Rule by Fear

fear demon

Bertrand Russell, English philosopher and logician:
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

Our daily lives seem full of agitation. The mood in our public spaces sometimes feels edgy. Everyone is exhausted.

Fear tactics are effective. The use of them has become wide-spread–from advertising to politics to the latest phone scam. Most of us don’t seem able to resist the allure of feeling fear. It can take a lot of self-discipline to get out of the grip of powerful emotion. If we can’t step back and get loose, we tend to make stupid decisions.

Neuroscientists have postulated that our minds do two types of thinking: type one, a kind of automatic thought process that powers through to a quick decision in response to stimulus and type two, which is characterized by coherent logical analysis and reason. Certainly, when the building is crashing down around you and your thought process is shouting,”Run!” you’re in the grip of a powerful emotion and you probably should listen to it. There are many times, though, when this way of thinking or reacting can lead to trouble. Big, ugly trouble. Racism. Sexism. Religious Hate.

Every one of us is susceptible. We have “hot buttons” that will trigger these intense emotional responses, issues that cause an automatic, knee-jerk reaction in us, a reaction based on misinformation, hasty conclusions or unwarranted assumptions.

Be aware of your buttons, be aware of when they’re being pushed, of who’s pushing them and what they want from you. When we are angry or afraid, we are easily manipulated.


Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.