Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fear in time

Be here now

By Bob Boldt

Thinking about fear brings a whole series of ideas and impressions to mind. I invite you to follow me through the following disjointed ramblings. Because many critics have abused my writings, I do have a great fear that you may get lost or mistake my meaning.
    The first thing I thought of was the tombstone of the world-renowned Greek writer, poet, essayist Nikos Kazantzakis on the island of his native Crete. On it are engraved three simple statements. “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” I believe it was taken from his long essay “Spiritual Exercises.”
    In thinking about the future, most mortals are dominated by these two bookends of existence, hope and fear. Hope is of course firmly planted only in the future. We do not hope for a different outcome in our memories of the past, as much as we may regret some of them.
    Fear of course embraces all three aspects of time: past, present, and future. The compulsive fearful reliving of past traumatic – post-traumatic – experiences occupies the efforts of a whole industry of therapists, rehab specialists, deprogrammers, and self-help gurus. Present fear is confined to immediate events as varied as a charging grizzly to a sudden reaction to avoid hitting a jaywalker. Perhaps the most difficult fear (and in some ways the least productive) is future fear. It could also be called anxiety. As Shakespeare wrote, “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.”

    This statement calls to mind an amazing scene from the movie Lonely Are the Brave, which was inspired by the novel The Brave Cowboy, by Edward Abbey. In this scene, peripatetic, rebel cowboy, Jack Burns (played by Kirk Douglas) is thrown into jail and is awaiting “enhanced interrogation” by his old nemesis, sadistic Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez (played by George Kennedy). As Burns explains his escape plans to his cellmate, he is busily tearing up, wadding, and inserting strips of his shirt into his mouth. He does this because he well understands and appreciates the brutal beating he is about to receive and wants to “keep as many of my teeth as I can.” He does this in as matter-of-fact a way as possible, so calmly and without apparent anxiety that the viewer is left stupefied. Here is a man who seems, in Kazantzakis’s words, to “fear nothing.”
    But doesn’t fear serve some useful purpose for the future then? Isn’t some fear useful to spur one to take seriously an anticipated threat? Some actors say stage fright, or fear of blowing their lines, often serves as a spur to keep them from becoming sloppy and complacent on stage or before the camera. There is no denying that anticipatory fear, up to a point, can have some beneficial effects. As a student, I used to watch with a kind of introspective amusement the level of fear begin to rise as the due date for a paper or a test approached. Hopefully the fear would crest with enough impact early enough to get me to finally put down The Valley of the Dolls and start cracking the books. There is no denying that future fear, kept within manageable levels, can be beneficial to some people.
    As a retired person, I have endeavored to relieve myself from as much future fear as possible. I find it ill serves me. In fact, I have instinctively tried to live my life from my earliest days avoiding wage slavery by being a free lance cameraman or director. I also avoided playing the fear-based authority game our society seems to think is so essential to a smoothly functioning capitalist civilization. At every opportunity I have tried to avoid assuming positions of authority over others. Rare indeed is the workplace in Amerika that is not dominated by a predatory mini-terrorism of the dominant apes over the fearful, subservient monkeys further down the social, corporate ladder. A visit to any zoo will amply demonstrate that it is a rare instance when an alpha male has to use actual force to maintain his authority. It is done largely through fear.

Humor is one of the greatest mitigators of fear. The august all-powerful empower loses his status instantly and becomes an impotent object of scorn when the little boy laughs at his nakedness. So it is with me. I take damned few things very seriously any more. My philosophy is best reflected in Archimedes’ response to the Roman soldier who killed him, “If you aren’t gonna arrest me or kill me, get the fuck out of my face.”
   That has become more and more my attitude as well. Too often it becomes difficult for me to demonstrate the requisite amount of fear, especially in the presence of authority figures. And it pisses them off no end. I say with a certain pride that every staff job I have ever tried to hold has ended in abysmal failure. There is just too much Jack Burns in me for most people’s liking.

So, after all that, what would I say if I were asked what I fear for the future? Personally, not much. Of course, there are the expected popular fears like Trump, terrorism, fascism, and increased gas prices. There are the less popular, less heeded ones like global warming, near-term human extinction, and Hillary.
    I have heard the snicker of the eternal footman and have been afraid. Who among us is not in dread of the end of ego? For now I cannot say this is much of a preoccupation, however. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I take a strange satisfaction in my suspicion that nothing survives that final curtain. So, death, where is thy sting? Get the fuck out of my face. Later....

[Editor’s Note: Bob actually was asked what was his fear for the future, and today’s thoughtful reflection, complete with the graphics, was his response. In fact, everyone on the staff of Moristotle & Co. was asked the question, and tomorrow’s column, “Do you have a fear for the future? What is it?” will reveal their responses, complete with an invitation to our readers asking you to let us know whether you have fears for the future, and what they are. We wonder to what extent they are like ours.
    Let Bob’s reflections above start you thinking what you will tell us by way of comment on tomorrow’s column. Thanks!

Copyright © 2016 by Bob Boldt


  1. I enjoyed following your musings, and the undercurrent of empowerment - to fear or not to fear comes down to a personal choice. But what if the stance of fearing nothing is a just a desparate attempt to negate something that is still present? Is anyone truly fearless? Is the refusal to acknowledge fear really
    all it takes to "make it go away"?

    1. I suspect that each of us has to answer those questions for himself, and it isn't clear that it can be done imaginatively or, as it were, by thought experiment. I plan to try to conduct some of these experiments beginning tonight as I lie in bed before going to sleep. Should make for some interesting dreams!

    2. My "experiment" was a bust. Just couldn't put myself imaginatively into any fearful situations. I could only imagine myself as calm, cool, and collected, effectively dealing with each situation as in my wildest fantasy.

    3. Geoffrey
      I don't think anyone would contend that fearlessness has any material effect on the fearful situation or environment. Fearlessness does not "make it Go away." Fearlessness enables you to deal with the reality in a more objective, productive way. True courage is doing it even if you are afraid. Sometimes it is all about facing the inevitable with honesty and dignity.

      I am reminded of a magnificent scene in Lion in Winter when Richard and Geoffrey are on the verge of imminent death.

      "Prince Richard: [the sons - in the dungeon - think they hear Henry approach] He's here. He'll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn't going to see me beg.
      Prince Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool... as if the way one fell down mattered.
      Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters."

      Choose to be brave Geoffrey. No one's getting out of here alive!

    4. Bob, wonderful that you remembered that scene (I wish I had a memory like that!). And, in the thumbnail for the link, I thought Anthony Hopkins (Prince Richard) looked like Geoffrey.
          Your characterization of "fearlessness" (one is brave but still afraid) is the same, essentially, I think, as Chuck's "shutting fear down" in order to deal with an immediate danger – the fear is still there but set aside briefly to be confronted later.

  2. In immediate danger (e.g. mountaineering) I've learned that you can just shut fear down. "Later. I haven't got time for that just now." Sometimes the kickback later can be a little rough.

    1. In a crisis such as about to be mugged, I hope that I will be able to kick the mugger's scrotum or jab his throat as fearlessly as I practice the moves at the gym, rather than be so overcome by immediate "kickback" that I become immobilized!

    2. My experience has been that the fear returns, demanding attention, hours after the danger is past. The first time I blew it in a class 5 rapid, though, my heart was thundering as soon as I got to shore!