Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Brief Thought on Fear

One of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "Fear is the mother of morality." This quote was brought to the forefront of my thoughts while reading on Confucius and his ways of the Superior Man. The correlation to the Nietzschian Ubermensch immediately disclosed itself, but it was the three items that Confucius noted which made me pause.

“The way of the superior man is threefold, but I am not equal to it. Virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from perplexities; bold, he is free from fear.”

When do we consider that we fear something? Fear seems to arise from a lack of control. Death, for example, can be a prime motivator to believe in a God. For Confucius, knowledge was "the" component to being superior. For Nietzsche, not being a "slave" elevated the person. Each thinker expressed a common sentiment: it is freedom which we desire to attain and in this freedom we become better.

Back in college I had to give a two minute unprepared speech on the famous FDR quote regarding fear. I argued that the statement "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" was wrong. Fear can be a great motivator, but only when we are strong. I find this sentiment in the superior man reference, but in a different approach.

Confucius would want us to be free from fear by being bold. It would be easy to read this as we should not fear but I do not feel that would be accurate. Through virtue and wisdom we attain a level of confidence and vision so to embrace and overcome fear. What this demands is a high level of honesty to self and others, and to a greater degree personal accountability. As long as I am binding myself to a belief system which inherently has me limited I will turn to it when fear grips me.

This idea is obviously deeper and more complex than a hit and run blog entry but at the surface there is a basic element at work. While we sit and marvel at those around us who overcome and succeed, what is it that holds us back? Fear of public speaking, fear of humiliation, fear of loneliness or fear of failure are but a few stones. Honesty towards the obstacles is a start which then leads one to the "path'. Once on the path we must be careful that fear does not handcuff us in a manner that Nietzsche warned: that being a system which requires acceptance of rules without question. It is then that we can be bold enough to see the stones not as obstacles but as parts of the path which we are creating.


Nelson Cowan said...

This is definitely more than just a brief thought...this is like an agglomeration of 1-liner axioms. I enjoyed reading the post but i had a difficult time finding the central point (unless you intended it to not have a central point).

"Through virtue and wisdom we attain a level of confidence and vision so to embrace and overcome fear."

-I feel like you could insert any world religion in the place of "virtue and wisdom."

You also mention the really large thought about a belief system that is limited. Aren't all attempts to understand the divine or "ultimate reality" limited due to our condition as being human beings with finite minds?
Is it wrong to attach oneself to a belief system because it makes the most sense culturally and ultimately leads to the most good in the world? And i'm not talking about an overwhelming belief in one thing and ignorance to other beliefs. I'm talking about a belief, or "approach" that is not ignorant, exclusive, or supposedly superior.

Those are initial thoughts.

B. W. Fullford said...

I think you accurately noted my ambiguity of a central point or at least my failure to express it. And your comment of "one liner axioms" is probably not too far off either.

In reflection I believe my intent was to express the problem we encounter when we allow fear to impede rather than influence. I was also trying to discover at what level we lie to ourselves when we say we fear something thought I didn't investigate that quite as much.

With respect to a belief system, there must a point when the individual asks himself what motivates. Fear. Love. Compassion. Animosity. Whether that is one which is culturally advantageous or simply utilitarian. If virtue drives us to be "superior" the system does not bind us. The system is for us and not the reverse.

I would go a step further and take the position people feel separation from a system that a group does not already embrace. In doing so they lose themselves. In losing themselves there is now no subject which can fear and hence no advancement apart from the direction of the system itself. I would argue further that a fear of losing self in the system motivates the individual to be "superior".

I may contradict myself tomorrow.