Culture of Fear

April 20, 2021

Fear is a fundamental human emotion. It is one of seven fundamental emotions that are biologically wired into every human and can be recognized across cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities (the other six are anger, disgust, contempt, joy, sadness, and surprise). Fear is caused by the activation of the Amygdala, a structure that lies in one of the most primitive parts of our brain. We know it existed early in our evolution. It is a homologous structure that can also be found in all kinds of other animals, including reptiles, which is how we know it, is a primitive structure. It responds to all kinds of external stimuli from things that are dangerous to things that are ambiguous and might be dangerous.

Later on in our evolution, we developed the neocortex. The upper portion of our brain often referred to as grey matter. This is the part of our brain that allows us to think, consider, appreciate, and assess things like risk. This is also the part of the brain that has the capacity to quite the fear created by the Amygdala. In essence, when the Amygdala is fired up, it is up to us to use our neocortex to say, “I got this.” So, let’s say that you are afraid of large dogs. One day you are walking down the street and you turn a corner and see a large dog three feet away from you. First, you are likely to experience fear because your Amygdala will fire up, only when you see that the dog is on a leash, well secured to the dog owners arm and the dog is well behaved can your neocortex calm your fear, “I got this. There’s no danger.”

So while our biology has us programmed to responds to danger or threat with fear, it is our thinking that can modulate or influence our fear. In our world, danger is real; our fear response to that danger is perceived.

There is a large segment of our country that currently believes there is a great danger in allowing immigrants to enter into the United States. The perception of this threat is being augmented by the current administration that has imposed a ban on immigrants and refugees from seven particular counties from the Middle East. Those countries are: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. The Cato Institute is a conservative think-tank based in Washington, DC. One of its staff, Alex Nowrasteh recently published an article, “Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis.

The analysis looks at Americans killed on US soil by foreigners and refugees between 1975 and 2015. Here are the most interesting highlights: Americans killed on US soil by foreigners or refugees in that 40 year time frame from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia: ZERO. In that same time frame, Americans killed on US soil by other Middle Eastern countries: Saudi Arabia, 2,369; United Arab Emirates, 314; Egypt 162. The report documents that between 1975-2015, the chance of being killed by a foreigner in an attack on US soil is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The chance of being killed by a refugee in an attack on US soil is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.

If you are an American who is fearful of immigrants and refugees, please use this information to allow your neocortex to calm your Amygdala. If this data doesn’t do anything to help, consider this:

According to Merriam-Webster Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Vulnerability is defined as being susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. Mercy comes from a position of strength. Vulnerability comes is from a position of weakness. Any refugee that is trying to enter this country is clearly susceptible to being attacked or harmed. By closing our doors on refugees, we continue to harm them. As a culture, do we want to do harm to others or do we want to show mercy?

Let’s build a culture we can ALL be proud of, together!

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