Fear is the Mind Killer

   FRANK HERBERT COINED THE TITLE of this observation in his epic novel Dune, a sweeping tale of deeply-entrenched institutional corruption being met and overwhelmed by an insurgency armed with religious-grade confidence in the rightness of its cause. Herbert’s formulation nicely encapsulates fear’s super-power: Like a well-evolved parasite, fear, by supplanting cognition and objectivity, creates the very conditions under which it is most difficult for the victim to fight back against its influence.

   This is not to say that fear and its mindless responses are always a bad thing. If the threat is such that simply running away as fast as possible is the optimal response, fear is your friend. It’ll make you run hard and long. Sometimes fear will prompt the “fight”  reflex, instead, and this can also be the best response.

   But whichever is chosen, “fight or flight” are generally the best responses only to overt and immediate physical threats. Pretty much every other kind of threat calls for thoughtful analysis of the real source and true nature of the danger, and thoughtful formulation of the optimal response.

   In other words, for everything other than an immediate physical threat, the mindlessness induced by fear is the worst thing that can happen — for individuals.


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