gillianism of fear (2)



Figure 1  Philosophical Treatments of Fear (Historically in the Western World) 



-R. Michael Fisher, Ph.D.

Every philosopher, theorist, practitioner in any field of inquiry and endeavor ought to eventually come to a time in their life and career where they re-evaluate their work. This year has been a good one for me as a fear critic to assess what has been happening since I joined the stream of thought throughout time that has investigated "fear." I am feeling like there's a big transition, a growing doubt of some of my premises, and a suspicion that my fearwork may have 'taken a wrong turn.' The longer story is yet to be written. But I at least here in this blog want to offer Figure 1 as a preview of my mapping the historical moves and movements of various philosophers that I believe are quite important to Fear Studies in general. The main aspect of Figure 1 shows the "Positivization" of agendas of various thinkers and their movements as they worked to make the concept and experience of "fear" more positive than was the case for the majority (of their times). They all, more or less believe (and rightly) that "fear" has too often been given a negative valuation over it being positive in humanity and Nature. Although, since 1989, I have been aware of this positivization in various discourses on fear, I was never quite taken-up into the enthusiasm of the positivization movement in Fear Studies. Now, I am re-evaluating that choice on my part? My motivation? My insistance that there was a skewing of reality by this positivization, of which I wrote many critiques of what I called the "fear-positivists" (and/or "fear-positivism"), was maybe a good track to take philosophically but in 2022 I am starting to really wonder if my choice was a good one. 

Therefore in Figure 1 you can see that I have put the "Fisherian" camp of fearwork outside of the main field of positivization of fear camp. You probably know that I chose "fearlessness" as the core strength for my study of fear ('fear') and fearlessness. The others in Figure 1, all whom I respect (and other writers are not shown just to keep this diagram less complicated), are distinct in their working with the fear-fearlessness relationship. To be clear, most all of the fear-positivists are anti-fearlessness (except Subba and some of his followers, and except Four Arrows). The main reason for my re-evaluation at this time is that I have re-discovered the work of Sam Gillian Jr.(1939-2016) in recent months and have begun a serious study of his unique Beckerian and Black existentialism that leads into his philosophy and fear-pedagogy--all of which I believe is so uniquely constructed that it deserves the categorization of Gillianism of Fear. Gillian was not aware of the liberalism of fear and fearism of fear and other writers in the list above, but he was aware of existentialism in general and especially he was influenced by Ernest Becker's work. The latter, I greatly admire and have been studying off and on since the early 1980s before I even began the In Search of Fearlessness Project (1989-). 

I've been reflecting on my own path of fearlessness approach to fear. I have made various philosophical moves and created methodological approaches (e.g., fearanalysis) to accomodate my interest to camp more in the fear-negativist discourse but with a good deal of revision of those discourses that come from history. By no means, was I conforming to only making fear negative--yet, I was compelled to construct 'fear' as a postmodern concept, and situate Fear Studies within a "culture of fear" (and/or 'Fear' Matrix) and thus fearlessness as the main approach gave me a decided edge of negativity towards fear and knowledges constructed on fear. I also felt I was somewhat fear-positive and still do, but lately and with the work of Gillian, my critiques have turned on my own work. I do not believe my trajectory has been very effective, and there is a lot of evidence since 1989 to prove to me my work has faltered in having any real impact out there in the world, in the field of Education or anywhere else. The Fearlessness Movement (and this ning under that name) have been luke-warm to non-existent in real impacts and growth of a powerful modeling of fear mangement/education and/or of liberation in general. It's been a sobering reality of watching this non-productivity of my fearlessness-oriented fearwork. I am seeing that fear-negativity still is strong in my work and that must change to be more effective. Gillian especially has argued persuasively that a truly simple and productive fear management begins with fear-positivity and of course, many others have said this too (see Figure 1). Yet, for various reasons, it was the combination of Ernest Becker's philosophy and Terror Management Theory that arose from it; and then the application of the philosophy and pedagogy of Gillian (a Beckerian) that really made the difference. [see the prior FM blog on Samuel N. Gillian for more background]. 

Basically, the fear-positivism camp offers (likely) 'the best' treatment of fear philosophically, theoretically and practically--for where the "populus" and society as a whole is at. My own work is 20 yrs. ahead (i.e., 'out there' in the stratosphere)--and, I have to admit not very useful at the moment. In the end, I envision a more productive fear management education for the world that the fear-positivists will lead, and I can help serve that movement as well but I will always have my biases--and, perhaps, my fearlessness work will in some way hold a larger perspective for all the good of the fear-positivists; perhaps, my work will keep the fear-posiitivists from falling into traps of their own ideology and shadow(?) I can only speculate, my work has been in an important fear-negative camp for a reason and it is not just some personal fettish but only history will "test" that. I really don't know. What I do know is that there is still a good deal of synthesis required, and good critical analysis, to make the fear-positive camp stronger and more effective. And, really there is not a lot of time to waste for this to happen. If I can help out, do let me know. 

I'll leave this introductory confession right here... for discussion, if anyone is interested. There is a whole course I could teach on Figure 1--that would be a fantastic addition to Fear Studies and fearology, etc. Maybe some day, if there is interest. P.S. the International Journal of Fear Studies is homeless right now, but I am working closely with some colleagues (especially, Rayson K. Alex) to re-locate and re-structure the journal (it may be a year or two down the road before it is operating again).


To be sure there are sub-branches of philosophies and thinkers not mentioned in Figure 1, for example, a fascinating movement by Sijin Yan (et al.) on a Levinasianism of Fear and Four Arrows (Wahinkpe Topa) and an Indigenism of Fear, Libertarianism of Fear (Frank Furedi) all could easily be added; and, I suspect there are others I am missing too; note also there are Asian and African variant branches of Fearism of Fear (spurred on by Desh Subba but also some quite independent streams of thought). Also, missing here, is discussion of the role of religion (especially, the Abrahamic traditions) in securing the effective dispositions of a fear-positive theology (e.g., it is good to fear God, Allah, Yahweh)--that these religious discourses are core to cultural development and health is an area for debate. There is also missing here the debate on what a good "pedagogy" re: fear ought to be (?). Typically, the "pedagogy of fear" (e.g., Arie Kizel and others) is always constructed as a fear-negative discourse, for the most part. This really all needs to be unpacked further, and I think Figure 1 offers a larger framework for the evaluation on the nature and role of fear and education (learning) overall. As well, there is the Indigenous (and pre-colonial), post-colonial, Matrixial (feminine), and nondual, pragmatism (Barbara Stengel) and holistic and Integral perspectives (worldviews) that I have left out here--they are not to be taken lightly in their importance for the future development of philosophy of fear (fearlessness). And lastly, I apologize for the largely "Western" slant on this whole discussion and Figure 1 representation. Eastern (and Northern, Southern) perspectives need to map their own field of orienting the major branches of fear-positive and fear-negative discourses. 


1. Fisher, R.M. (2002). On being a 'fear' critic. Technical Paper No. 14. Vancouver, BC: In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute.










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Samuel Nathan Gillian Jr. (1939-2016), MEd. (photo c.1978) [1]

To teach care is to teach fear(fulness)--to teach children to be terrified (in a good way) is education at its foundational best; there is nothing more basic that the human species must engage, and if we neglect this duty, humanity will fail, argues the author Sam Gillian. 

I know of only a couple critical thinkers and philosopher-types who have written more than one book on the subject "fear" in depth. I can think of no black philosopher who has written two books on fear that are in depth. This alone makes Bro. Gillian [2] a central 21st century figure to pay attention to in the philosophy of fear. Because of his life-career (Bronx, NY) as a middle school teacher and adult educator, his two books [3] are key to any study and articulation of a "pedagogy of fear." I guarantee you dear reader, Gillian is quite controversial (even radical) and will in spirit and rational thought challenge many assumptions typical of progressive education philosophy and child-rearing, care-giving etc. I think he is a progressive educator of the highest calibre but he is fiercely independent in how he thinks about progress and progressive ideas related to fear. That's what makes him a unique philosopher with lots to teach. 

He is incredibly clear in his writing and thus I would say his work is "the best" there is out there on fear, for the person on the street, so to speak, when it comes to being applicable ideas to ponder and apply immediately to our lives. His books are not shallow over-simplified "self-help" in the typical psychological way. They are more philosophical reflections and at times they are 'sermons.' He has integrated many others' thought throughout his years of study of fear [4], which began in 1972, he tells us in his brief bio. in his first book. He is an expert on fear, no doubt about it. His contribution to a good quality "fear education" is so needed today and in the future.

Unfortunately, for many reasons, his work is virtually unheard of in larger circles and in academia. I plan to write an intellectual biography of his life and work and reverse this invisibility. I look forward to anyone who wishes to discuss the "Gillianism of fear" (as I call it) [5]. 

[note: Prof. Cornel West has some similar notions as Gillian, e.g.,]


End Notes

1. Thanks to Bernice Gillian, Sam's wife, for this photograph. 

2. Bro. Sam or Bro. Gillian are terms I use as endearment and respect, and I have only used such because of Sam's own proclivity to do so with me (e.g., see the photo above where I overlapped the portrait of him with his book signing signature "Bro. Sam" and it was addressed to me as "Bro. Michael" in the inside cover of his second book I had purchased from him in 2005.

3. The Beauty of Fear (2002) and Terrified by Education (2005), by Phemore Press, his own publishing company. He published no other works under that press nor did he write any other books than these two. It is hard to find copies of these, but if interested you may try contacting Bernice who may sell you a copy of these titles

4. E.g., he was a big fan of the existentialist Ernest Becker, but also the likes of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Alan Watts and many others. Very eclectic (E-W) reading underlies his philosophy.

5. Contact me:

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