People nurture and savor their pleasurable fear

The odds of a young healthy American catching and dying of the COVID virus are roughly 1 in 70,000 and going down. Their odds of dying of sunstroke are ten times greater. Their odds of dying in a car wreck or by suicide are a thousand times greater.

So why are many young healthy people afraid of dying of the virus? I have a theory.

It’s because fear is pleasurable. Bear with me.

Our modern lives are plushily furnished with everything we need and most of what we desire, except the stimulation for which we evolved. We no longer engage in the difficult, risky and exciting hunting, gathering, war-making, animal-fighting and harem-building for which we evolved.

Instead, we sit in cubicles, sit in rush hour traffic, sit watching sports and sit in front of predictable LED screens that display exactly what we want, no more and no less.

People are shaped like pears these days because they act like pears.

We’re bored, sometimes practically to death as we seek stimulation in food, alcohol and drugs. Only marginally more constructively, we seek stimulation in climbing rocks and skiing the double blacks. At our best, we seek stimulation in building families, careers and nations.

But that takes work. Much as people evolved to enjoy stimulation, they also evolved to avoid working. Watch primates in the wild. They’re not particularly industrious except when they’re hungry or horny.

So here we are, the smart but cursed primate that is weirdly programed to enjoy stimulation but to abhor the work that it requires.

That’s where fear comes in. Of all our emotions, the most powerful – and the most stimulating – is fear.

Moreover, fear is not just highly stimulating but is also easy to get. We can simply watch a scary movie or take a roller coaster ride. Or get hysterical about COVID killing us.

Ah, you say, but there’s no real danger in those things.

That’s the point. That’s why they’re perfect methods for stimulating fear. With safe scary things like COVID, people get all the enjoyment of fear stimulation with none of the effort required to deal with real danger.

I realize there are also other factors at work in the COVID hysteria. Some people convince themselves of a danger that’s not there because they wishfully think it will destroy politicians they hate. Others are just low information citizens who naively believe what they’re told by a sleazy media that is addicted to presenting click bait in lieu of news.

But those factors are different in that the fear they elicit is generally not sincere. It’s a fake fear that’s calculated to achieve an external goal, not a real fear that is pleasurably stimulating.

It’s better than nothing, but no substitute for the real thing.

In contrast, the pleasurable fear that people nurture and feel from the virus is the real thing. They really, truly are afraid even though their fear is not justified by the objective risk. They’re loving every minute of it, and seek not to lessen it but to increase it. Stimulation is stimulating.

My advice to these people is this: In place of stimulation manufactured in a fantasy world of scary movies, amusement park rides and COVID hysteria, get a life. Over the long run, it’s more satisfying.

But be warned. Although a real life will produce real stimulation through real fear, real risk and real achievement, it will require real work.


13 thoughts on “People nurture and savor their pleasurable fear

  1. Glenn,
    Get a life? Describe what that would look like. Maybe a person who knows where he came from, why he is here and where he is going doesn’t live in fear? Maybe getting all the gusto you can with rock climbing, double blacks and bungie jumping is an effort to get a life but when the thrill is over, there is still the fear of extinction if your don’t know the above three? Meaning, what is life all about is the underlying question, maybe not identified or articulated but still the source of uneasyness that tries to dull the gnawing with double blacks. The instruction book that contains 1,200 pages of where we came from, why we are here and hope for the end is sitting on the shelf of most of those who are climbing rocks up Rifle Creek. The Bible has the answers to the uneasyness of being adrift.
    Bob Cross

    • A 16th-century hymn put it this way:
      “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.
      The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still.”

      And then there’s Matthew 10:28 — Fear only him who can kill both body AND SOUL in hell. (My emphasis)

  2. timeless reality in which we reside, when journalists provide empirical data…mathematical reality….thanks Glenn for crunching the numbers….

  3. Anyone who’s watched a kid on a skateboard knows the truth of what you’re saying. Now, asking this kamikaze wannabe to wear a mask and “social distance” seems just a tad incongruous.

  4. This soft, incurious sub-generation who covet their participation trophies will soon be patting themselves on the back and sporting “I survived Covid19” T shirts.

  5. Not to criticize your others, but I find this one of your more insightful articles regarding human behavior. Well done, Glen.

  6. Pingback: USAdroit

  7. Glen – This is terrific! Your wit is exceeded only by your wisdom. Keep up the good work.
    A big fan in Texas,

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