Fear and loathing


I’m not sure whether Donald Trump disavowing the Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer (left) classifies as good news, but I suppose it’s all we can hope for these days. Spencer, as you may recall, was filmed shouting “Hail Trump!” to Nazi salutes from his supporting crowd.

Trump, Brexit, Le Pen … my thought is that we might need to look in the mirror. These are the shadow aspects of ourselves, that we liberal people have ignored. How did we do that? By seeing ourselves as exclusively loving, kind, compassionate and others as racist, afraid and angry. We push those qualities of ours out into the darkness, where they grow. I was at a story telling event by Martin Shaw a couple of weeks ago where he said “Fear is an impostor” and “Love is the only truth”. He flattered us that we were leaders and future leaders of our society. I couldn’t have felt more estranged at that moment from the crowd of well-intentioned, good-hearted, enlightened Sussex people present.

Fear is the fundamental emotion of the natural world, of which we are a part. As it says in the Katha Upanishad (circa 2500 BCE), fear drives the universe. I would say that fear is the emotional aspect of evolution. That’s my understanding of it, and based upon my exploration of myself and on my work as a counsellor, I believe that developing a healthy relationship to fear is the foundation of mental health and well-being.

It’s not a popular message. More commonly we hear that love conquers fear. No: safety conquers fear. Love is one of the ways to be safe, by building social connection with each other. It’s not the only way to be safe, but it’s the best way. It’s preferable. On the other hand, it’s totally healthy to be afraid of danger. It’s unhealthy to pretend that there is no such thing as fear, or nothing to be afraid of.

Saying that “love is the only truth” is no better than Neville Chamberlain’s murmurings of “peace in our time”, as he signed over Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. This is what he said that evening at 10 Downing Street: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

A nice quiet sleep, until the nightmare comes, and a rude awakening. Maybe it’s time we stopped talking about love and peace. Maybe it’s time we sought, instead, a healthier relationship to fear. If we hide from our fear it will come back at us as panic, hatred, trauma and violence. That’s what I see in the eyes of the Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. I don’t see any love there. He is holding the disavowed hatred and fear of our well-meaning society, on our behalf, until we decide that we’d better take it back.

This seems like a dark thing to say, but things are dark right now. Let’s admit it. Beyond the rise of the fascist right, we have the imminent disaster of Climate Change. It would be far better for us to wake up to these threats now than to wait for later. Working as a counsellor people tell me about how dark things are for them, and there is a comfort in that. They don’t have to pretend to be ‘fine’ or that what happened to them was OK. Admitting that there is darkness in oneself and in one’s life is a step towards healing and wholeness.

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