“…what humans ultimately fear is nothing” “That makes no sense…” he began to protest. A sharp gesture with a black-gloved hand cut him off. “Not of nothing…not like you.” The hat inclined downward in something approximating a nod of respect. “They fear it all coming to an end and that, as it we’re, being that.” It paused to light a black cigarette, the void where its face should be simply drinking the light. “They fear becoming nothing…”
I have asked myself this many times, what is it which makes a human most human, what makes a human most essentially human, what defines people?
Fear. Small word, many meanings, many interpretations, many manifestations… Fear of failure, fear of change, fear of what other people might think of you or not think of you, fear of belonging or not belonging, fear of difference, fear of control or lack thereof. Ultimately fear of the one thing human beings have a knowledge of which all other creatures on the Earth appear to lack understanding of; death.
You see, it is a consideration, quite a large one, in a series that involves immortals of many kinds; they fear death or are they immune to such things? If they do not fear death what do they fear instead?
So what does it boil down to? Where am I going with this? Well, all the other fears which rule human lives, I think, are rooted in fear of death. How so? Well we all fear death and are uncertain of what comes thereafter thus we worry and obsess about how we shall be remembered when we are gone, what our legacy shall be, what we leave behind.
Politicians worry about how History will remember them; average people about how their family and descendants will remember and honour them. So they spend what little time they have (never knowing how long their allotted span shall be) in worry and fear of being accepted, acknowledged and thought of. It does afterall have a large affect on life does it not, spending the majority of it (the adult portion) feeling the weight of the one certainty in life (that we have it for rent only and that the time shall come to return our loan) but never knowing when it shall end….
I know when it shall end and have to take my lesson to heart and realize how many of my fears are misplaced.
So why be afraid of change, or others’ opinions, of what I’ll have time to do?
I know I will be here for a period of time, I will live and have life for that period of time. I had dreams before of time beyond the time I had left to me, of old age, old things I might see or experience and those dreams are not to be but they may never have been anyway; I, under other circumstances, would not have known and….well you know the story.
To fear known consequences, those of a failure to act as you know you should perhaps?
So to live without fear, without unnecessary fear (logical fears have value, fear of an angry animal, a rapidly approaching vehicle, of hurting someone’s feelings) … to sensibly fear the Known, how that’s sensible. Fearing the know is wise and a good survival trait.
Fearing the Unknown, though…
How can that make any sense? If course, to be human means doing much that makes no sense. Our imagination has helped us achieve much and is a writers bread and butter, after all.
We spend much of our life embroiled in unknown fears, though. We devote a great deal of time to “what if” scenarios, to possibilities, and to things we are close to certain will never happen.
What if they happen and we’re not ready because we thought it was stupid?
How would I live with myself if x happened because I didn’t pay attention to y?
They want you to think that this isn’t real because….
It seems like the human brain is very much wired to be prepared for quick flight at all times, anticipating potential dangers and always ready for them, even if they never happen. Seems a little wasteful to me…
I mean, let’s look at this logically; anything could happen, the universe is a rather random and chaotic place. In theory, the Earth could be wiped out in an eyeblink by a rogue asteroid or exploding star. Aliens could invade and either enslave or liberate us all. Nepharious secret societies could realise their plans and start the Big War again and bring down civilisation as we know it.
You could cross the road tomorrow and get killed by a car. This crazed man with a gun could decide you look like a nice target. You could catch the latest deadly virus that the media are making us frightened of. You could touch the wrong thing at what could be determined as the right or wrong time, depending on your point of view.
You are going to die at some point, that is one thing of which we can, as humans, be absolutely certain. At least you only have to do it once.
Bearing in mind that we, allegedly alone in the animal kingdom, know that dead is inevitable, you would think that this knowledge would give us a kind of strength. You would think that knowing this extra fact would be an advantage.
Instead we spend our entire existence coming up with stories as to where we go once the inevitable pays us a visit. We don’t like the idea that the inevitable vistor might come alone.
Fear as the Prime Motivator
Let’s take a look at people. I don’t mean individual ones, I mean the species as a whole. This is a theme which does indeed run deeply through The Chronicles and even has a character who exists primarily to drive it.
Excepting a small group of shaven-headed men and women that live in inhospitable places, have that tranquil and smug look, and like to dress in saffron; the majority of people alive spend the entirety of that blessing worrying about when that stops. Every decision we make, every interaction, every choice is driven by the knowledge that, one day, we will no longer be here.
Think about it; humanity’s prime motivation is not the improvement of our world or discovering something that will make existence a better place, it is about achieving immortality.
Serial Immortality; through children, we pass on not only our genes but our knowledge, our values, our social identity.
Historical Immortality; there are many ways to achieve this but we’ve all heard of Shakespeare, Einstein, Newton, Lincoln, Julius Caesar…
Digital Immortality; these days, people’s Facebook accounts outlive them so their memories, thoughts and, somewhat, their personality endures. It’s like eidactics but less interactive.
Our lives are driven to achieving one form of immortality or another, humanity is desperate to find the secret;
How to live longer; by exercising more, health fads, pills, and potions
How to look younger; and therefore trick Death into not realising it’s our time by using, guess what? Pills, fads, and potions!
Daring Death to Take Us; extreme sports and activities, so-called adrenaline activities. We survive that so we feel immortal.
Vampires, Zombies, etc; Literature is just filled with them now but what’s the fascination? Immortality and a stylish and sexy one at that, how could that be bad? Oh, the blood, right.
Obession with The Afterlife; we have to go somewhere when we die, right? Even people that don’t believe in any deity or religion have ideas about the afterlife, that there is one. Some don’t but, it would appear, the majority do.
Think about it, it is rather funny when you bring it down to that; we’re obsessed with vampires because one does not need to ascribe to a particular religion to be one of the Children of the Night. Zombies existing means something endures after death. Ghosts and spirits mean there is something immaterial beyond the physical. If we do something worthy of remembrance, then we’ve won, right?
Again, this theme runs right through Darkness Within. It is often discussed and debated. The idea that utter fearlessness is not a desirable condition seems to be what most characters conclude. Many are accused of being fearless but they will correct the speaker when this opinion is voiced.
Asmodeus will respond sarcastically, Sable will just smile.
Let’s take a look at what being truly fearless means; it means to be without fear, to fear nothing, not even the things we should fear. A fearless man would not hesitate before leaping off a cliff. A fearless man would plunge his hand into a fire to get the treasure. A fearless man would charge twenty heavily armed soldiers and not worry about how many ways he would die.
Fearless, as Asmodeus would put it, means insane. Fear is sensible, he might add, as long as you remind it who is master;
“Fear is good if it remembers who is boss; if it can control itself and focus more on being Caution than Terror. Fear must be controlled and never allowed off its chain. Keep it shackled and allow it to counsil but never rule…”
Fear keeps you alive and doing that for as long as possible is, as previously established, quite important to the average human. Insane, mouth-frothing fearlessness gets you killed everywhere except in the stories. Fear is useful as long as you do not let it dominate.
Letting Fear off the Leash
What happens when we let fear take control? Well, let’s talk about fear first, shall we?
Fear is a primal force, older than the human race, he lies that deep and left-over reptilian node, long overlaid by ‘more civilised’ layers of mentatation. It lies where those ancient instincts about running away from anything with teeth longer than our arm slumber in the primordial darkness.
It doesn’t always take much to have humanity stampede like the herd of wildebeast that have seen the lion, though.
Fear came into our make-up before emotions, logic and even language were invented. Fear doesn’t consult, it doesn’t go through any checks, it has its own express lane to the adrenal gland. It is capable of shutting off the brain almost entirely, cutting it out of the loop.
Terror is the deadliest weapon in existence because, in terror, people will destroy themselves, in panic they will run blindly into a far worse situation than the one they fled. People are crushed in the resulting stampedes. Panic is contageous and very hard to control; people will join in without actually knowing what it is the people running towards them are fleeing.
It is visceral, it is illogical, it is deadly.
It is also rather easy to manipulate in much less dramatic a fashion. Fear is also a very useful resource for a smart man or woman to exploit.
“Humans fear that which they do not understand and hate that which they fear”
Politicians seem to be the masters of this art in our current climate. Fear switches off emotions so if you can make your supporters fear those that oppose you, then they will lap up any old trash you give them. Neither ‘side’ of the political spectrum in America, Britian, or elsewhere are innocent of this.
The media have long made use of it to sell papers. Sensationalism, was their term for lying, exaggeration and fear-mongering. It sounds much better than propaganda doesn’t it?
It didn’t take long for powerful people to realise that this could not only be useful but used for something much more important than the distribution of gossip, scandal, and cheap pornography.
Though Asmodeus is often credited with coming up with the idea, he isn’t the only truly devious creature in existence; he’s one of the best at it but not the only one.
It has been well proven that, if you make a human nervous enough, their decision-making ability is impaired. Higher brain functions are overruled by emotional ones, impetuous thinking dominates, strong emotions such as anger are the strongest in this case.
If people are ruled by this fear/hate relationship, they will tend to believe anything that you say about the target of their fear as well as anything those who say they oppose the hated group, in turn, assert.
The world today is pretty much devided along these lines.
Let us use America as an example; Democrats are certain the Republicans and their chosen ‘Leader’ are the most currupt, dangerous, and hateful people in existence. We will believe anything we are told about said President, no matter how ridiculous it might sound.
In contrast; Republican supporters believe that said President is the victim of a vast conspiracy involving inhuman corruption and Anti-American secret societies who want to undermine everything they stand for. They, too, will believe any outlandish story they hear.
Social media, as we have mentioned in other articles, has made this incredibly easy to achieve and manage. It is easier to feed stories, rumours, and titbits to people. It is easier to employ people to comment and sprinkle stories in a seemingly innocent manner.
To be subject to fear is, therefore these days, to be subject to manipulation. Now that is a scary thought.
To live without fear utterly is pure insanity. To fear the unknown is, perhaps, a lesser though common insanity. To fear the known is, we are led to believe, sensible.
People are described as fearless but think about that for a moment. To be completely fearless is to be utterly insane. Fearless is a person who charges the enemy guns alone holding only a knife and a couple of grenades, laughing while they do it.
They might survive by the pure luck if any watching gods wanting to see what happens next but, sooner or later, they get bored and luck runs out.
Judicious fear is finding the long-forgotten drainage culvert and crawling up it at night to plant the grenades in weak spots and get out alive.
Fearing the Unknown will paralyse you and hold you back. Fearing the Known and respecting it, that’s the ticket, we are told. Respect and give fear a voice but make absolutely sure that it knows its place.
The secret is being afraid but doing it anyway; that’s real bravery; looking fear in the eye and smiling.