I used to love the acronym definition of fear: “false evidence appearing real.”
But “false evidence” is like “fake news” and “post-fact.” There’s really no such thing, only conjecture, presumption, and deception.
Austin Kridler recently shared a drawing that has had almost 700,000 views in two days. It deserves it.
Two big cats scream at each other in the face of impending and swiftly approaching doom. One of them encourages the other to stand firm and fight to the death.
In the third panel we discover the big cats are actually house cats, and “doom” is an unplugged vacuum cleaner.
I’ve written before about growing up in an apocalyptic religious tradition. As I shared with Blake Chastain last year, that background prepared me very well for the United States post-9/11, its hyper-surveillance and its skepticism of the state’s authority.
Mostly, though, growing up in Adventism gave me practice in watching our fears of the Other morph into projected suspicion and self-aggrandizing stories about what we’d one day do when we faced persecution. Sometimes these fears would prompt us to mimic traits that we taught were part of the Other’s community.
For instance, we were quite worried about controlling, centralized religion and forced worship (see also Babylon), but we punished students who didn’t attend weekly campus chapel sessions.
We also fretted about what evangelicals might do to minority groups if ever given state power (see also imperial Rome), but over at least 20 years, the denomination has actively lobbied to restrict the civil rights of LGBTQ people and opt out of common society.
We don’t always become what we fear, but I suspect that we are always shaped by our fears. Fears morph and warp our identities and group boundaries, the way we situate ourselves in relation to the exterior world, and how we evaluate risk and danger.
In the best case, we can recognize our fear train before it runs away; we can catch ourselves and laugh.
Kridler’s cartoon is a perfect example of how.