Fear as Motivator
It’s often said that Fear is a great motivator.
Hell, I’ve often said it. Supposedly, it kicks us in the ass to get out of bed, go to work, make more money, get a better job, and therefore, not to starve to death or be thrown out into the street to suffer the ravages of the environment.
It is our survival instinct. We are motivated to move because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t.
I think there is something to this, but we carry it too far, for sure. Yes, it is our instinct to get up and get moving, in order to obtain food, water, shelter, etc. That is something inherent in all animals. But I don’t think Fear of annihilation, or death, or starvation, is a particularly great motivator. It motivates, for sure, but I think there are much better ways to pick our ass up off the couch every day.
Fear and Scarcity
The main reason that Fear sucks as a motivator, besides the fact that it’s negative, is that it comes from a mental mindset of scarcity. We have been programmed, probably since the Stone Ages, to see the world as a harsh, dangerous place, where resources—water, food, shelter—are scarce commodities that we have to compete for, compete with other humans, and with Nature itself.
This mentality probably developed, or at the very least, intensified sometime in the Neolithic Period, when agriculture sprang up in the Fertile Crescent and other places in India and China. The new way of producing food required people to settle down in villages, then cities, and to store food. This new way of thinking,as well as doing, changed everything about the human world, and eventually, the ‘natural’ world, too.
The author, Daniel Quinn, in his Ishmael series of novels, calls this new mentality a Taker culture, because as humans became so-called, civilized, they began to see Nature as an adversary and as something that they were meant to ‘rule.’ Quinn’s essential thesis, one I agree with, is that at the center of all civilized cultures is one central myth,
“The Earth belongs to us, and we were meant to rule it.”
This idea, of course, is complete bullshit. But that doesn’t change the fact that nearly everything we do, say, and think, in our modern world, is based on that assumption.
Look around you as you go through your day today, drive to work, sit at your desk, or wherever you work. What is the underlying message to all of it? What are we saying about our Earth, our world? Think about that one for awhile, and ask yourself if Mr. Quinn isn’t right. Do we think the Earth belongs to us? Do we own it? Are we attempting to rule it?
I would say, “Yes, and yes.” What do you say?
But Quinn also goes on to say that Taker culture isn’t the only one. There is also what he calls Leaver culture, represented by the quickly disappearing, indigenous cultures of the world. They have been nearly eradicated by our ever expanding, civilization, but they don’t see the Earth as a possession, as something that humans are meant to rule.
Instead, they see themselves as part of the Earth, along with everything else in it: the plants, the other animals—we’re apes, remember—water, soil, the air. The Earth isn’t a resource to be consumed, as we see it. For Leavers, the Earth is something that sustains life, our life, and the life of every other living thing. To consume it is stupid, and deadly.
What will we do when we’ve consumed it all?
All this consumption, and hoarding of food and other resources—the basic ideas behind civilization that we developed in the Agricultural Revolution, are scarcity based ideas, Fear mentality. They are Fear based motivated activities.
Leaver cultures see the world in a very different way; they see it as abundant. Food is everywhere, and free for our use, but not to be hoarded or owned, to be shared with everyone and all creatures. The same goes for water, and the land. No one owns it, though they may have agreements with neighboring tribes as to basic boundaries of use of land, they are not hard borders, like those of civilized culture—which are ridiculous anyway.
There are no real borders; they are all man-made, constructed fallacies based on Fear of the other, and backed up with more Fear, and guns, and steel, and the threat of violence, bloodshed, and death. Fear, Fear, Fear! It’s insanity, not civilization.
Myth of Scarcity
It is based on the idea that everything is scarce, but very few things are actually scarce, either when the Agricultural Revolution began, or—and especially—now.
Why are so many people going without food and clean water on this planet? It’s not because there’s a real shortage of either; it’s because they can’t afford to pay for food and water, and huge corporations have been usurping the rights to those things. The topic of food and water scarcity isn’t one we have a lot of time and space to go into in this book—I covered it more in Be a Hobbit—but suffice it to say that there is in fact, plenty of food on the Earth to feed every soul; they just can’t afford it.
In the U.S., we waste between 30 and 40% of all the food we produce every year, and we produce a shit-ton of it. That waste alone, would feed most of the starving people of the world. Why aren’t we doing it? There’s one simple answer: profit. Food isn’t a human right, or resource to be shared anymore; it is a commodity to be traded and sold to the highest bidder, for the maximum return for the shareholder.
If we want to end starvation, two things need to happen. One, we need to wrench control of our food supply out of the hands of international corporations, and two, we need to end our own Fears about scarcity.
The Fear of Scarcity is a killer.
I would argue that it probably kills more people, animals, and natural environments, than anything else. It certainly motivates us. Motivates us to pillage and rape our world and leave it in a state that will eventually kill us as a species, if we don’t stop. This one Fear is reason enough for me to write The End of Fear Itself.
The Earth is not a place of scarcity; it is a place of abundance. That doesn’t mean that it will continue to support us no matter what we do to it. No, it will brush our species aside like some many dinosaur bones if we don’t begin to see ourselves as part of the Earth, instead of its rulers. If we don’t see the Earth as regenerative, and work to minimize our impact on the very natural systems that support our own existence, and the existence of millions of other creatures, then we will cease to exist on this planet, or any other planet.
There are far better motivators than Fear, and the Fear of Scarcity, to get us going every day. What about the truth of Abundance, and Courage, of Creativity, Community, Collaboration?
If Fear can trigger these positive reactions and solutions, then it has some small utility. If not, then it’s completely worthless and should be excavated at the roots. Can it trigger positive emotions? Can Fear be a signpost? It can, but where does it point us?