(Re-post of an item written in June 2007)

The mind offers protectionism against our fears, but this can sometimes lead to stagnation. It’s not a voluntary act, but more a learned experience. The government is an expert at this art. The information security community leverages it to impose their will on the masses. They even have a term for it: FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

But better than any social experiment, our mind is a master of illusion and perception augmentation. We can see this easily in the movies we watch. Anyone watching a scary movie knows the point at which fear enters the picture. The camera closes in on a character leaving the viewer unable to see anything but their face. This triggers a reaction in the viewers mind about the infinite number of things that could befall this character. Out mind is almost trained to enumerate the fearful possibilities and recite them to ourselves.

Left unchecked, this fear can be debilitating. In its best forms we call it complacency and in its worst we call it insanity. So we build structures against such fear. We arm ourselves with weapons such as hope, faith, and through the lives of our heroes. Some religious groups will literally say they are “putting on the full armor or god” in order to do battle with the devil, for which fear is a material or mental manifestation.

One of these protective structures is permanence. We believe… we must believe that some things are permanent, even if just in the short term. We believe that we will live past tomorrow, or else people would do erratic things and chaos would ensue. We believe that we will grow old, or else we would never prepare for something we call ‘retirement’. We believe that strangers on the street will not randomly attack us, or else we would quickly become a society of roaming fear mongers. Society works because fear is contained and fed to us in only small and predictable doses. Fear can sometimes even make one feel safe and provide a central theme to unite a group of people.

What would happen if there was ever a loss of our beliefs or a fracture of the permanence that we so carefully rely on? Some might argue that chaos would follow and thus the argument for keeping people feeling safe and secure. But what about those things that cannot be controlled? The smaller things, that based on their very nature, no government or society can contain?

Things like a relationship break up, death in the family, divorce, pain, solitude, shame? The list goes on and on. These are things that cannot be controlled and thus cannot offer permanence. These are the things that Reinhold Niebuhr thought of when he wrote the Serenity Prayer.

accept the things I cannot change,
have courage to change the things I can
and have the wisdom to know the difference

I couple this with the quote from Fight Club that says, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Fear exists within us all and it’s only when you free yourself of it that you can ever accomplish the things you imagine and desire. It’s only after you know, not just acknowledge, that some day things will change. You will no longer like chocolate, you will want children, you will learn that you always wanted to be something you were not, and then you will die.

It’s only after we confront our fears and take action that we can ever move beyond our current state of mind. It’s only after we step out into the abyss with our eyes wide open that we can ever evolve into something more than we currently are.

Oscar Levant is quoted as saying “there is a fine line between genius and insanity.” I do not believe this means that genius is close to insanity, but that insanity can remove the barriers in ones mind and enable them to see beyond their current static form and imagine the impossible.

My favorite quote is that “nothing is impossible, the impossible just takes longer.” To say this and believe it is one step closer to deweaponizing permanence, and for me one step closer towards happiness.