Fear Is A Mind Hack

(Originally published March 16, 2020)

Humans are not naturally stupid. They are not naturally bad. Fear, however, distorts them, weakens them, and makes them far less effective than they’d naturally be. Fear, in its many guises, is the great enemy of mankind, and it’s time that we addressed it head on.

Fear is useful (even if unpleasant) when encountering an angry bear. But it is strongly degrading to both our bodies and our minds when we imagine a bear around every corner.

To state our problem simply, fear makes humans very easy to hack. When someone tries to make you afraid, they are abusing you; they are hacking you; they are grabbing your inner workings and turning them toward their own ends.

Intimidation is a hack, shame is a hack, a threat is a hack, confusion is a hack, insecurity is a hack, authority is a hack. All of these are tools for applying your life and energy to someone else’s purpose. Whoever uses them strikes at your reason, your enthusiasm, and more or less all the better forces within you.

We can be far more than we have been, but not until we defeat fear, which is a direct attack on the human psyche.

The Depth of the Problem

Please take a look at the two cards at the top of this post and decide which line on the right is the same length as the line on the left.

Obviously, the correct answer is C. A is shorter and B is longer.

However, a psychologist named Solomon Asch ran a group of experiments with these images, and found that 37% of his subjects were willing to say C was not the right answer if other people said so first. If this pressure was applied more than once, 75% gave in at least some of the time.

In the control group, with no pressure to conform, the error rate was less than 1%.

In other words, the problem of fear is so large that three quarters of us are willing to deny reality in the face of a possible threat. And I think that all of us have felt the fear of non-conformity well enough to understand these results.

This problem, then, is serious.

Resisting It

The first step in countering fear is to recognize it. That sounds simple, but often it isn’t. We develop emotional inertia in these areas, and after uncritically allowing fear to sway our minds hundreds of times, changing the habit requires persistence.

Fear being imposed upon you is not okay. The honest way to get another person to do something is to convince them. To use fear is to use a kind of force. Not only is it hacking, it’s thuggery. And again, it is not okay, no matter who does it to you.

Once you recognize that an attack is being made upon you, all you have to do is think about it rationally for a moment, formulate an appropriate response, and then act. At first your actions may be less than perfect, but once you are acting against fear, rather than accepting it, things will begin to change.

I think this quote from the film Defending Your Life paints a nice picture of our current situation:

Fear is like a giant fog. It sits on your brain and blocks everything – real feelings, true happiness, real joy. They can’t get through that fog. But you lift it, and buddy, you’re in for the ride of your life.

In Conclusion…

My message today is very simple: We’ve been maliciously and habitually hacked, and it’s time to start resisting. Fear is the enemy.

Fear,” wrote Frank Herbert in Dune, “is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” We don’t have to let this death into our lives. We can notice it and turn against it.


Paul Rosenberg