Classic examples of fear in psychology typically feature Homo Psychologicus confronted with a wild animal—a bear will do. A grizzly eyeing you with malevolent intent is indeed a frightening experience.
But those of us who live in closer proximity to bears than others know that bears are reasonable creatures who just want to be left alone. While there are bad bears, just as their are bad humans, most bears will avoid you and should your paths accidentally cross, allow you to take your leave with no questions asked.
No, the really gut-wrenching fear occurs when we feel ourselves being pushed to the margins of our human society, for here lie danger and death.
The mere threat of layoff is enough to drain the life out of most of us. How will I support my children? What will I do?
A loved one lays critically ill and we silently promise all we have to a God we never before believed in if only they can be allowed to live.
Horror of horrors, due to what must surely be a misunderstanding—for no one ever does anything wrong—we end up in prison. A human sump. Good luck climbing back after that. Your chances are about the same as a spider at the bottom of a cup.
We avoid being pushed to the margins of society as if our lives depend on it—because it does depend on it. Humans are social mammals. Emotions mediate between what is happening within our bodies and what is happening within our social environment. Our relationships with other people and our internal body states (hormonal, immunal, cardiovascular) are intrinsically connected.
Lose an important emotional connection, to a person, to a group, to a community, by compulsion or by choice, and you will experience intense pain within you. It leaves no visible scars but it’s real pain alright.
You will suffer. So pay attention to your emotional connections, root out the bad, nurture the good.
Fear of emotional pain is one thing, fear of impersonal social forces which hold us in their power is another. Most of us would sooner face a bear. You can reason with a bear, you can’t reason with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.
Consider Kafka’s story, In the Penal Colony, where everyone is guilty simply because they’re there. If they weren’t guilty, they wouldn’t be there. Try and reason your way out of that.
There are many such penal colonies around the world, that at Guantánamo Bay is merely the most infamous. Note you then this:
Rest assured, dear reader, there is no need for you to be afraid. This sort of thing happens only to other people. Terrorists. If they weren’t guilty they wouldn’t be there. Pay no heed to the ever widening definition of terrorism in the United States. It’s probably nothing. America’s right to detain anyone, anywhere, without charge or trial is for the good of us all.
The making of Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes, The Guardian, 13th October, 2013