Veritasphobia (Fear of Truth)
Fear is an emotional state produced in human beings and other animals to watch for real or anticipated dangers. An animal that reacts to danger or even potential danger and escapes lives and reproduces. Selection favored such mechanisms to be heightened in situations of danger of predation, of starvation of accidental death and so on. But an animal that is exceptionally fearful is also disadvantaged because it can avoid going out to find food or a better shelter or a mate. Fear is a double edged sword; useful in moderation especially when accompanied by logical thinking based on real phenomena and harmful in certain situations. Psychologists call the latter phenomenon of excessive fear as phobia.
Phobia can lead to extreme behaviors or to hiding in ourselves and not taking any risks (risk taking is needed for progress). There are actually hundreds of named phobias ranging from Ablutophobia (irrational fear of washing or bathing) to Zoophobia (fear of animals). All humans are afraid of something or another but perhaps a significant proportion of humans are suffering from pathological phobias that impair or result in self damage or damage to others. I wrote in my 2004 book “Sharing the Land of Canaan” about role of fear in political discourse:
Fear is the most powerful tool ever used by governments. Fear caused good Germans to support the Nazis in 1934 and surrender their liberties for supposed protection from “terrorism” and domination by the communists who some capitalists believed at the time to be dominated by “Jewish elements.” It causes many good Jews to support Israeli atrocities and it caused good Americans, Canadians and British today to support limiting civil liberties, engaging in profiling and other acts that are of undemocratic nature. Fear is the most potent political propaganda because it destroys all rational capacity for logical thought.
While invading other countries, the Nazi government always argued they were defending Germany from others and not fighting a war of aggression. They often claimed that they were “invited” by allies or fighting “defensive” wars. The Blitzkrieg by Israel on Arab countries in 1967 was also thought of as a “defensive war” and “preemptive” in nature. Many Americans also were duped to think that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an aggression but rather an action taken in self-defense. Even though American troops have bombed over 30 countries since 1946 and American troops and “advisers” are now stationed in over 140 countries, many still believe that we are defending “our freedom.” Yet, not one Iraqi, Korean, Nicaraguan, Vietnamese, Dominican, Grenadan, Panamanian, or Lebanese troops has ever set foot on United States soil. In each case, fear spread by those in power led the population of the aggressor nations to accept the absurd propaganda of their governments and to acquiesce in the victimization of other people.
The esteemed psychologist Dr. William Sargant argued that governments use fear to create temporary impaired judgment and heightened individual and mass suggestibility creating a “herd instinct” most noticeable during times of conflict (William Sargant, Battle of the Mind: a Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing, Cambridge: Malor Books, 1957, 255 pp.). A good example of this psychological effect is the public sentiments in the crisis atmosphere following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. It is now well documented how the administration in Washington used this atmosphere of fear to promote its own agenda of hegemony and control ranging from the so-called PATRIOT act to the invasion of Iraq.
But upon further reflections in the past 11 years since I wrote TAT, I now think fear is not only a tool of the politicians but that politicians are the worst victims of a particular kind of phobia. Most of them know the truth but are deathly afraid of it and so choose the path of lies. I believe the main reason is that they worry that acknowledging truth can be a first step to working to correct things and this could jeopardize the status quo which includes their position, their wealth, their popularity or some other thing that they cherish (other than their conscience which is suppressed). Zionist politicians are paranoid when it comes to the truth of Zionist history of racism of ethnic cleansing and of massive violation of Palestinian human rights. They are afraid of the truth that Zionism based on lies is unsustainable and that coexist ace and equality are possible. Many Palestinian politicians are paranoid when it comes to the truth of their own corruption, nepotism, collusion with Zionism (see Oslo accords) and hidden racist thoughts about the other. Hamas politicians are deathly afraid of Fatah politicians and vice versa.
But this is also true of us common lay people. Phobias suppress our strong desire to shout out the truth, to challenge injustice, to speak our minds fully, to be rebellious, to not worry about being ridiculed. Ironically in our heart of hearts, mind of minds we know that all excellence emerges from defeating this phobia of the truth. The list of >530 phobias compiled and listed at phobialist.com misses that one so shall we call it veritasphobia or VP for short (Veritas is latin for truth)! Acknowledging the truth that it is possible to let go of our egos, try new things, and love others seems a Utopian dream. But those who suffer from VP also ignore history. After all, it was those who conquered their VP who shaped all positive events in human history from ending slavery to women rights, to civil rights, to human rights. History of progressive humanity is a history of conquering VP by few dedicated individuals.
20th century “heroes” like Helen Keller, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Nelson Mandela, Ghassan Kanafani, Rosa Parks, and thousands of others follow those who in earlier centuries were called “prophets”. They are common people who shed their VP and thus achieved remarkable things. I actually think those who do not do that, are also afraid of proving themselves wrong: i.e. that if they shed their VP, they could accomplish more in their lives than they ever dreamed possible. They are afraid that embarking on a risky road more afraid of potential success than of potential failure! But that is why most people (including most politicians) live mediocre lives risking little and achieving little. [note: I do not consider getting wealth as achieving much unless it is totally dedicated to serving people].
Where are the 21st century heroes and prophets who overcame their Veritasphobia? I did cite some of those from Palestine in my 2012 book “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment”. But looking for those is only inspiring and they are a minority and we need more of them. Each of us (our politicians included) can and should look in the mirror and say “what about me?”
Mazin Qumsiyeh is author of Sharing the Land of Canaan and Popular Resistance in Palestine. He is a professor at Bethlehem University and director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History.
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