I've always been interested in the question: Who legitimately can call who fearful? What I mean is, who is qualified to do so? Who is allowed to by the other person (or by society) that is so being labeled "fearful"? And who of course is actually fearful? Are they admitting they are fearful or are they covering the fear up with bravado (for e.g.,)? Is the one labeling the other fearful, actually the fearful themselves and only projecting fear onto another? Is only a 'transcendent other' the 'one' to truly know the fear in the human soul(s)... and resolve it? The questions grow... like weeds... but I think they have philosophical, sociological, psychological and political merit. As a society we ought to reflect on these questions and others like them.
I'm concerned we don't talk about fear enough for the challenging times we live in. I'm concerned we remain largely unconscious of the great "force" of fear to influence us. And, thus, you can see I am an advocate for feartalking and fear management/education, and fearology and so on.
I recently was in a conflict with an acquaintance who was insistent I listen to a set of videos on 'end of the world' scenarios via extreme climate change. This is a growing topic in our world, at least in the West. I said, I won't likely get to them because I have interest in other topics rather than the science of climate change. This person became incensed and bullying in response and tried to find ways to intimidate, make me feel guilty, etc. for not doing what he wanted me to do. Now, this was not an adolescent or a three year old child of mine, it was a 45+ yr old man and a very intelligent and sensitive and aware man. What was going on? I snooped out it was his fear (and fearfulness around survival of the end of the world) that was pressing on me to be informed of what he was informed on that he thought was so important to survival. I guess, in the moment I wasn't concerned about survival and the future that much. I'm more interested in other aspects of extreme climate change, like the perceptions and psychology of such events and realities. That greatly interests me.
So, under pressure of his personal attacks on me for not cooperating with his desires for me to watch these videos, I told him bluntly, but respectfully, I heard his concern, and I wasn't ignoring it but I was more concerned with the way he was approach me and trying to get me to do it. I told him he was using fear tactics to teach, if not convert, me. This raised the level of his anger and he denied he was doing so.
I suppose it was very hard for him to hear my message of communication, that both he wasn't effective in his communication and he was using fear tactics and that cannot be a way to wisdom. His rage went on and on and many many emails he sent. I stopped reading them. He was unloading a whole lot of distress. I told him so. He again, resented my view because it felt like a judgement upon him. Was I judging him because I said he was using fear tactics? Which, in a way I suppose I was but I wasn't trying to make him into a horrible person necessarily at all. I just was standing up for what I believe is unethical (or just not effective)--that is, to use fear tactics, some call fearmongering to make your point and to try to change people to your view.
This all was hurtful to me and disappointing this person would treat me so disrespectfully--he treated me suddently from friend to enemy. No doubt many of you know this experience I am talking about. It felt like the 45 year old person became a young angry adolescent quite irrational--that is, fear-based in their relationship with me, rather than connecting and respectful--even if we had our differences. This is a common problem in our world. People disrespecting people with differences and for having a right to be different and to not be coerced or threatened to change.
Anyways, I'm most intrigued by my calling him out and labeling his approach to communication as a "fear tactic." I was saying he is using fear implicitly because he is fearful. Why else would he be so insistent and stubborn and disrespectful to my free choice to do as I saw fit? Fear has to be ruling that kind of behavior, so I surmised, and I do believe this is the case as well. One could go into the theory behind my thinking, and some evidence perhaps from knowledges available but that is not what I want to do here in this blog. I merely want to have readers think about this in terms of why did this person, knowing I was a fear expert for 30 years, not want me making my observation of his fear tactic? It seems he couldn't stand it that I was discerning something he didn't see or feel? Did he not feel fear in himself when I refused to follow his orders of insistence to watch the videos he sent to me? Perhaps not, perhaps he was quite unconscious of his feelings and only trying to correct my behavior with his behavior of writing all the disrespectful emails. Later, he did apologize for trying to "force" me.
Point being, what is more important is that he would not trust or respect all my knowledge and experience with fear and thus when I labeled it onto his activity in a particular way he rejected it completely and more or less threw back comments to try to make me fearful of his vengeance and power etc. He tried to say I was fearful to not watch these videos. I did wonder if that was true of myself? I had bits of doubt. Then it took time to get over my hurt and fears of his abusive language toward me and find out that no I was not avoiding anything, I was merely chosing a different priority of where I put my time and energy than he would.
This person is like so many I have met, and often when in conflict--I will say, if I sense it, "you're coming from fear" or you seem to "be afraid" etc. Most people resent me saying that, no matter how soft I deliver that message or observation. I guess they don't like me interpreting them. I am not saying I am highly skilled in effective communication around this touchy issue. I have lots to learn so I can be more effective. But nonetheless, I keep doing it and will because I think it is so important as part of my teaching to point out fear and its mis-uses on others (and/or on me). I see people hate being called out on it.
They fear being seen through--seeing their fear when they don't even seem to see or feel it. They are fearful and won't admit it. They attack me or others you label the fear in them and their actions. The attack is meant to transfer the unacknowledged fear in them onto me (or another target who names the fear). They attack the messenger, in that sense.
Yes, very very common and very destructive this dynamic is. It is like they don't give persmission to me (or others) to so name their fear, except maybe they would do so if the person was someone they trusted a lot or was a clinical psychologist for example. Maybe.
I wonder about this phenomenon of legitimacy to call out fear when it is there. Of course, maybe I was 'wrong' in my interpretation. That's possible. But I trust my skills in detecting fear. Anyways, it's a problem that won't go away and I have lost good friendships with many people over this issue of my naming fear when I see it in them.
Another e.g., comes when I am not with someone I know per se in person. They are not a friend or colleague in my close connections, but I may still want to point out and name the fear I see in them, and feel they are not acknowledging, and/or feel they are abusing fear against others--e.g., in fearmongering. This is what I have done with the famous Jordan Peterson. I have done a few youtube videos on his life and work from what I gathered studying him and his work . He tends to come across in his lectures and interviews as very "brave" or "courageous" (some might call "fearless")--and, yet, I don't see him that way when I watch him and listen to him speak on videos. I don't get his fearlessness--he seems quite fearful and anxious.
Now, this is subtle. But recently a psychoanalyst in Holland pronounced that J. Peterson is quite an anxious and fearful person because he mainly is a traditionalist  and Peterson cannot stand loss of traditionalism (a lot of it anyways)--and thus, Peterson attacks the postmodern thinkers who are rejecting traditionalism. Long story. I have made a poster below to make my inquiry visible:
So, if you don't know, Peterson is a clinical psychologist himself, he does therapy with people, some 30+ year competent career, etc. So, why is he so fearful? Oh, but first, the question is: Do I have a right to call him a fearful person? Does Dr. Jan Derksen, from Holland, have a right to do so, even if he is a trained psychoanalyst? On and on it goes. Is the fear pathological, neurotic, or near-psychotic (at times)? Is Peterson in need of psychological treatment for his excess fear and use of fearmongering? Lots of questions could be asked. My point is, not to diminish him and his work. My purpose is to ask if I (or anyone, like Dr. Derksen) has a right to call out Peterson on his fear-based ways of approaching things in his communications? This is just like the question of my calling out my friend recently that he was using fear tactics to try to convert me in some manner. I resent such coercion and worst, it is unethical to use fear tactics or fear-based perceptions and thinking to try to change anyone. At least, that would be a working pivot point for further philosophical discussion. This blog is not the place for that. I just wanted to raise all these issues.
Dr. Derksen, rightly I think, nails it down quite well in talking about how Peterson has become the icon (of one sort) today for defense of Tradition. Sure, I know he doesn't like everything about tradition, but he is one of its remaining advocates, and yes, he's a privilege white old male to boot--which makes many skeptical of his motivations. I say, his motivations are often quite fear-based in his defence of Tradition (and himself). That said, you can see my videos on him and his work for more nuance. But to close here, I'll give the explanation Dr. Derksen gives (interprets) re: Peterson, as Derksen is here discussing the deep roots of fear that are being raised rapidly in a society of "political correctness" around identity politics and how our culture and society and law are all grappling with the new emergence of identity politics and "difference" overall. Dr. Derksen says in the video:
"... it shakes people, it pulls at their roots... then it gets more emotional than rational, so it's [identity] a topic that will stay with us for many years... the most important intellectual topic will be, are we culturally and politically [able] to manage that anxiety [fear] that rises out of the fact conservative principles [values] are being broken down. Is there enough leadership... to organize their emotions about that in a productive way?"
The host of the panel came in and said: "I think for many he [Peterson] is seen as a manager of anxiety [himself, for much of the society, especially white young males]." Dr. Derksen said, "yes." At one point Derksen says (paraphrasing), that Peterson's best-selling book "12 Rules for Life" is not science it is religion, it is all about Peterson's preaching his gospel of Tradition in his own unique way as a clinical scientist/psychologist, but it is not justified in the field of clinical psychology itself it is something else Peterson is trying to accomplish. The philosopher on the panel says (paraphrasing) it is Peterson's 'new mythology' guide for especially those who have lost their way, lost their identity and pride in this postmodern world of multiple and complex identities and their conflicts. The question in the panel's mind, seems to me always implicit in its rightful questioning of just how 'healthy' is Peterson himself to be teaching this way to 'health'? I think we should ask that of any teacher, especially one who makes their living in the human services field and who trafficks in authoring self-help advice in videos, talks, books etc. How healthy is Peterson, or how fearful is Peterson?  These are important questions, and questions I ought to also have hurled at my own teaching and life.
So, all this comes around to the importance of fear (anxiety) management, individual to collective. Our challenging times require a tremendous up-grade of how we manage and will manage fear. My own estimate, is that Peterson doesnt' do a great job of it. Albeit, I say that knowing he's made millions of dollars on his approach to fear management (unfortunately). The discussions must continue to challenge even Peterson's approach just like my friend's approach-- we have to look at when fear-based means are used for good ends, for good teaching, for morals, etc. I am a great skeptic and will be until I see a fearlessness-based approach invoked.
1. Go to: https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrVk.IRk89dvksA3BAXFwx.;_ylu=X3oDMTByNWU4cGh1BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?p=youtube+r.+michael+fisher+and+jordan+peterson+and+fear&fr=yhs-Lkry-SF01&hspart=Lkry&hsimp=yhs-SF01#id=1&vid=c3e2964bb0e8876f8326dc648887b306&action=view
2. Go to youtube.com/watch?v=Y5LrxSKGW5Y for a great 2019 conversation on Jordan Peterson by a panel of scholars, including Dr. Derksen. Also see just how "fragile" (fearful, anxious, sensitized) Peterson is in recent times with this interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0P6H7cm0E4
3. I suspected from the first moment I watched Peterson in a lecture on video, from several years ago, his approach is very preacherly, he has a tone and style that reminds me of many preachers I have observed and how they are very fearful of many things (like "chaos") and are trying to teach as a way to manage this fear. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but fear used this way can accumulate and multiply and become 'fear' in a cultural discourse which is far beyond Peterson's personal fears. I don't think he truly understands what it is he is doing with his fear, and so my video (note 1) is precisely my challenging of him to be more aware, and likewise with his followers. The fact that it is public knowledge that Peterson has suffered with severe depression in his life off and on and has been taking certain meds to deal with his emotional problems, he has become addicted to the meds (apparently) and in coming off those meds he is struggling even more emotionally and one can see this at times in his recent interviews, it is very obvious he is 'on edge' and highly hurting and anxious and fearful just below his tough and sharp intellectuality (the latter, which so many people admire as his strength).