Fear of Change

 Philosophy, Religion  Comments Off on Fear of Change
May 062017

FDR famously said that the only thing to fear was fear itself, and in the case he was referring to, the national economy and the stock market, he was certainly on the right path. I have discussed this topic in a previous post http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/what-is-faith/ and I do not intend to cover that ground again. But, FDR was addressing one kind of fear only: “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” What I want to discuss today is a different species of fear: fear of change. This is a different animal from the fear that FDR was talking about, but it is just as toxic, if not more so. I can’t speak for all cultures globally, but I think I can safely assert that the fear of change is extremely prevalent in the West, especially nowadays. The thing that makes fear of change so damaging is that change, of one sort or another, is inevitable. So if you are afraid of change you are going to live in a constant state of fear. Many, many people (especially politicians and advertisers) count on this fact to control people and to make money.

Change comes in many forms, obviously, and occurs at different rates in different spheres. Unfortunately, also, a lot of changes are not good. People who own houses, or cars, or computers, or whatever, know this very well. Things change by breaking down on a fairly regular basis, and can be a constant worry if you are inclined in that direction. Regular maintenance can assuage some of the fears, but not all of them. Things have a habit of breaking down, often at inconvenient times because you can’t guard against everything. The other problem in these cases is that change is always bad. Cars do not suddenly get better gas mileage, or need less oil. Over time they get worse, and the best you can do is to keep maintaining and repairing the car until finally your costs outweigh your benefits and you are better off coughing up the money for a new car. It is, however, alarmingly common for people to continue to pour money into a failing car because they don’t want to change cars. Mechanics are more than happy with this state of affairs.

The human body is in a constant state of change: minor and major. Like machines, the human body is in an unavoidable state of deterioration, otherwise known as aging. Regular maintenance is also a good idea for the body, but it cannot stave off the inevitable. We all know this, but some of us seem endlessly willing to give it a shot. This is also a realm worth a great deal of money. I’ll take a pass on wrinkle creams, hair dyes, balding remedies and all the rest of it. I’ll accept what changes occur over time, hopefully with an air of grace.

One of the biggest fears that politicians make much of these days is the fear of social change. Like all other change it is inevitable, but there is a whole branch of politics, conservatism, devoted to halting social change. Why anyone would imagine for a moment that such a thing is possible is beyond me. One of the most obvious facts is that even changes that people like, especially technological improvement, bring changes they don’t like. People like affordable, efficient international travel, for example, which was not possible even 50 years ago. Now you can hop a jet for a holiday just about anywhere, any time you want for not a lot of money. Well . . . just as you can fly off to a beach in Mexico or the Middle East for a suntan, or a splendid safari in Africa to see exotic wildlife, Mexicans, Arabs, and Africans can visit your country too, and, if they wish, stay. “Oh no,” you say, “we don’t want them to stay.” Well, did they want your forebears to stay when they colonized their lands, exploited the local labor, and stole all the resources?

There’s a fair wad of people too, especially in the US, that refuse to believe that the climate is changing. I wouldn’t say that science yet has a comprehensive grasp on the details of why the climate is changing, but to deny that it is changing is absurd, as is the denial that human pollution has an effect. I understand the financial pressures brought to bear by oil and coal producers to downplay the effects of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Very rich people get funny about losing money. But why sane people who have nothing at stake should accept the rhetoric is also beyond me – EXCEPT – people fear change, and denial is often the first line of defense.

In the medical profession it is a well-known fact that when people experience the early signs of serious problems, their first response is frequently to ignore them, or to attempt to explain them away as something benign and curable. This is not always the case, certainly. Some people think they are dying the first time they sneeze, and a number of people are perfectly sensible about health issues. But a substantial number of people ignore warning signs because they are afraid of what they portend. I’m sad to say that I’ve seen way too many people die because they ignored the early warning signs of conditions that were treatable but ended up being fatal because they were ignored.

Denial, apart from being potentially fatal, can also lead to absurd ideas. The 19th century was the great watershed era when change as an unavoidable fact of life claimed center stage, not least because this was the era of the Industrial Revolution which turned the world on its head. Theories of evolution abounded. I’m not just talking about biological evolution; evolution as an idea was taking hold across disciplines. In fact it proved productive in fields quite widely separated from biology well before Darwin got hold of the idea. Notably, the Grimm brothers did monumental, and lasting, research into the evolution of languages. Because some languages, particularly European ones, have evolved in a time span that is relatively short, and their development can be well documented, no one can seriously challenge such ideas as that Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese all evolved from Latin, and that Spanish split from Italian at some stage, and then Portuguese split from Spanish some time later.

When it comes to the evolution of language there can be little argument. There are a few people who would like to put a stop to language change, but the effort is futile. There are even academies across the world that attempt to control and regulate language change. Their efforts are futile also. When it comes to human evolution things get sticky. Some people want to deny the science. Why? Well, I gave some answers here in these two posts: http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/evolution-1/ and http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/evolution-2/ Now I’ll make good on the “to be continued . . .” at the end of the second post. In my opinion, a big component in the denial of biological evolution is the fear of change. Genesis lays out a world order that is good when it is unchanging. When humans meddle with that order, things ALWAYS go wrong. Adam and Eve started the ball rolling and it’s been downhill ever since. They set history in motion, and history is one continuous series of changes, almost all of which are bad (under these rules). The promise of the Messiah is the one bright hope because he will bring history (change) to an end. Until then we’re in trouble.

By these lights, the initial word order created by God at the beginning of time was perfect. Thus, all change is for the worst. This is the same kind of philosophy that you find all over the world in antiquity – once there was a Golden Age, but something came along to screw it up. People who fear change are completely in accord with this philosophy. Hence they cling to Genesis as their model despite strong evidence that the Genesis concept of the origins of the world/universe is absurdly false. Evolutionary theory is not just dangerous on moral grounds, according to strict evangelical Christians, it is dangerous as a total worldview because it values change. Evolutionary theory does not exactly say that change improves things; that’s a common mistake. Evolution is about adaptation and survival. But if you believe that humans are better than other animals, you can be persuaded to think that evolution creates improvement through change. Whatever the case, evolutionary theory argues that change is a good thing on a species level. If a species does not change over time it goes extinct. Change means survival.

So there we are. What’s it to be? Are you going to fear change or embrace it? Either way, it’s going to happen. Maybe I can put it in simple terms: embrace change and live; resist change and die. It’s that simple.

To be continued . . .