Last week the world celebrated International Peace Day. Though peace is cherished by us all, we fail to appreciate the force that actually begets peace, i.e. fear. It may appear counter-intuitive but if fear is removed from our planet, all the hell will break loose immediately.
Fear may be an unpleasant feeling for us, but this unpleasantness is what makes fear the greatest deterrent put in place by nature to prevent conflicts from overwhelming the planet.
Fear is actually a product of our predictive judgment regarding an interaction with a fellow being. When we conclude that an interaction, if turned into a conflict, is likely to result in harm to us, brain puts a fear-marker on it.
This mechanism directly links fear with power, as a conflict with anything more powerful than us is bound to be harmful and should be feared. Brain’s constant search for self’s position in the social hierarchy is actually a product of the need of avoiding unnecessary energy expenditure through conflicts with those more powerful.
Brain’s effort to equate every action in terms of energy expenditure is central to its operative principals because any action resulting in net deficit of energy is detrimental to our overall survival. (For example, if getting hold of a food item causes greater expenditure of calories than what the food contains; it would be squandering of precious energy). So, brain is not at all judgmental about fear.
For our brain, fear is just a critical indicator of possible energy loss, so it has no problem going to any extent to follow the path of least energy expenditure based on fear’s recommendations. But, as energy conservation is the guiding principal for brain, this mechanism often leads to human behavior that appears queer.
Stockholm syndrome is a strange phenomenon first observed during a bank robbery in which people held as hostages by criminals showed sympathy for their captors to the extent that they fought against those trying to save them. One claustrophobic hostage claimed that her captor was very nice because he allowed her to step out on a leash, while remaining completely oblivious to the fact that her captor was indulging in an abominable crime.
As psychologists explored it further, such behavior was found to be very common under a specific condition, i.e. when one’s brain concludes that its survival depends on someone. If brain gets convinced of such survival-dependence, it would go to any extent to justify actions of that person. This can become so extreme that people in such mind-frames often construct absurdly improbable stories to justify acts of diabolical cruelty they are subjected to.
Initially considered a rare disorder, it is now observed to be omnipresent in human interactions. Just as Tulasidasji concluded long back, fear begets a lot of love we see around us. Women, especially in India, where their survival often depends on their men, are the most common victims and can be found in incredibly abusive relationships that they can be seen vehemently justifying.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop at personal level. Our religious and political leaders use modus operandi of first generating fear and then projecting themselves as our saviors, whereby turning us into victims of Stockholm syndrome who accept everything they do or say to be for our good.
Today, with tools of mass communication getting stronger, those keen to press the Stockholm syndrome button within each of us are in a great position to exploit this loophole of brain design at mass level. All of us need to be more vigilant in evaluating the fear-cues, or else we can end up as captives to the agendas of those spreading them.