Discover more from Weekly Technetic
Weekly Technetic #28: Fear
"Fear is the mind-killer," Frank Herbert famously wrote in Dune. The line became a recurring theme of the six-book series, a kind of mantra that many characters used to clear their minds in times of stress. It's a good line, too. I'd call it one of the most well-known among science fiction enthusiasts, not counting movie taglines and the like.
It's a memorable phrase because it cuts right to the heart of the matter. Fear really does damage the mind, the psyche. That's by design: fear is an instinctive response we evolved as a way to avoid deadly predators. Humans had it before they were human, and our five thousand generations of prominence haven't changed that primal adaptation.
Of course, we don't exactly have any predators to worry about these days. Not in the animal kingdom, anyway. Yes, deadly animals such as sharks, lions, and pit bulls exist. There's nothing wrong with a healthy fear of them, or of anything that can kill you before you have time to mount a defense. But that's really it. Fear of death is the only rational fear there is. All others are overblown. They're wires that got crossed in our minds, responses reacting to the wrong stimuli.
Many of our fears are not innate. No, they come about because of our childhood experiences. A bad encounter with a vicious dog, for example, can produce a lifelong case of cynophobia. Again, while that is irrational, it's not unexpected: as children, we are weaker and more fragile. Thus, more things can hurt us, and we haven't learned what those are yet. In a sense, fear of the unknown is what underlies all these other fears.
That's where technetism comes in. At the forefront of our philosophy is the acquisition of knowledge. Fear of the unknown is, to us, a relic of our old selves. Instead of fearing it, learn about it. Then, it's no longer unknown, is it? And so you realize there was never anything to fear in the first place.
This is a very pithy statement, however. We can't just switch off the fear circuit in our brains, because human minds don't work that way. So we need a better strategy. Fortunately, one of the few good things to come out of modern psychology is a rediscovery of fear mitigation.
The first and probably best method of tackling a fear is exposure therapy. Experiencing the object of your irrational fear—this obviously doesn't apply to the fear of death—in a safe, controlled environment is a good first step to overcoming that fear. I can speak from personal experience here: as a child, I had an almost crippling fear of loud noises, but exposure in situations I control has helped greatly. I still don't like them, mind you, but I won't run away from them.
Cultures across the world have used this method for generations without realizing it wasn't invented until the 20th century. Sometimes their methods are suspect, as with the classic story of teaching a child to swim by throwing him into the water, but every human seems to understand on a very deep level that the way to conquer a fear is to face it.
That's what we need to do in all aspects of our life. By facing our fears we will defeat them. For our instinctual fear of the unknown, we face it by learning, by understanding, by using our uniquely human talents to make that unknown known.