is not easy for me to do when no one else around me is showing interest in the book nor asking me questions about it etc. Today, I read some sections and watched my mood change, the suffering disappear, and listened to my own voice articulate the essence of fearism-t, and its toxic impact... and it is as though I am reading into the entire W. society and civilization and its addiction to fear, and no wonder it doesn't want to change, nor engage with my work... or follow the path of fearlessness with any real sincerity never mind real discipline and sharing this journey with me. 

So, that's the jist of the journal entry, that went on and on much longer. I don't think it is necessary to write it all out. Maybe someday, historians will find these journals of mine and publish bits of them. I have shared my struggles with my daughters and with my life-partner, but not often. I have counseled on this material with many co-peer counselors over the decades, but there is really never enough quality attention for me to heal through all this distress and constant bombardment from the fearism-t ideology that is embedded in my own being, and all around me. It is an ideology so well designed to make us forget there is even an ideology of fearism-t that exists... and, I watch how easily I forget this, and I am the one who found this "truth" and labeled it, and have written more on it than anyone on the planet that I know of. That's how toxic and effective it is-- it can make me forget how to free myself from the 'Fear' Matrix, the 'Fear' Project, the Culture of Fear, the fearism-t complex itself. Forget. Forget. Forget. And, I suffer in that forget. I also think everyone does, but they are often not aware of what is causing the suffering. I have no doubt that fearism-t is operating to make people stop reading my work on fear and fearlessness. It is preventing them from coalescing with force, of following my lead... of taking their own lead to develop a radical fear management/education on the planet. Of course, there are rare (but fragile) exceptions to this rule and my observations. Nothing is sustainable right now... I just don't see the "movement" and I don't see the willingness to learn about it that is required. Again, I blame no one because I watch my own slipping 'off' track and forgetting, and suffering and forgetting why I am suffering. That is, forgetting the very deepest roots of that suffering in an imprisonment, that is not being led by fearlessness as it could be. 

I feel so alone on this battle, and yet, rationally I know I am not. The proof I am not alone was something I sought to find for years in my research. That's why I wrote a wikipedia on "Fearlessness Movement" of which is the introduction to this FM ning as well. Which, I encourage everyone who has signed up (or not even) to read that introduction--see the very first FORUM at the bottom of the webpage on this FM ning-- we are part of something much larger, lest we not forget this is so! 

Final note:  Yes, I am reminding, and I have uncovered a great systemic ADDICTION TO FEAR (1) that I live in, with, amongst... and, it would be a similar daily experience to live amongst an alcoholic family in denial, who has not gone to treatment-- I know that experience from my own upbringing, and I have worked as a therapist with so many families where this is so and have tried to support the children (mainly, the male adolescents)... it is a toxic system, and it wears you down, and it feels like it is impossible to change. That's what I am sharing above... what it is like to be an addiction therapist for the entire W. civilization that is addicted to fear and denies that it is. 

End Note

1. If you get the drift of this "Addiction Problem" then if you read more of my work you can re-translate that code-word for "Fear Problem" and if you read the two blogs that were created (after this blog; thanks to my editing flexibility here I can add this end note) you'll see that "fear" (and 'fear') as I have been studying them for 27 years are codes for "evil" ('evil'), that is the 'Evil Problem'. In my recent co-authored book with Desh Subba, "Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue" (2016), you'll see it is not by accident that in the Preface the discussion begins with looking at evil (a la Carl Jung) and linking it with fear and a philosophy of fearism. 

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Fear in America Series by AlterNet

Everyone once in awhile, while I continue to surf the Internet looking for contacts and good info. on the Fear Problem, I find a 'gem' -- at least, in this case today, a gem of an article by Don Hazen, Exec. Ed. of (an online community of radical progressive thinkers)... Don has a great article "Fear in America: Fear Dominates Politics, Media and Human Existence in America--And It's Getting Worse" (a quick read)... 

It does my heart good to find current folks taking up a series of articles on their sites like this one Don and AlterNet have initiated. Now, I don't think any of the articles following Don's are all that great... and rather, more distractive to me... from the punchy issues that Don himself raises. I wrote to him and maybe we can collaborate. I'm glad his article is out there, and their site has near 1 million "Likes"... whatever, that actually means... but yes, I thought to copy and past a few tid bit quotes that stand out for me as so true...

FEAR IN AMERICA by Don Hazen, March 15, 2015

Fear Dominates Politics, Media and Human Existence in America—And It’s Getting Worse

Today, AlterNet launches a series of articles and investigations on fear, and how to combat it.


"We at AlterNet feel our society is overrun with a destructive and growing social preoccupation with fear.... Politically, socially and emotionally, fear is arguably the most powerful potent force in society."

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I have just downloaded a long article "Educators, We Have a Culture of Fear Problem," one of my best (imo) in terms of a relatively complete analysis of the domain of how a culture of fear has penetrated the field of Education all the way up and down the spectrum right up to academia itself, at  (scroll down to Yellow Papers).

I have included the Abstract of this paper below. I look forward to talking with you on this after you have read it (in part, or whole). I cannot think of a more important topic on the planet that we should be talking about and taking actions on in order to transform this society ASAP. But, then, that's just my view--although, the culture of fear and education topic is my expertise. Btw, this article was submitted to an academic journal in the field of Education and rejected by both reviewers (on not very stable grounds) and so I decided to add the reviewers criticisms of the paper in the paper itself (at the end) with my fresh comments of critique of their critiques--so, that might be interesting for you to read. -enjoy, M.



The author argues that a focused universal agenda for educators to critically assess is the human Fear Problem (i.e., “culture of fear”). It could serve as a useful and ethical meta-context to rally around for a thoroughgoing new reference point by which to design healthy and emancipatory educational global systems. This is the first publication in Educational literature to summarize the status of discourses using the culture of fear construct. The author briefly tracks out his 26 year journey studying this topic and its relationship to Education and social policy in their widest global sense. He documents and critiques some current conventional liberal reductionist discourses on fear and education, as well as the arising interest in writing about the culture of fear construct and reality (from 1990- to date). Based on cross-disciplinary literature surveys, a basic definition of culture of fear is offered that is unique to the otherwise ubiquitous nebulous definitions of others. The article asserts it is now near impossible, and certainly naive, to mention and/or study fear without including the necessary, if not universal, meta-context of the culture of fear. Without such a context, fear will be reduced to a largely ‘value-neutral’ psychological discourse and phenomena instead of a cultural and political one. He offers several suggestions for resistance amongst the educational community to adopt the culture of fear in critical pedagogy and Education in general. Concluding remarks offer recommendations to resist that resistance and pursue proactive means to improve our critical understanding of the nature and role of fear, and the culture of fear in Education and civilization-at-large.

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How fear and fearlessness move, an endlessly dynamic duo, and particularly complex in the sociopolitical and cultural spheres of reality. The recent news of the choices that politicians have made (and, ones that are heavily supported by their constituents)--have led Canada to more or less follow the American way--into a growing culture of fear. 

Here is just a beginning of the thread on this topic (below), by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. FYI, it was not long ago in the famous speech by Justin Trudeau (Leader of the Liberal party), Trudeau was castigating the Conservative party leadership (Harper et al.) for their choosing to follow fear in their political policies. Now, as Mulcair points out, Conservatives and Liberals are (apparently) going the way of fear, at least, in this C-51 issue. Here is an extract of Mulcair's recent letter: 

"It's done! Conservative and Liberal MPs joined forces to pass Bill C-51, the so called anti-Terrorism Act.
New Democrats worked hard to amend C-51, and strongly condemned it passage. However, with no regrets about keeping the worst aspects of the bill, the Harper government and Trudeau Liberals came together to vote for C-51. Watch the vote here:*&lang=en&startposition=14932
While we tried everything to make the government backtrack, and to convince the Liberals to do the right thing, in the end Mr. Trudeau and his MPs chose fear over defending our way of life."
As a researcher, fearologist, it intrigues me as to what exactly is meant when we say someone "chose fear over defending our way of life." It is a veritable Fear Wars, each accusing the other of fear-based politics--neither, really giving us a clear definition of the meaning of these terms. But, whatever the case, fear is now a political football in Canada, something I witnessed in the USA since 2001 (post-9/11). A lot more nuance and discussion among Canadians would do well to look at this closer, and then, give our political leaders feedback on the kinds of choices they make in this regard to motivation and outcomes--that is, construction of a fear-based reality and priority in public policy and law. 
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