There is no fear as powerful, as terrifying, as crippling, or as mind-shattering, as the fear of the unknown. It is this potential abject terror that fuels the nightmares of most of humanity. Authors who write in the horror/macabre fiction categories often play on that fear of the unknown (myself included) to elicit the scariest parts of our work.
Movies do much the same, often lulling viewers into a false sense of security first (such as a corner with nothing around it) only to have some creature of the night leap out and attack afterward. It is this innate fear, driven by our survival instincts and our fight or flight responses, which both help us and hinders us in various ways. The fear of the unknown keeps us sharp and alert when we genuinely need it, but it can truly hinder us and fuel the worst parts of us imaginable when we truly do not.
Conspiracy theories are an excellent example of this, whereas a large secret cabal of the powerful and wealthy rule over everything and everyone to mask a sinister agenda. This has been used to promote antisemitism, and white supremacy; it has led to wanton death, murders, genocide, dehumanization, and demonization of entire groups of people. The members of these secret all-powerful groups are unknown, so conspiracy theorists speculate from a cadre of musicians, filmmakers, businessmen and women, and just about anyone doing well.
The fear of the unknown within that conspiracy theory comes from not knowing the people involved, the group(s), their whereabouts, what they’re doing, etc… it makes for a constant state of heightened fear. The “fourteen words,” used throughout white supremacist organizations is another example, “We must secure the existence of our race, and a future for white children.” The phrase is purposely left ambiguous… protect our race from who or what, and what threatens a future for “white children?”
You can demonize anyone if you claim they have an “Evil,” agenda, but leave that agenda somewhat ambiguous and open-ended, thus fear of the unknown is initiated. Remember the monster in your closet or underneath your bed that you knew was there but couldn’t see, remember the horror you felt as a child, that you’d avoid leaving the closet door open or having a body part sticking out from your blanket? That is the fear of the unknown!
Even the fear of the dark can be attributed to the fear of the unknown because if you can’t see clearly, you didn’t know if someone of something lurked in the darkness. As an adult, the fear of failure is also partially attributed to the fear of the unknown, as so many people go through life, not doing the things they want to because they fear failure, but do they know they will fail? How many times have you heard, “So and so is afraid to ask that person out on a date,” but do they know they will be rejected? Is it the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, or is it the fear of the unknown, what worse possible scenario they’ve played out in their mind, that holds them back?
Many individuals go through life crippled in irrational fears, many of which return to the fear of the unknown, which on a deeper level is often associated with the fear of death and or suffering for themselves or others. To understand fear, you have to understand where that fear stems from, the roots of fear if you will, and to understand that, you have to have a lesser fear of the unknown. Lessening one’s fears of what lies beneath the surface, what potentiality for destruction both figuratively and literally lies behind the shadowed veil of the unknown, becomes empowering.
There would be a lot less human suffering in the world today if people weren’t afraid of what they do not know or understand. To do this, however, means admitting to holding onto that fear, admitting to some semblance of ignorance and the possibility of being wrong. Do you still fear the boogieman in your closet or under your bed today, no, of course not, that’s just silly right to you today right? The same can be said about many fears, especially the fear of the unknown because once the unknown is known, all of that fear and ignorance vanishes.
In any instance of fearing the unknown, try not to think of the worst-case scenario, instead think of the positives which could happen if you braved your fears. Many let their fears control them and their lives are unfulfilling, thereby in essence dying at a young age and merely going through the motions of life. Fear of the unknown can end your life faster than a bullet, but just as how you learned the Boogieman isn’t real by looking under your bed or in the closet, you can objectively look at what it is you fear and overcome it. You owe it to yourself, and to others…