On 19 February 2020 buses carrying 72 coronavirus evacuees were pelted with rocks in the village of Novi Sanzhary, Ukraine. Villagers clashed with riot police for several hours before the evacuees—none of whom had tested positive—reached the sanatorium where they are now quarantined.
In Britain, several Chinese people have reported being targeted with racist abuse over the virus. Dr Michael Ng, chair of the Chinese Association of Southampton, said the hostility against the Chinese community was the worst he had seen.
In Hanau, Germany, 43-year-old Tobias Rathjen killed nine immigrants before apparently shooting his mother and himself. Rathjen had a history of abusing German ethnic minorities online.
And that is the news.
The common denominator in these incidents is fear—specifically survival fear. Climate change, population growth, immigration and economic uncertainty can all make us feel threatened—perhaps just our economic wellbeing, or we may literally fear for our lives.
Yet these are abstract enemies. We can rail against economic uncertainty all we like; it’s not until we start engaging with economic certainties (e.g. the 92% fall in Chinese car sales due to coronavirus) that our survival fears actualise.
For all of the rioting villagers, the anti-Chinese abusers and for Tobias Rathjen, the targets of their discrimination personalised their survival fears. Made them real. Rathjen’s indiscriminate loathing narrowed in on the Midnight shisha bar in Hanau’s city centre, then the Arena Bar & Café. People hid under tables when the shooting started. When it had finished, nine very specific individuals lay dead.
How could these nine people have possibly threatened Rathjen’s survival? What did he have to fear from them?
Zig Ziglar wrote: “Fear has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise’. The choice is yours.” (In the case of the Ukrainian villagers, it’s ‘Forget Everything And Riot’.)
Ziglar’s choice of ‘Forget Everything’ is revealing. When our fears kick in, mental control shifts from conscious to unconscious programming. When survival fears are triggered, thinking narrows to ‘us versus them’ and, finally, ‘me versus you’.
When someone or something personalises our survival fears we act decisively, unilaterally, irreversibly. Sometimes the act is the result of long deliberation (like Elliot Rodger’s long-planned killing spree in Santa Barbara in 2014); at others—like the abuse directed at Britain’s Chinese community during the coronavirus outbreak—it’s an instinctive reaction to a random event.
These survival fears are part of the legacy of patriarchal programming that forms the bedrock of our collective psyche. Drought in prehistoric times caused famine, which turned egalitarian hunter-gatherers into nomadic warrior tribes fighting for food and water sources: us versus them, me versus you.
This shift, described by psychology lecturer Steve Taylor in The Fall as “the main event in human history,” created the psychological template for conquest-driven civilization—from Babylon to Rome to Genghis Khan, to European colonial dominions and today’s global financial empires.
Incidents of personalised survival fears triggering far-reaching events litter our news feeds on a daily basis. Survival fears are crippling modern society.
The question is not whether we have survival fears; it is do we have enough emotional cohesion to remain stable in alarming situations?
The question is not whether we have survival fears; it is do we have enough emotional cohesion to remain stable in alarming situations? As climate change, population and economic issues become more unpredictable, we’re all under pressure—and we all have our tipping point.
As Zig Ziglar observes, we have the choice to ‘forget everything’—to fall prey to ancestral, patriarchal survival fears—or to ‘face everything and rise’ by proactively recognising and releasing our unconscious fears.