fear vs love (2)


Charles Eisenstein - on ECO-rhetoric (ideology) and fear [1]

"I am afraid that, in adopting climate as their keystone narrative, environmentalists have made a bargain with the Devil.... The premises of the [environmental] conversation shifted away from love of nature and toward fear of our survival [fear of Nature]." - C. Eisenstein (2018, p. 131) [2]

When we confront the environmental and ecological issues of the day, we are also confronted with an overwhelming (if not distracting) rhetoric (ideology) of the dominant climate crisis narrative. I and others are challenging the implications of this narrative, even though we don't deny it is important. The question we have is how important is it? So, I'll introduce you to one of the critics, an environmentalist himself--and specifically I suggest his recent video "Am I a Climate Alarmist or a Climate Denier?" which lays out a lot of important issues, and ends in the video with a really good challenge to "fear" vs. "love" as the motivational source which will be most effective to bring to our grand environmental problems in the next decades. Unfortunately, he says nothing about fearlessness and/or fearism etc. in offering solutions. Anyways, I commented (see below) on his Youtube video channel the following: 

As I listen to this talk (thank you Charles) a second time, his argument (biggest question/concern) boils down to questioning the primary tactic (not only one) of the Environmental Movement in the last 60+ years--that is, should environmentalists be utilizing (without questioning, without self-reflective critique and analysis) Fear Appeal over Love Appeal--in order to get people's attention and make them change (i.e., "wake up")? He says this in the last minute specifically of the video and to say this is most important is truly I believe exactly that. My own work of 3 decades has been on critique of societies in the modern era running aground because of a fear-based orientation to everything--our W. dominant worldview is fear-based and as much as ECO environmental critiques of that dominant worldview exist and are fantastic they unfortunately in practice often use the same rhetorical tactical fear-based approach (i.e., compare the effectiveness of fear-appeal advertising and propaganda over the centuries). I have written a few recent articles readers (and Charles) may find useful to this problematic of "eco-propaganda" (even with the best intentions). I too am an environmentalist (since my late teens, and I'm now 67 years old)--and ECO thought and environmentalism is still far behind in understanding the Fear Problem at the basis of why the world is going down today. See free pdf publications of mine: "The 'Fear' Matrix Revisited" and "Fearologics: Eco-Fear Protestations of Climate Crisis Activism Need Critique." I look forward to talking with others about this r.michaelfisher52 [at] gmail.com


ALSO, see my series of two videos on The Greta Effect https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kHozXgPS7Y which look at similar dilemmas that Eisenstein is pointing to, albeit, he doesn't name names like I do. And see alternative views of young Swede's (other than Greta Thunberg, for e.g.) who are sick n' tired of the "prophet of panic" and "climate cults" from Leftists and their continued pc binary thinking  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZCCXZz5Esw

Equally, a great short talk on becoming a critical level-headed "climate thinker" (not propagandist) see Alex Epstein's work: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm&ogbl#inbox/FMfcgxwDrvCQvDhZMvSdxBQlDFfKhsnM?projector=1

I like what wise elder and death-grief expert Stephen Jenkinson said recently: 

"There are people walking up my path, one-third my age. Their hands are full," spiritual activist and author Stephen Jenkinson told The Vancouver Observer a recent fundraiser for Wakan Tankaa film about environmental elders engaging youth on climate change. "One hand is full of a blistering hatred of anybody my age—the other is full of despair, something I’ve come to call principled anxiety...They say to me, ‘have you got anything?’"

ALSO, on the back cover of Eisenstein's new book and critique see Climate: A New Story (2018):

"Flipping the script on climate change, Eisenstein makes a case for a wholesale reimagining of the framing, tactics, and goals we employ in our journey to heal from ecological destruction. With research and insight, Charles Eisenstein details how the quantification [statistic obsession] of the natural world leads to a lack of [empathetic] integration and [reinforces] our 'fight' [and 'flight'] [fear-based] mentality." 

This latter point of exacerbating a battle of who's facts are right, re: climate change activists vs. the deniers, is fear-based in structuration, which is something I also have seen for many decades when it comes to making cases to 'save the environment' (or the world). The passions of fight-flight, our primal brain reflexes on survival get triggered and grow and out race the higher cognitive functions of which are needed to look at the situation and problems we have to face more collaboratively. Digitial media and social networks in the past decade have exacerbated fight-flight divisiveness on top of the quantification battles and in the end the subtleties of really listening and connecting to our hearts, souls, and our holistic nature of perception are diminished. David Abrams, cultural ecologist, geophilosopher, and author of Becoming Animal and The Spell of the Sensuous endorses Eisenstein's critique calling Eisenstein's latest book "a blast of sanity!... he writes from within an uncannily woke worldview... that discerns and feels into the complex entanglement of our lives.... This book is visionary and prophetic...". 

I think with Eisenstein's work here we have the possibility of moving from fear to fearlessness in the entire eco-problematique. I still am in the early stages of analyzing Eisenstein's work and especially from a fearological lens. So the "New Story" he speaks to is basically, as his book (back cover) says: 

"This refocusing away from impending catastrophe [as primary fear-based motivator to care for Nature] and our inevitable doom cultivates meaningful emotional and psychological connections [love] and provides real, actionable steps to caring for the earth. Freeing ourselves from a war mentality and seeing the bigger picture...".

The book (according to Brock Doman, Water Institute Director) is "A clarion call to reconnect through love with our living earth... to collectively move past divisive reductionism [fear-based patterning], betwixt false Prophets of doom and false prophets of denial, towards a revitalization of reverential relations." 


 1. When Eisenstein refers to "fear" problem in the ECO movement and especially the current climate crisis debates, he is really referring to the environmentalists (and Leftists, especially) getting caught up on an hyper-inflated use of the "precautionary principle" as the primary tactic informing (a fear-based) policy making process as well as using this principle to justify they can do and say anything and be "right" because of it. A good book critiquing the hyper-inflation of the precautionary principle" see "Law of Fear"(by Sunstein)

2. This shift is super important to recognize and analyze (see Note 1 also)--it is part of an emergency paradigm regarding time and risk--and the fear of failure at an unprecedented scale--thus, it is a way to motivate people and institutions to change by 'force' of fear rather than love--which is the basic foundational strategy of what is called "negative" politics/environmentalism relative and in contrast to "positive" politics/environmentalism. 



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I am writing this blog because of an article my life-partner (Barbara Bickel) passed on to me today. It is very interesting because rarely does an educator, never mind an art educator and artist in the (American) profession of Art Education, come out so bluntly in their national newspaper (NAEA News, Apr. 2015) announcing in the opening paragraph: 

"... I will take a moment to reflect on what I value as an artist, educator, and spiritualist as contemplation on fear-based educational paradigms. As I was meditating, clarity about just how much we are victims of a fear-based society [i.e., "culture of fear," by many other names]. (Willis, 2015, p. 15). 

Whoa! Way to go Steve Willis, who is also USSEA Pres., Prof. of Art Education, Missouri State University. I see he is someone new I have not come across in my research over the years in both the field of education (and its radical thinkers), and in my study of fear and culture of fear. He is just a few hrs. drive from Carbondale, IL too so that makes it more interesting to me. I appreciate he isn't afraid to call himself, in professional (and art) circles a "spiritualist" (whatever that exactly might mean to him).

I think many feel what Steve feels (yes, especially school teachers), but few articulate it or even know how to. Too many have accepted it as the 'new normal' for American society. The issue he raises (and then somewhat dismisses) is "fear-based educational paradigms" as I see it-- and indeed Steve's concern is one of many educators, across the fields of study and specializations. I have documented that literature in "Culture of Fear and Education: An Annotated Bibliography, 1990-2011)" which I published some 4 yrs. ago (go to the link and scroll down for a free pdf). I would love educators of all stripes to tune-in to the vast amount of consensus on the Fear Problem in Education. All the years, since 1989, I have more or less been trying to rally educators to address this problem, or even discuss it openly, and I can conclude that it has been a dismal failure, for lots of reasons, many I have written about in other publications. But maybe I am being too negative in focus here and in my research? Isn't that the other (primary) reason Steve wrote his article--he was concerned about his own practices for years of "focusing on the negative" (his words).

Being Positive, Being Negative: Where Should We Focus? 

I too am a "spiritualist" (if one wants to use that word), meaning I give a good deal of my attention on my spiritual development (or what some call integral and/or transpersonal, transcendent or esoteric). I won't try to define those here. My interest was how Steve has put forward an argument (after also consulting with his wife who is a "spiritual leader," as he calls her) something like this in his article: I have worked most all my life to be a good and just person, and school art teacher... but over the years all he was seeing (predominantly anyways) in schools, in kids and their families, in communities, in the administration of Education, among his fellow teachers, etc. were the many "negative aspects." He then says, upon critical and meditative reflection (and from spiritual teachings he's been studying) that he was sort of wasting his time all those years fighting against the negative and trying to make it positive. He wrote, "... I was inadvertly an active participant in a negatively reinforced, no-win scenario"  [i.e., the self-reinforcing energies and conflicts of a fear-based paradigm and fear-based society that breeds on it]. He too, implicitly, was becoming fear-based (= negative focused). All his ways of perceiving, thinking, acting (with good intention) were no longer (apparently) valid, due to his new spiritual insight--an insight that he says comes down to claiming (believing) that it is better to be "heart-centered" or what many call love-based. 

There is a lot more in his short article, which I so appreciate he wrote and is publishing amongst his peers. We need a lot more of this kind of discussion. I touch on a few things and leave much unsaid. On the other hand, I am not as celebratory as he seems to be now with his heart-centered focus. This is a long long philosophical/theological critique I have made for decades of people (and educators, and spiritualists) who fall prey to a rather dubious worldview themselves in the 'name' of love-heart centeredness-- that IF they focus on the negative, more negative will be created (and they will attract and feel more negative). I well know that esoteric philosophy, and I also well know it has validity problems, in the sense of the requirement that many spiritual teachings share that we require not one or the other (not positive vs. negative)--see for example, the best of polarity therapy and its philosophy (also Taoism, etc.). There is a common tendency, I have observed, for people to "swing" from one extreme (e.g., overly negative focused) to another extreme (e.g., overly positive focused)--now, if you apply that to where one ought to focus their attention to be good critical thinkers and just citizens today-- this complicates things to where Steve's argument tends to come off as if he is telling us not to focus on fear (i.e., the negative) and only (or more so) on love. What is better? What teachings are worthy in helping us with this ancient dilemma?

No easy answer to that question. I only know, I am always cautious when someone has a 'turn around' euphoric experience (as Steve clearly describes in his article--albeit, he admits it was hard work turning negative focus into positive focus) and wants to promote it immediately to the rest of the world, with arguments that are dubious when examined closely. I have been so intent on improving the distinctions (with data, with research) between "love-based" and "fear-based" and how they are so typically located by people and teachers into fear vs. love, or some such derivative (i.e., a belief system). I have published an extensive paper on this a few years back entitled: Love and Fear (Yellow Paper DIFS-6). As well, another paper available in which I go after the criticality required to even label something "fear-based" (as Steve does)--not so easy of a task when you really get down to it. These are reasons for me for being cautious to grand claims, that Steve and many others who think like he does around fear (negative) vs. love (positive)... and conflate that with fear (head) and love (heart), etc. See my critical paper entitled: "The Problem of Defining the Concept 'Fear-based'" (perhaps, I'm too negative for focusing so much research on "fear"?... ha ha). 

What I most appreciate in Steve's honesty, even more than I am enthused of his 'turn around' perspective (no doubt it is helpful to him and others to some degree), is calling truth the truth, reality the reality (as best we can conceive) in a critical discourse of naming the Fear Problem in education (and the rest of the society, especially in the West and in America). If we stop focusing equal attention on fear (as say with love), then we are going to be in an even more dangerous situation than we are now with the fear-based paradigm and its deep infiltration not into only our consciousness (or hearts) but in the very structures of societies, like architectures, curriculum designs, and I could go on and on. Having a change of heart, and finding more balance from looking too much at the negative and fighting against it is one thing (a good thing), but more or less rejecting the hard work of looking into 'Hell' at the same time as 'Heaven'--that's, the path of fearlessness in a nutshell (as are most of the non-dual teachings from many traditions). 

I think Steve, and others like him, have (dare I say) struck a chord on the 'right track' to liberation but they tend to "swing" in extremes... oh, my god, that is a chronic problem in schools, education, and near random styles/values shifting from this to that (e.g., fav ice cream flavor of the week)-- Steve must know that. So, I encourage him to really stop reinforcing the fear-based paradigm completely (and actually, start by not calling it "negative" and setting up a binary with "positive")... and yes, I support Steve's great initiative with himself and his colleagues to: 

"Imagine the freshness and excitement of an artist [educator] creating without fear and anxiety...". 

I am very interested in better recognizing fear ('fear') when we don't... and my research says, we most often don't recognize it. I look forward and celebrate artists of the future, becoming educators, and following compassion and wisdom, along with good critical analysis of body-head-heart-soul-spirit ... call it holistic-integral education, or whatever. 

There is so much great teaching, from around the world, on moving from fear to fearlessness... I wrote a book on it (smile).

Okay, I look forward to more dialogue on this, and if I can help, let me know. Yes, may we find that precarity of 'balance' that may or may not actually exist in the Real World!

References Cited

Willis, S. (2015). United States Society for Education Through Art (USSEA). National Art Education Association News, Apr. 25, 15.

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