[The following is a draft from my upcoming book, The End of Fear Itself, and will be preceded by a section on the Fear of the Unknown]
Not all Fears are Unknowns.
Sometimes our Fear is based on known threats, ones based on experience.
Fear of the Known
For instance, let’s say that you have a really shitty boss, one that berates you every time you make a mistake, or show up 2 minutes late. She calls you names, and threatens to sack you, or write you up every time you make the slightest error. The instant you make a mistake, her voice will begin to ring in your ears, and you will experience the same physical and mental reactions that you did when you saw that snake crawling across the trail in front of you in the woods.
Your boss is a known threat, and quite possibly, a real one. She is not imaginary. She could actually fire you and cause you other types of pain and fear. The Fear of the Known is quite possibly the second major Fear that our distant ancestors developed, since it would have been experienced by our lizard ancestors, way back in the mists of time.
If, you were an ape, one of our ancestors, roaming the jungles of Africa, some 3 million years ago, and you ran into lions, tigers, or bears—yeah, I know, they don’t inhabit the same Eco-systems, but stay with me, I’m having fun with this—then you would have experienced the Fear of the Unknown, if it was your first encounter with such creatures.
If, however, you were actually attacked by them, or chased, or threatened in any way, then the next time you came across the three animals from the Wizard of Oz, you would experience a new kind of Fear, one of the Known variety. They are no longer unknown; they are real and experienced. You have catalogued them into the ‘dangerous’ category of your ape brain, and you back up, avoid them, or immediately pick up a log and prepare to defend yourself, if you’re cornered and can’t escape. Why? Because you are now slipping into the next category of Fear, or rather, racing into it. The categories aren’t necessarily progressive; they can occur simultaneously, or so quickly that discerning one from the other isn’t possible, or useful. But they have distinct properties, and relate to our sense of time in different ways.
The Fear of the Unknown began as something experienced only in the Present. It wasn’t concerned with memory, or with a projection into the Future; the Unknown is only concerned with a clear and present danger. The Known, however, is very much linked to the Past, our memories of dangers experienced in the Past. But the Past only serves us, if we employ it in the Present to avoid possible injury–or perceived injury–in the Future, either immediate Future, or distant Future. And this is where our Present meets our Past, which launches us into the Future, and a new category of Fear altogether: Projected Fears, or imagined threats that we think will occur around the corner, at any moment. That’s where we’re going next: back to the Future.