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29 Mar 2006

Can We Use Fear as a Motivator for Change?

fearI gave a talk in Kingsbridge in Devon on Sunday, the sequel to a screening of [The End of Suburbia](http://www.endofsuburbia.com”EOS”) that my friend Naresh presented last week. I began my talk by asking how many people there had seen the film. 90% of hands went up. “How was it?” I asked. A long silence. “Shocking” said one man. People had had a fairly sleepless week between the film and my talk. I’m sure those of you who have shown the film will be familiar with this reaction. It raises the very important question, which I want to explore in this piece, to what extent should we use fear as a tool to motivate change in people?

a5It is a question that has been floating around over the last week for me. I gave a talk at Schumacher College last week (I hope to be able to post an mp3 of that soon), which was attended by Satish Kumar, the editor of [Resurgence Magazine](http://www.resurgence.org”Resurgence”). After my talk we were chatting, and he said that although he enjoyed the talk, he felt that it was not right to use the fear of peak oil to try and motivate people to change. He said that he had been around since the 1950s, and that then people tried to use fear of nuclear waste to get people to change, in the 60s it was fear of chemical pollution, in the 70s it was the fear of nuclear power, in the 80s nuclear bombs and so on… . All of those positions tried to terrify people into change and none of them really worked.

InquisitionHis view was that we should be helping people towards values of compassion and peacefulness, as a positive step, not because people are scared of the consequences but rather because they can see the benefits of doing so. I replied that I didn’t see that the talk I do as being about scaring people, rather informing them. I find when I give talks that people are already aware that something is acutely wrong with energy, but have heard all kinds of conflicting stories and rumours, what I try to do is to set out the situation as best I can. As I have said before here, I don’t see the [disastrous peak oil scenarios](http://www.dieoff.com/”DieOff”) as inevitable, rather they act like the Ghost of Christmas Future, showing us how things will be unless we respond and create something better.

af2My sense is that what Satish was alluding to as ‘fear’ is the moment when the scale of the problem and the challenge REALLY sinks in . A few days after I first showed the End of Suburbia, followed by a talk by Colin Campbell, to my students at Kinsale FEC, someone asked me “what’s wrong with all your students? They looked ill all week”. That moment of really grasping the enormity of the challenge was not a comfortable place, neither for me nor my students. Although often criticised for containing no solutions, I think that is the film’s strength, that it doesn’t leave any room for comfort or easy answers, rather it leaves you in that place.

eosAlthough it is uncomfortable, and for some, upsetting, to grasp the scale of the peak oil challenge, I have no problems with taking people there, so long as we can also offer solutions. Most spiritual traditions aim to help people to experience the fact that what we grasp as being ‘reality’ is not such at all. In Buddhism, the tradition I am most familiar with, the realisation of emptiness, that all phenomena do not exist independently but are created from projections in our own minds, which we then label and create attachment to, is one thing to realise intellectually, but it is said that for some people, the moment of actually grasping it can be terrifying, the moment when all that we have always held to be real turns out to have been illusory. Most spiritual traditions talk of the ‘dark night of the soul’ where we have to face up to uncomfortable realities, Jesus too had his 40 days and nights in the wilderness.

a4My sense is that we cannot shy away from that place of grasing the reality of our situation. To do so would be to promote denial. I don’t see helping people develop an awareness of peak oil as promoting fear. To say we are all doomed, peak oil is inevitable and you can do nothing about it, promotes fear, and then leaves people in a place where they can do nothing, promoting powerlessness and apathy.

Similarly, James Lovelock’s [recent talk about climate change](http://transitionculture.org/?p=265″Lovelock”), where he said “nothing you can do can have any effect, we are all finished”, promotes fear, and leaves no way forward. It is the same between a religious tradition which says “you WILL go to hell unless you do EXACTLY what we say”, and one which promotes self-discovery and inner awakening, even though that process may involve having to sit with some uncomfortable realisations occasionally. To say “here is a problem, this is the extent of it, but here is what we can do”, strikes me as not promoting fear at all, rather the opposite, offering a way forward through what most people feel on a deep level, to be profoundly uncertain times.

worzelIt is interesting to see what the academic literature has to say on it, as part of the paper I am preparing for my Masters, I came across one entitled “Psychological Contributions to Achieving an Ecologically Sustainable Future for Humanity” by Stuart Oskamp, which was published in the Journal of Social Issues, Vol 56, No. 3 in 2000. He writes;

>”research studies on appeals to fear have shown that they are most likely to change people’s behaviour under two conditions:

>(1) if people are aware of clear steps they can take to protect themselves and
>(2) if these steps are conveniently available …

>Unfortunately, because of the nature of environmental problems, neither of these conditions is easily met:

>* Environmental problems are large, so people feel they can do little on their own
>* Environmental problems are long term, so there are no immediate solutions

fearIn other words, with a more immediate challenge like peak oil, which can be presented in such a way (ie. an Energy Descent Plan process) that people become engaged and motivated, to use fear as an initial stimulus is OK. My sense is that we cannot shy away from helping people have what one might call their “End of Suburbia” moment. For some it is harder than others. However, once you have been there and felt that, there is really no way back. In the same way that a true insight into the nature of emptiness, or the non-existence of the ego profoundly alter what we believe to be real, obtaining that insight into the transitory nature of the world that cheap oil has made possible is an essential step. Once we can see that this fragile system only functions because we give it our support, and that, to coin the old phrase, “civilisation is only 3 meals deep”, we emerge blinking into seeing the world around us in a very different way.

scoobydooWhat is essential though is that our work as peak oil activists doesn’t stop just at taking people to that place, we have to help them through it, and then work with them to build a new culture on the other side. Helping people through that transition has been at the base of [Joanna Macy](http://www.joannamacy.net”Macey”)’s work (I’m doing a course with her this summer which I am very much looking forward to), and also in the ['Heart of Peak Oil' workshop](http://www.energybulletin.net/13964.html”EB”) that Adam Fenderson wrote about so well on Energy Bulletin the other day. There is an implicit responsibility in spreading the word about peak oil to help people through that place. While I agree with Satish that leaving people in a fearful place with no way out is counterproductive, I feel that the urgency of the situation requires new approaches, and that what is emerging from the peak oil movement is very exciting. Perhaps rather than fear, we can come to see it as facilitating people to gain insight into the ultimate illusory nature of our society to which we have developed so much attachment during our lives? While for some this insight may be fearful, ultimately it can do only good, and we should not shy away from facilitating that.

What do you think?

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25 Comments

Mark
29 Mar 11:51am

thanks for this very insightful article. Within my own social world i am very much in a minority in belief that peak oil will have serious consequences within the near future (5-20 years). This is despite the fact that many friends are well educated and well informed. I think the problem with the promotion of peak oil issues comes down two things: 1. some good common sense and 2. an ability to take a detatched and non-emotional look at the society which we live in.

Common sense is seriously lacking in our society. With the explosion of information people seem unable to see the wood for the trees. In fact it is more an explosion of answers and the inability for people to address uncertainty. Perhaps this is a sign of a decadent society, which has become inward looking. As society becomes more complex for peoples lives there seems less time for free thinking and asking of questions. There is no energy to debate and instead peoples lives revolve around materialistics and quick gratifications. I agree with you about the use of information to stire debate. It is a pity that the time has come when the debate is so urgent that stiring it shocks people into a form of common sense mentality which would actually cause a complete change in their outlook on life.

Related to this is the double think mentality of our society. People are not only unedcated in common sense but are also in self-denial. They have been indotrinated into our consumer society and the very idea of accepting change, no matter the threat, has become too mcuh a burden. Instead they will value any alternative answer, no matter how unworthy. Rather than the small adjustments to their daily life through conservation, they would wait for some major scientific breakthrough.

Zeke Putnam
29 Mar 2:10pm

I think, at this point, energy issues are an intellectual exercise. People are not ready for change. They want to think about it, talk about it, discuss it, be “pleasant” about it. Gas is still cheap, my home is still warm, more food than I need on the table, etc, etc. So most people will hear the words, get upset and go back to their lives. (A man named DiClemente did a lot of work on how people make changes in their lives. You might find it interesting reading). At this stage, people idealize the solutions. Oh, we’ll just raise food in the back yard, we’ll use ethenol to drive to the cabin, etc, etc. “My life won’t change”. So that’s what they want to hear. There’s a catastrophy coming but the change will be painless. I hear a lot of that when I read the peak oil solutions. People are filled with words. They are not at the action stage yet. The need has to be a reality. People, at this stage of the process, are frustrating as hell for those that are at the action stage already. Frankly, I think Americans are too busy feeling good spending money and not accepting any kind of limitation anywhere. We’re perfectly willing to let people die so we can continue as we are. Just don’t make me face the reality of what we’re doing. “Let’s keep the party going”. Not much is going to happen until gas is $7-8 a gallon, food is twice what it is now, I’m having trouble heating the house, etc, etc. Then reality is here and has to be here for a while. Then will come the panic, impractical solutions. We will go through a stage of trying to make change without changing. Some are at that stage now. Some that have been looking at this for a while are beyond and want something done (action). Me, I think the reality is going to hit before a lot of people are ready for it. The longer the masses are able to hide behind “pleasant” the less change will happen. I think things are going to get very messy.

Manuel Santiago
29 Mar 2:27pm

Thanks for this insightful article. I think that people are motivated by their search for comfort. Fear is not comfortable, and so, people will look into ways to abandon fear to arrive to a more comfortable zone. As people are different, they will react different: some will deny the problem, some will claim to the authorities in charge, some will take action themselves.
The problem with fear is that it doesn´t allow to measure the real size of a problem. If someone tells there is a ghost in a house, nobody will enter the house to check anything, until someone arrives with the disposition to be either scared for good or dissapointed.
Finally, I think humor is a great way to introduce issues that look problematic for our future. The truth has always been hard to handle, that’s why the human race invented humor. That’s why I like when Kunstler addresses the issue with his funny terminology like “wish upon a star mentality” or when Ken Deffeyes lectures with some funny anecdotes on how peak oil is affecting our society right now.

Richard
29 Mar 3:36pm

Lots of insight here. Thank you. One thing I’d like to add is that in my personal experience, I had to get to a place where the pain of going on the same-o same-o was worse than having to change. And I’m grateful that there were others around who had been in that same exact place as me. Today I have “healthy fears” of things that can really hurt me. And I remember what my experience was and I “keep it green” by listening to the words of someone else who is going through it now.

Question: How does this resonate with people? “We admitted we were powerless over civilization and our lives had become unmanageable.”

Jim Zack
29 Mar 3:39pm

Personally, I do not buy into the argument that we can create fear in another person. I feel that fear is but one possible reaction to the cognitive dissonance created when we hear, see, or otherwise experience information that is in conflict with our worldview. Other possible reactions are action, anger, denial/ignorance, acceptance, surrender and indifference (to name a few). Information is value-neutral and, assuming it is valid, is just what is so. When disseminating information about Peak Oil and Sustainability, my goal is to motivate people into action. Those who react to the new information with fear represent the inevitable consequence of having inflexible and unadaptable worldviews.

Our goal is to facilitate action from the seemingly small percentage who are willing to challenge and adapt their own worldviews to a new set of circumstances, continuously, and inexorably. It is inevitable that some will succumb to their own fear and fall to wayside on this march. We cannot strive for everyone’s comfort at the expense of the inertia of the status quo.

Remember Margaret Meade’s words:

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Carol Oldershaw
29 Mar 4:42pm

Awareness, Acceptance, Action.

I know no one who woke up one morning and said, “I think I’ll change my life today.

Jason Bradford
29 Mar 4:44pm

One of the barriers to dealing with fear in the among some who adhere to a “liberal, progressive” philosophy, is that some of those also hold “New Age Spirituralism” beliefs. New Agers content that thoughts can have DIRECT impacts on the material world (as opposed to indirect impacts as thoughts preceding action, such as, I will move my arm now). With this philosophy, which they tend to back by arm waving about quantum physics that they don’t understand, it becomes imperative that bad thoughts be subdued less they create the reality contained in the mind.

One way I diffuse this is by saying something like: “I am a parent with two young children. Sometimes I have nightmares about what could happen to them, such as a car accident. These are terrifying moments. Do I ignor fears I have for the safety of my children? No, I use them to ensure I act responsibly, take precautionary measures, all in proper moderation. So I don’t feel that suppressing ideas that are fearful is helpful. On the contrary, we are being responsible adults by taking a realistic stock of our situation and coming up with creative plans and actions to prevent the worst outcomes.”

Nice of you to bring this up.

DanDreadless
29 Mar 5:29pm

Rob has a raised a really important question here. There has been a lot of research done on this, not least in relation to promoting health messages and generally the answer is, no fear doesn’t motivate change. Just think about smoking – I’ve known smoking is a likely way to die horribly and young all my life, my grandad died horribly and young from smoking and I have seen health warnings for cigarettes all my life – and I smoked for over twenty years. What made me give up was a change in circumstances which helped me break habitual patterns, not the fear of a horrible death. However here’s a caveat, fear provoked by the first book (Kunstler’s) I read on peak oil did get me into the subject and motivate me to research it and promote awareness. But I think the point is here I’m an unusual audience, I already had little faith in the future, I was already open to the message – so part of the answer is ‘it depends on your audience’. But as a rule fear doesn’t work – there has been quite a lot of work commissioned by DEFRA on promoting attitudinal change to climate change and this shows some surprising results – such as even threats to the future of people’s children does not motivate them. But again, this needs a context – if you threaten the well being of people’s children in the immediate there sure as hell will be motivated – but threaten their future 40 years down the line it does not compute. The most important thing is that people are provided with a sense of agency to do something about the threat.
I very much agree that humour is a useful tool, especially when a subject is as dry as it is to the average joe as climate change and peak oil. Have you come across the comedian Rob Newman’s routine about peak oil? You can download it from his website and is I’m sure more likely to get the general public into the issue than the End of Suburbia.
Perhaps perversely I think the threat factor can have a negative effect because faced with too much information for their analytical abilities andan endless round of threats presented by the media people can come to dismiss any ‘doomday scenario’ as scare monreging and gullibility. I had an interesting example recenlty in my group of fridns – a group of us had been discussing the threat of bird flu and whether it made sense to buy tamiflu, I’d read a fair amount about it and felt I had a rational take on it, to one person present it was all news and she went away quite shaken and emailed another load of friends about the issue. So here for a start was someone motivated by fear, but only in the sense that she then had an immediate cause of action to mitigate the fear, i.e. look into buying tamiflu. However the pople she emailed hadn’t been present at the discussion and all she did was provoke fear in them, and in one case, a very angry response, which said, ‘don’t send me emails trying to scare me, you’re being gullible, ever heard of the YRK bug, or AIDS or SARS – do you really think western governments will let us all die” – now this is a very ignorant responses but it shows how fear can create anger and specifically how bomabarded by threats without narrative the average TV news watcher can come to filter out anything that smacks of ‘another dooms day scenario’ – (she could have taken ten minutes to look up the WHO website and she would have got a rather more realistic take but she didn’t).
A final thought, I very much disagree with Jim Zack’s point that fear is an inability to adapt one’s world view to circumstance, unless he is simply making a rather empty point that if we were all bodhisatvas then we wouldn’t fear anything – fear is a visceral emotion arising from our instincutal responses. When confronted by a charging bull fear is a precursor to action. Equally continual fear whilst experiencing a loss of agency to mitigate it, such as living in Baghdad, leads to mental illness and physical breakdown.

Jason Bradford
29 Mar 7:04pm

Dan makes some very good points. Fear has to be used in the proper context, and that often means giving people a sense of control over the threat. This means organization. What does a leader do AFTER raising alarm bells? Those working on the issue of social change related to Peak Oil or Climate Change should be ready to provide a structure that provides an action-oriented outlet. Otherwise, I think Dan is right, most people withdraw after a while even if initially engaged.

Don McMaster
29 Mar 8:41pm

When I talk about the Peak Oil problem to people the most common reaction is disbelief and they respond with a believe that somehow “Modern Science” will find an answer. Most of the peak oil books I have read also focus on the extreme Doomsday consequences, if this were to happen suddenly, rather than the more likely gradual evolution to a lower energy society. This creates fear disbelief and denial which is not helpful

My view is more I optimistic. The gradual replacement of the gas powered automobile with walking, Bicycles and Public transportation; the reduction in the size of houses to be heated and cooled is good thing which will improve society due to inceased social contact. An efficient way to capture solar energy will eventually ( 100 years )be found which will alow us to travel to the stars. For those who love their gas powered cars , virtual reality simulators should provide some measure of comfort.

Bob Owens
29 Mar 8:41pm

If we compare the fear factor for peak oil vs bird flu, we can see the different mechanisms clearly. Bird flu affects people directly; there is no cure; it is totally an unknown quantity; the media is broadcasting its spread around the world with every dead bird; It affects both rich and poor. Peak Oil does none of these things; its fear factor is much diluted.

How to get people to respond to peak oil? There is only ONE mechanism: rising prices.
Unfortunately that will only occur on the downhill side of the peak.

We are going to have a very bumpy road ahead.

Nate
29 Mar 10:57pm

Our motivations and how we quickly we act on them can be measured in an economic concept called a ‘discount rate’. This measures how much we value the present moment and circumstances over the future. A high discount rate means we care very little about the future (this is evident in many drug users, etc). A low discount rate means that people are considering the future into the present decisions.

After reading your interesting and valuable commentary, it struck me that in an evolutionary framework, fear competes with relative fitness for activating behavior. If everything is fine and one is safe, they will do what is best for their inclusive reproductive fitness (or, more to the point, perform those behaviors that give the right neurotransmitter mix that met with evolutionary success). If there is an immediate danger, neural algorithms take over (fight or flight) which dominate behavior ( I need to live before I can procreate and garner resources).

To me then, fear is an effective motivator if the fear impacts ones immediate circumstance – if you try and scare someone about something 20 years from now, it wont work at all. On the other hand, if you tell someone to grow onions and potatoes in their garden due to peak oil, they might not do it this summer, but they just might make some long term plans to plant a garden, because it appeals to their relative fitness algorithms.
Bottom line – steep discount rates are necessary for fear to be an effective motivator – sometimes those are appropriate – in most cases, when the danger is not immediate, relative fitness based carrots will work better to change behaviors.

Nate

Graham Strouts
29 Mar 11:00pm

Really interesting discusion touching on the more psychological and spiritual issues of the subject.
I agree with Jason Bradfords’ comments about New Age beliefs: narcissistic and childish beliefs in the power of “mind over matter” which result in the suppression of anything that might be deemed to be “negative”: but of course, although the context is important, fear is an essential evolutionary quality without which we would bnever have made it this far because we would have just allowed ourselves to be eaten by the bear or burned in the fire. The really interesting thing about this phenomenum to me- the narcissistic culture which Ken Wilber has called “Boomeritis”- is that these beliefs themselves are a result of too much energy in the system, and the availability of enourmous energy to individuals and indeed whole cultures who have no comparable emotional maturity: 80 or so energy slaves available to each of us each day has created the illusion a culture that has turned inward and runs on the ethic of “never had it so good” and “because Im worth it” etc..
Another point is the way the mainstream society uses and distorts fear: terorism- the bogey man coming to get you- is evoked as the greatest threat,or bird flu or whatever, which are individual threats which can prevent us from seeing the bigger picture.
So a little bit of fear in the right context might be a good thing- but we must offer Action Pathways as a response.

logspirit
30 Mar 3:24am

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Immobilizing fear. That’s what scares me.
Getting so white knuckled that we can’t grasp the situation.
Peak Oil is frightening. Period.
The numb excepted, if a portrayal of Peak Oil isn’t frightening, then it isn’t representing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Unfortunately, fear often leads to violence.
And the survival instinct clouds both compassionate and rational thinking.

Now the question is, and we will soon have the answer:
Whether we can face this fear in a mature, “civilized”, logical way — or not?
History is filled with horror from such failures of humanity.
Terrifying.

Yes, fear looms large in this.
Understood, now let’s get on with it.

Brad
30 Mar 8:33am

Just remember what happened to Jimmy Carter. People always welcome the bearer of good news. They are less welcoming to the bearer of bad news. Do you want to be Jimmy Carter, or Ronald Reagan? Are people ready for Carter?

Rob
30 Mar 10:22am

A great load of comments. Very helpful, thanks to one and all. Emma is currently reading Joanna Macy’s book ‘Coming Back to Life’ and just came across the following passages…

“Dangers to their survival move living things to evolve. When feedback tells them – and continues to tell them – that their old forms and behaviours have become dysfunctional, they respond by changing. They adapt to such challenges … by seeking and incorporating more appropriate norms”.

Later she writes, “to let ourselves feel anguish and disorientation as we open our awareness to global suffering is a part of our spiritual ripening. Mystics speak of the “dark night of the soul”. Brave enough to let go of accustomed assurances and allow old mental comforts and conformities to fall away, they stand naked to the unknown. They let processes which their minds could not encompass work though them. Out of darkness the new is born”.

Macy uses the term “positive disintegration” which I love.

Mark
30 Mar 12:07pm

It is interesting to that that a new spiritual movement may evolve in the west out of the implication of peak oil. I think there is a danger though that those in power are not as dim as we’d like to think and are establishing plans for fundamentalist religion which could be a tool to retain centralised control of our populations in the event of crisis.

That aside for a moment i think people need to understand that as bad as peak oil seems, it’s not the first time people’s lives have been pretty much turned upside down. As well as educating and acting on information we need to balance this with a heathly attitude which is not controlled by fear. If you want to learn to grow a vegetable garden, don’t say you are doing this out of fear you supermarket is going to close and everyone will be eating each other after 3 missed meals. Instead look at the merits of gardening and growing your own natural good quality food. If you want to learn survival skills, people have been doing this since the dawn of time, not in order to prepare for peak oil, but for the enjoyment and liberation it brings.

I intend to start trecking and camping on a regular basis hopefully with some friends whose interest is the outdoor life.

If we are only acting on fears then we are not really learning to deal with life as it is now and has always been. The changes which we need to face peak oil are positive changes and our society will be a better place for them.

Randy Park
30 Mar 1:41pm

From my experience in speaking to audiences on peak oil and the Energy Predicament, the biggest barrier is producing so much cognitive dissonance that people shut down. This is especially true with fear.
My goal (which is not the only way, or even necessarily the best way) is to get the greatest number of people aware of and talking about the issue. In my experience, that happens when people are presented the information in small factual doses, nothing too confrontational (as opposed to telling them their suburban lifestyle is over), and giving them the opportunity to mull it over and come to their own conclusions.
As a professional speaker who speaks on how people think, I believe we need more people to do their own thinking. Realistically presented, most people realise this is a serious situation, if not now, then certainly in the lifetime of their children.
In an audience of 100, is it better to have 50 people casually mention it to their friends, or 10 people who are so scared that they attend meetups, write blogs, talk to everyone they know? Personally, I don’t think it is an either/or; I see my approach as laying the groundwork. The danger might be I don’t produce enough action, which is why I give people specific steps to take.

greg greene
30 Mar 4:04pm

i am always a little surprised to read of people’s reactions to The END of SUBURBIA (rob says his students looked ill all week following the screening). i suppose because my reaction to any kind of media (especially sensational accounts of imminent doom, or promises of utopia) is skepticism… i don’t take things at face value. so iam always questioning, doubting – even our own documentary. but there is a fine line between DOUBT and DENIAL. i have no illusions that most people who see our film will go straight back into denial, rather than take what is salient for them in the film and give some thought to practical solutions. my personal hope is that with EOS, and our next documentary, ESCAPE From SUBURBIA (with a cameo appearance from Jason Bradford!), audiences will at least prepare mentally for the coming shocks. i agree with randy: get people talking! blogging! laughing! (hence the camp 50′s in EOS, and in EFS we’ll be laughing at those disco 70′s) it’s a first step. you can’t expect folks to automatically run to the nearest permaculture course (wouldn’t that be nice though..). with the new film we hope to engage people’s imaginations a bit, and show that folks just like them are getting involved at a practical level: getting into their gardens, talking to their neighbours, attending community events, thinking about their auto dependency and alternatives to it, reducing their energy use, thinking about solar panels, etc. fear and laughter – great for channeling doubt and a useful antidote to denial? comments?

Fabian
30 Mar 7:19pm

Very good questions. I have been thinking about the legitimacy of fear as an instrument of spreading ideas – my point of view: from an ethical point of view instrumentalizing fear is bad propaganda. From a personal point of view, sharing what scares the heck out of you with others is understandable. In fact, it may be the only chance we have. I have worked with a neurobiologist named Gerald Huether at the neurobiological laboratory of the University of Goettingen, Germany when I was a student. In his book “Biologie der Angst” (I don t know whether there is an english edition, but the title may be “Biology of fear” he examines the evolutionary function of neuronal plasticity under stress (fight or flight reactions)in humans versus simpler vertabrates. Humans are at the top of the food chain now because under a state of fear, their synapses get boiled soft – so to say. Which allows to change a formerly hardwired behaviour and thus to become open to new problem solving approaches. Chickens can not – they stick to the old procedure when fear comes and finally die if they cant escape.

I believe intensive fear or at least distress is the one and only trigger for a deep inner change.

Coming back to spirituality: in Zen-Buddhism, students work so hard on their seemingly unsolvable Koan-riddles until the hardwiring finally melts down and enlightenment occors (thats what i hear, i haven t had the pleasure).

Nicholas Harvey
31 Mar 6:29pm

As usual, Rob, your article is extremely interesting and thought-provoking. I recently showed a group of my Intercultural Studies students a video called ‘Learning from Ladakh’ about an amazing culture in Northern India where they have traditionally led a peaceful, happy, self sufficient and sustainable existence based primarily on agriculture. The film shows how a people can not only survive in a harsh environment, but thrive and do so with wonderful community support and joy (most of them are Buddhists).

Ladakh’s traditional ways are now under threat from globalisation and encroaching western culture and all the woes that accompany it – crime, pollution, alienation, anxiety etc. But the reaction from my students was interesting. One immediately said she wanted to go and live in the country. Another said it made her feel her (our western) culture was superficial and cheap in comparison to the Ladakhi’s. My own response when I first saw it was what many Peak Oilers understand, that we need to return to a simpler and more sustainable community-based society – something I plan to do over the next few years. The video’s contrasting of an almost idyllic rural community – full of joy, fun, compassion and wisdom with people harvesting, spinning cloth, cooking food with the filthy, miserable existence that was developing in the capital city, Leh, with its shops containing Barbie dolls and Rambo videos clearly showed where most people would like to be.

It didn’t use fear to convince anyone to change their life, but it clearly succeeded in illustrating how utterly misguided our way of life has become and how attractive the alternative is.

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Lucy Wills
2 Dec 5:18pm

I could not agree more wholeheartedly. I have had variations of this conversation with many people, and covered this topic at a seminar at last years Big Chill festival.

I’ve been thinking of how to edit it down, and you’ve pretty much done the job for me.

Here’s my response:

The media have exposed us to so many stories of horror and disaster to come – and if these don’t happen or don’t happen fast enough then we the public have learnt to ignore them.

Even worse than that, many people have just switched off completely. Knowing that others suffer or that their children may suffer form the effects of say climate change, they carry on regardless.

I do believe the tide is turning. 30,000 people at last month’s UK climate march and 10s of thousands overseas show that many people care deeply.

A few days ago I heard a talk from Dr Anderson of the Tyndall Centre speak about the energy use and supply options forward from this point.

To very very loosely summarise, we have a huge portfolio of ways of generating power, but most are inefficient or environmentally damaging. The best way to reduce the damage (and indeed to avoid the trauma of peak oil) is to begin to reduce consumption.

One of the best way to do this is to generate power locally. Come to think of it,
there’s a lot more we can do locally too, and it’s the best way to beat our oil addiction without the economy grinding to a halt.

Now how do we get the message out there?

William Lucas
11 Oct 6:18am

Hi Rob
I’ve read several Daniel Quinn books recently. They address the question of the nature of civilization as we know it very well. If you are not familiar with the author then I would really recommend that you read, say, Ishmael. Powerful, positive, paradigm changing.

rowena stone
27 Apr 9:30am

I came from transition glastonbury forum where the link to this was posted. There’s a lively discussion there about climate change- is it warming or cooling and lots of other conflicting issues and evidence.
I chose not to go to the end of suburbia screening I looked at a preview and felt I didn’t really want to go through the experience that evening even though I would have loved to be with the people.
As for fear being a motivating feeling- hm, I’m inclined to disagree. I am not familiar with Joanna Macy’s work directly though have read a lot about it.
Fear itself is worth looking at, what’s a fear of God, why does violence travel towards fear, does it pre-empt fight or flight? What has fear to do with original sin/ original good, is it the same as awe. Could we possibly celebrate our awe at finding a plan in nature beyond our current dilemmas? Could we work with that? This is not fear but an awakening.
Thing is, tempting as it might be to think that a mass awakening can be stimulated it’s a very personal thing and like water on stone it will happen for each individual in their own time. All anyone can do it to constantly BE the water on the stone that may or may not make a difference, have no fear of that.