Fear, Shame And Intimidation Are Chemical Weapons

Imagine that some combination of circumstances end with you walking into a so-so bar, then accidentally causing some gigantic brute to spill his drink. Imagine also that this brute just learned that his girlfriend moved out, taking his bank account with her.

Imagine that some combination of circumstances end with you walking into a so-so bar, then accidentally causing some gigantic brute to spill his drink. Imagine also that this brute just learned that his girlfriend moved out, taking his bank account with her.

The brute, towering over you, clenches his fists and start spewing horrifying threats. Your knees go weak, you can barely think or move… you try to back up but do it so clumsily that you’re grasping the edge of the bar to prevent yourself from falling.

The brute hasn’t touched you, but you’ve already been seriously impacted. This happened because of well-known and well-studied chemicals. So, then, was fear not a type of chemical weapon? (It was, in fact, the bully’s first blow.)

Yes, the chemicals in question were generated by your own body, but they are chemicals just the same, and the actions of the brute were the cause of their release.

Fear, then, is clearly a chemical weapon. So are intimidation and shame. As are their cousins, guilt, blame, and probably a few others, depending upon how we write our definitions.

Robert Sapolsky studied the chemicals involved (he studied baboons, but their body chemistry and ours is nearly the same), finding that these “chemical weapons” resulted in more stress, higher blood pressure, a suppressed immune system, and reduced fertility. We must, then, consider these very potent weapons.

Consider these three cases, please:

  • Solomon Asch found that about 37% of people were willing to say something they knew to be untrue if they saw other people saying so first. (Fearing their shame.) 75% would go along at least some of the time.

  • Stanley Milgram found that 65% of people would obey an authority figure (an imposer of shame) and deliver electric shocks to another person, even to levels that would be fatal.

  • Philip Zimbardo found that placing people into polarized groups (ramping up their subjection to intimidation) voided their personal ethics.

Our Unfortunate Biology

For both better and worse, we have a biological history. On one hand, that biological history has kept our species present and thriving, and so our complaints, however legitimate, are mitigated. On the other hand, however, our hormones, after who knows how many generations, have been trained to respond to things like authority and group identity. As a result they can release some very unpleasant and harmful chemicals into our bodies at certain times… times that the manipulators of mankind have learned to use.

Our hormonal responses are not indelible, nor are they necessarily overwhelming, but they do have their effects… and poisonous effects. By triggering fear, shame or intimidation (and the boundaries between all these can be fuzzy), our hormones are triggered as well. And these hormones do more than just spur some of our thoughts and actions, they directly damage our health.

And, by the way, people display higher IQs and do far better in executive control tests when they are feeling less rather than more intimidated.

Western Guilt

We Westerners are especially susceptible to some of these influences because of our cultural traditions((Bear in mind, please, that this is not a slam on Western civilization. As I’ve noted before and will note again, Western civilization has been the most humane and forward-moving civilization in recorded history. That notwithstanding, it has its gaps and weaknesses, as have all human civilizations.)). The particular characteristics of this culture leave it vulnerable to guilt. As a result, we’ve developed political classes that are devoted to finding fault, assigning blame, and then offering paths to absolution that suit their selfish goals.

In other words, our civilization has been attacked with the chemical weapons of intimidation and shame, purposely and very effectively.

Blame, of course, is a method of assigning shame. Political types, especially – and very definitely authority types – thrive upon assigning shame. It has worked for them, time after time after time.

Nonetheless, our hormones, however long trained, can be managed. Prize fighters, football players and other repeated participants in violent activities learn how to manage those chemical attacks.

And so, we who are subjected to endless chemical attacks both large and small (even ads that make you feel insufficient qualify)… we are also able to manage our responses.

We must train ourselves to not respond to guilt.

We can consider facts, then repair and improve our actions if they are truly harmful, but merely feeling these weaponized chemicals is not to be taken as any sort of verdict. It may, in fact, be a hijacking of our internal chemistry, by and for professional abusers.

In point of fact, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year, precisely to take advantage of our biological history. And so I say again, we must train ourselves not to be moved by those chemical weapons… and particularly not to respond to guilt. 


If you want a deeper understanding of these issues, see:

          FMP issue #38

          FMP issue #100

          Parallel Society #2

          The Breaking Dawn

Paul Rosenberg

A Saturday Night at Starbucks

StarbucksAn unusual set of family events found me sitting in a Starbucks last Saturday night. It had been a reasonably decent day, but there are, as we all know, plenty of things in this world to be depressed about. And those things, as we also know, are massively amplified by the attention-seeking class. (Bad news sells.) Somehow, the parade of negativity had its effect on me.

Sitting in the Starbucks cured me.

What I Saw

It was a very average Starbucks in a very average location. And the very average people sitting with me were a near-perfect cross-section of the American demographic.

To my left was a middle-aged black man, doing something on his laptop. Just past him was a middle-aged white woman doing the same. Past her, in the corner, were three teenage girls – one black, one white, one Latin – studying something together.

Behind me was another black man with a laptop and piles of papers, and past him was a young couple falling in love over lattes.

At the big center table was a 25ish woman, with multiple piles of paper upon which she was working very hard. After a while, her boyfriend showed up. She hugged him, laid her head on his shoulder, and they kissed. It was sweet. Then he got to work with her.

There were also people coming and going. They were more of the same: A cross-sectional American parade of people behaving quietly and well.

This is the larger part of human life – the life that you don’t see on the news. And they reminded me that all is not dark, no matter how much darkness we see on television and streaming across the Internet.

This is the part of human life that we should be giving our attention to. Watching them, I decided that it would be far better to spend time helping these people than to obsess on all the bad things in the world. These people deserve our efforts.

What Would Help the Bright Side of Humanity?

That, of course, brought me to the question of how to help the bright side of humanity, and I decided that a great start would be to make one point very clearly:

Fear is a brain hack, a malicious and effective brain hack.

When people want to get their hands on your time and money – and don’t want to be bothered with that pesky ‘reason’ thing – fear is how they do it… over and over and over. Fear works.

So, if we want to move the brighter side of humanity forward, the first thing we need to do is to inform them that fear is their greatest enemy. They need to understand – and remember – that when someone tries to make them afraid, they are being hacked.

Second, we need to assure the brighter side of humanity that their way is right… that they have every right to live their way and not abandon their values to screaming political hucksters.

Power-seekers have always been with us, and they can succeed only by getting frightened people to line up behind them. But in order to line up with the fright-sellers, you have to absorb their slogans, respond to their fears, and take their rationalizations into your mind. And that is a mistake.

The problem is that the fright-seller’s ideas are nearly all inferior ideas. They serve dominance, power, and the inertia of archaic models of lordship. They do not serve human advancement.

The people I saw in the Starbucks held a different and better set of ideals. They believed that all people should be treated with respect and politeness; that coercion, theft, and fraud are wrong; and that everyone should be left alone to do what they want, so long as they don’t intrude upon others.

This decent side of humanity needs to know that their ideals should never be pushed aside for the sake of some political cause, no matter how Earth-shakingly urgent it is made to seem.

Let me make this very, very clear:

The people I saw in the Starbucks were morally superior to the powerful and the fear-peddlers.

Such people should understand that they are right to hold to their own values, to hold to their own lines of reason, to believe in their own virtues.

And Once They Do?

Once people of the type I saw in the Starbucks start believing in themselves, the world changes, and massively.

These people, you see – and there are untold millions of them – are productive and cooperative. Their problem is that they’ve been laying aside their virtues at the insistence of a fear-peddling overlord class. We are, as I seem to be saying frequently, living under bronze-age rulership. It no longer suits us, if indeed it ever did. And it is holding us back.

The people in the Starbucks don’t need edicts from an emperor or a priest-king… and they don’t need politicians doing the same thing under the guise of “the will of the people.”

Once the millions of “Starbucks people” decide that all the fear and overlordship were contrary to life itself, they will move into a better age. Any such transition is difficult, of course, but once these people truly believe in their own ways, the ways of the fear-peddlers will pass away.

May it be soon.

Paul Rosenberg