Orion Digest №14 — Overcoming the Barrier of Fear
Discussing ways we can change the world to make a better future is easy. Implementing them is the hard point, because our current way of doing things stands in our way, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Sure, we would like to not bow to the powers-that-be and make the world more equal, but there lies the problem of the powers-that-be having power, and inequality being rampant. Even if we have a design for a ideal system of living, the hardest part is dealing with the old design, and that’s where many movements stagnate. They can’t move forward because ‘the system’ is a wall that cannot be surpassed, a fact of life that, as far as we know, can’t be unwritten. As many put it, it’s “just the way things are.”
Now, what comprises ‘the system’? This force, that holds us back, keeps us at a slow pace of progress, that empowers the elites, makes the government all knowing and all powerful, and makes our lives more difficult? So many people have fought back against this thing that takes no shape, no face, that has no one voice or true name. It’s some vague idea that people like to rebel against, some foe that anyone who is tired of societal conditions being the way they are wants to change, and yet, we all recognize the enormity of it compared to people. No matter what, the system is always bigger than you are, stronger than you are, and you’ll only get yourself into trouble trying to fight it.
The economy and government of any nation would be considered the main parts of the system, logically — frustrations with wages, prices, or employment in general would be directed at the market, while restrictions and enforcement would be directed at the political system. However, society goes beyond its mechanisms — the interplay of the former two creates a sort of culture and mindset in the minds of citizens that forms the rest of society. If government is the skeleton and economy is the organs of society, connective tissue and skin — the face of society — is the system that people create in their minds — the sociology built around government and economy.
It is this third aspect of society that I think most crucial to why change fails — the creation of the mind that historical precedence and enforced belief instill in us. Anyone could commit a crime — there is nothing stopping you except the threat of physical force, and even if that depends on if you are found. When viewing outside of the lens of society, your path is uninhibited until you actually perform the action, but there is something that stops us. A fear, an idea that we’ll be found out, worries about what will happen afterwards, and a view of crimes as morally wrong based on what we have been brought up to know. So many factors that are invisible and present entirely within our own mind — and yet they are powerful.
It’s why we go to work — without context, going to a building to perform labor on an average work day might seem useless. You gain nothing obvious from it (assuming it isn’t pay day), and you suffer the cost of time and exhaustion. It would be much easier and pleasurable to not go in the first place. But we have the idea in our head that the work we do then will result in us gaining money, which we not only want but need to survive, and therefore while we certainly have physical choice, in our heads there is no choice but to head to work.
These are very simplistic examples, but the point is universal — much of what we do is dictated by ideas we have about what we need to do, what we cannot do, and things we should fear, even if there is no immediate and obvious reason from an outsider’s perspective. It is these invisible chains, walls, and rewards that make up the ‘system’, that make up society in our lives, and when magnified across billions of people, you have a generalized belief in something that wouldn’t normally be there, but is made real by the belief of everyone around you. Society is a mental construct that everyone, over many generations, has been made to construct in their head.
Now, this is not to say society is innately bad. After all, many of these ideas keep us safe, keep our lives stable. If everyone had no regard for other people and decided to steal and murder and do anything they could, people would suffer on a daily basis, and in the end, the world would be much worse off. Having mutual agreements helps us understand each other a bit more — just think of what driving would be like if people didn’t pay any heed to traffic lights. There are a lot of benefits to this invisible world we create, but it becomes a problem when it is turned on people — it goes from our tool to our chains.
Currently, many of us have a belief that many things about society — our political structures, the ownership of wealth, the cultural and political barriers between nations — cannot be changed, because such things are too big to ever shift from the way they are. On a local level, for ease of description, many people in my nation are afraid of discussing socialist ideas because they are afraid of being targeted by their own government, and because no one would ever support it. The U.S. government is seen as too old, too vast, too powerful to ever allow an opposing doctrine to bear fruit, and that’s that.
But the U.S. government is just people. A bunch of people, walking around, following the same paths and strings and believing that they hold any more power than an average citizen by virtue of their position — and that power, really, comes from the belief of Americans in that idea. Politicians hold power precisely because their constituents collectively think they do. In fact, any government holds power because the people think that they do, and act accordingly. A nation can flaunt as many guns and bombs around as they want, but those are wielded, once again, by people, who are also being lead along by the idea that they need to be loyal.
The power of belief is an amazing thing, because simple ideas transform a group of people into a vastly different dynamic, one that was originally created for our benefit (society, of course, was created so we didn’t have to worry about each and every aspect of organization), but that now has been used to disadvantage many. But such a system relies on continued belief, and if people simply stopped doing their jobs, stopped following the paths we create in our heads, the structure would rapidly fall apart. All it takes is to make people believe in something else, make them truly believe there is another way. We’ve seen this example in union strikes for centuries — as soon as workers decide to do nothing, the vast corporate machine is threatened and loses steam.
The counter to disillusionment is reinforcement, which we have seen in subtle ways over generations. Throughout your formative years, you are brought up in subtle ways to see the workings of society as natural, and even if you realize there are faults in it, this conditioning makes it harder to convince yourself to make that leap, to stand up and go against what you know. And those subtleties carry over to the next generation, creating a culture of complacency that imagines themself more isolated than they actually are when considering the faults of society and what alternatives there could be. For I fear that is the greatest weapon that an established authority can use against its citizens — the idea that when they think of resistance, they are alone, and that they would be publicly ostracized for speaking their mind.
Sure, not everyone feels the same way, and many might be happy with the system, especially if they benefit or are just used to it. But feeling economics and government in their current state are inadequate is a mindset shared by more and more people, and if that community was truly open and felt unafraid to discuss such things, the system would be more at risk than ever. But it takes usually some inciting event, some hope that convinces the more reluctant to make their voices heard, and if the numbers of the bold are too small to provide that hope, systemic fear feed back in on itself to discourage movements for large-scale change.
But knowledge is power, and understanding that we create much of the system in our minds gives us a path to growth and strengthening of movements — all it takes to truly destroy or change a system is for people to lose faith in it, and all it takes to empower one is for people to believe. Hope is a powerful thing, and if you can bring that to people, you can bring them together, and when people are united, there is no force that can truly stop them.
- DKTC FL