On Self-Censorship and Taking the Easy Way Out

suicide of the west

The other day while idly scrolling through my Facebook news feed I came across a post by a (fortunately not close) English acquaintance of mine reacting with anger to the latest Charlie Hebdo cover and calling for it to be “shut down” on the grounds that offending people’s religion is not free speech. This was a person living in a liberal society openly calling for one of the most fundamental freedoms of that society to be curtailed. While this person lacked the sophistication to cloak this sentiment in euphemism, it is disturbing how widespread these views are.

As the dust has settled over the last few weeks many have, astonishingly, sought to shift the responsibility for preventing future acts of terror, onto the very free press that was attacked. The more enlightened critics suggest that, while Charlie Hebdo undoubtedly had the ‘right’ to publish offensive material, it was ‘unkind’ to do so and alienates peaceable Muslims who we need to keep on the side of pluralism and democracy. I fear this gives ordinary Muslims far too little credit. The implication is that Muslims, however moderate, are all potential terrorists teetering on the brink of extremism, ready to be pushed over the edge if their feelings are hurt too much. We do not treat Catholics or Hindus, who take their religion just as seriously, this way so I see no reason why an exception should be made in this case. I have a Christian friend who was offended by Charlie Hebdo’s homoerotic portrayal of the Holy Trinity but this offence led to nothing more than him expressing it during a conversation about the content of the publication, it did not shake his faith nor inspire him to rail against free speech, though I doubt he will be buying a subscription. Muslims who are strong and committed in their faith have no justifiable reason to turn against the societies they live in on the basis of the free press exercising their right to criticise, and their responsibility to print newsworthy stories and images.

But perhaps I am being an idealist. It is possible to make a consequentialist argument here: that while Muslims should ideally not be pushed towards extremism by having their religion mocked, it happens anyway so doing so, whether we like it or not, is essentially stirring up trouble and not conducive to living in a peaceable pluralistic society.

But the state of affairs this results in is not pluralism, it is in fact totally counter-productive to that project. It is the decision to self-censor, based on the fear of an apparently hypersensitive and volatile minority. It seems obvious that this sentiment, once again, insults ordinary Muslims, infantilising them by assuming their inability to weather offence non-violently. We are told time and time again that it is intolerant and bigoted to question the loyalty of Muslims in Western society, to expect them to make their position clear that they do not condone such acts of terror is to suspiciously implicate them based on their faith, to assume guilt until innocence is demonstrated. I happen to agree but the corollary must be that we do not make contingency concessions just in case that trust is misplaced.

But, even more dangerously, it also empowers the extremists by appointing them the representatives of the community and the arbiters of the (now-no-longer-free) press. It sets a dangerous precedent that we are ready and willing to retreat on our principles and that violence and intimidation are a valid means of affecting policy-change. We had a taste of this during the debacle over the Danish cartoons when a number of publications and media outlets refused to reprint what was by then a highly newsworthy image for fear that they would be “inciting violence” (exact words) – taking responsibility in advance for acts of violence against themselves, an extraordinary victory for the habitual offence-seekers who will always find something to be angry about.

But what is so noble about the actions of Charlie Hebdo and the publications that republished their cartoons? Do they not play into the hands of rising right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere? What about the hypocrisy of the politicians marching in solidarity with the principle of “free speech” when they do not apply the principle consistently in their own societies? All these non-sequiturs have been thrown around in the last few weeks with the sinister effect that the term “free speech” is increasingly written in those tell-tale inverted commas. You’ve seen them before. The ones we use to imply the condescending eye-rolling sarcasm we reserve for political hypocrisy or embarrassing jingoism, for terms like “war on terror” and “freedom fries”.

Are politicians hypocrites? Very often, yes. Will the far-right try and take advantage of recent events? Like any political movement, of course they will. But these are arguments of babies and bathwater. The answer to these problems is not to abandon free speech to the dustbin of rhetorical clutter.

Back in 2012, during a debate on the motion “Free Speech must include the right to offend” the American journalist and author, Philip Gourevitch, speaking for the motion, expressed the challenge we now face rather well:

“It is not a slippery slope; it is a greased precipice off which they wish to push you”

Featured Image Credit: The Death of Socrates (1787) by Jacques-Louis David. Source: WikiCommons

The Jihadist Enemy, Some Western Myths

islamicisation of europe cultural marxism

After the depraved attack on French civil society yesterday, I knew that I wanted to react in print, but it took me some time to gather my thoughts, and there is little I can say about the attacks themselves that hasn’t already been better expressed by the extraordinarily touching displays of solidarity from ordinary people across the world.

The West does very well when it comes to showing solidarity with victims and upholding democratic values such as, in this case (and most cases as it is expansionist theocracy’s most hated concept), free speech, but I fear Western civil societies are less sure of themselves when it comes to facing up to a real threat.

As such, I thought I would take this opportunity to debunk some persistent myths in the West about militant Islam:

Islamism is not a liberation theology: In the West, Islamism has quite successfully managed to pose as a sort of interest group representing an oppressed minority deserving of our protection and sympathy, subject as they are to prejudice, racism (taking advantage of the all-too-common fallacy of conflating of race and religion) and the injustices of globalisation and neoliberal capitalism. The branding of the movement as a kind of anti-capitalist rebellion has allowed mendacious frauds like George Galloway to jump on the bandwagon which, as Nick Cohen points out in his Book What’s Left, creates a baffling alliance between the left and the openly fascistic ideology of Islamism. The corollary to this, of course, is that it cultivates an impression among liberals that resistance to this fundamentalism and concern about Islamic influence in society is reactionary, right-wing and intolerant.

Further, I have had to have quite a few ridiculous arguments with liberal Westerners who are under the impression that the rise of militant Islam is our fault for our interference in the affairs of “Muslim countries” (surrendering their argument on a liberal basis from the outset by denominating territory on the grounds of religion). These are the sort of people who, when an embassy is burned in Libya or the diplomatic immunity of Denmark is violated, will smugly post snide comments about American imperialism on Twitter tagging “#blowback”. Of course there is historicity to the rise of these groups, but it is a non-sequitur to take the attitude that, as a result of our history we should roll over and give in to these thugs, if anything it redoubles our responsibility to stand firm against this threat. It also embodies a remarkably abject and negative attitude to the free speech they are employing in making these kind of statements, suggesting the these hard-won freedoms we enjoy are not worth defending or, worse, are not universal at least in potential.

Islamism is not some kind of wistful sigh of the oppressed; it is the most reactionary ideology in existence in the world today. It is not a result of poverty and disempowerment; it is the cause of them, it thrives on ignorance, prejudice and hatred. It actively proclaims that it loves death as we “Kuffar” love life – it must be destroyed if the love of life and freedom is to prevail over this foul death-cult.

Appeasement is not the solution: There are those who, as I already mentioned, suggest that the problem is the behaviour of Western civilisation and that the rise of Islamic terrorism is a “response” to our chequered colonial history and, as such, that the answer is to build bridges and make an effort not to upset these people. It has been quite common over the last decade that, when someone in the media criticises Islam as a religion or makes a comment on the roots of Islamism in Muslim society, the response is something along the lines of “you have just offended 1.8 billion Muslims” or “I wouldn’t advise going to war with a billion people”. Not only does this kind of statement make the elementary error of allowing the censorious or fundamentalist elements to speak for the global Muslim population (a far more offensive implication than a critique of religious doctrine), it also contains an implicit threat and an element of emotional blackmail. I would defend the right of someone to hold a worldview if there was only one of them, but the population statistic is clearly intended as a scaremongering tactic. This is the kind of attitude that cultivates the impulse to appease and capitulate. Furthermore, if all of those 1.8 billion were hateful bomb-wielding extremists (an absurd hypothesis), it would mean that even greater efforts were required to defeat them, because the alternative is not worth consideration. If you think the answer is to accommodate these people, then you better be aware of what kind of compromises will be necessary – their goal is the establishment of a global theocracy based on the most reactionary and fascist ideas. The only form of appeasement acceptable to these people would be cultural suicide on a grand scale, total capitulation and the surrender of everything that makes our civilisation a better place to live in than the squalid desert fiefdoms they are carving out for themselves.

Islamism is not a trivial threat: Immediately after the September 11 attacks we seemed pretty clear on the gravity of the situation and the savage determination of the enemy we faced. But in the years that followed, particularly after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it has become rather unfashionable to admit that terrorism poses an existential threat. I believe this is a side-effect of liberal embarrassment about Western foreign policy – if, in a middle-class London wine bar, you raise the subject of Jihadist terrorism and the need to defeat it, expect to be greeted with rolled eyes and an accusation that you sound like George Bush or some other such casuistry. How have we, as a society, become more afraid of being compared to Dick Cheney than of being blown up or slaughtered in the streets of our own cities?

Whether or not that is the reason for this attitude, there is a hesitancy to see terrorist attacks as an overarching and building threat – every attack is seen as an isolated incident by a couple of fanatics or some crazed individual with a mental illness. This also allows liberals to avoid asking any hard questions about the ideology and beliefs behind these actions, lest they have to face up to any politically incorrect realities. But it also trivialises the threat and empowers the enemy by indicating to them that we do not understand the appeal of their ideas and the psychology of Jihad. It was this attitude which was used to shrug off the butchery of Lee Rigby.

What this most recent attack highlights is that we face a far different enemy. These men are not “crazy” but frighteningly sane – the men who carried out this attack did so in a cold, calm and rehearsed manner. As Robert Fox, the Defence Correspondent for The Evening Standard pointed out, these men were organised, coordinated and well-trained. They knew how to use guns and they knew how to kill without mercy or hesitation, as we saw in their clinical execution of a helpless police officer. It is not mental illness that drives these actions but firm beliefs and convictions. Further, what we understand about this and, increasingly, previous attacks, including that on Lee Rigby, is that they were planned and coordinated and not the actions of a few psychotic vagrants. I am willing to take the enemy seriously to that extent.

The gunmen's harsh cries of “Allahu Akbar”, as they shot at police.

 

And finally, this may come as a surprise but…

Liberal democracy is worth fighting for: It may have become obvious by now that I am concerned about Islamic Jihad but what often concerns me even more is the attitude of its potential victims, those of us who occupy the societies it wishes to destroy. I even sometimes wonder if some Westerners secretly (or even openly) long for the West to fall. I believe this is an unfortunate negative side-effect of one of the most positive aspects of Western civilisation – the capacity for self-criticism of its societies, the very core that makes it worth defending. But this can, at times, go too far. Our capacity for critical self-reflection sometimes turns to self-hatred and shame. When the Ayatollah Khomeini took to Twitter recently to criticise America for the events in Ferguson, I was astonished to find apparently liberal commenters making the case that Iran is a more pluralistic and free society than the USA. Democratic values have become unfashionable or embarrassing to assert for fear of being accused of hypocrisy of Western imperialism (a subject we have discussed previously). If you think that everything is relative and frequently start sentences on this subject with “who are we to say” then I fear you have fallen victim to this cultural malaise.

Since when did being a liberal become synonymous with being incapable of asserting your values? Indeed “values” are meaningless unless they are assertive. Yes, I object to the treatment of women and homosexuals in Muslim countries. In fact I object to the very idea of a Muslim state, theocracy being the worst and most debased form of tyranny – if that bothers you, allow me to hedge by saying that, by exactly the same standard, I object to the existence of Christian, Jewish or any other kind of religious state. And yet for expressing my disgust at ideas that are opposed to everything liberal democracy stands for, I can be accused of having an illiberal attitude.

Western society is not perfect and injustice exists everywhere, including the countries that are, for all intents and purposes, the most ‘free’. But our freedom to criticise our own civilisation makes it worth fighting for.

Featured Image Credit: The Fall of Rome: Destruction by Thomas Cole (1836) Source: Wikicommons

The Horizon Is Human

elon-musk-mars-colony

 

Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze” – Carl Sagan

The frontier has been rather obscure of late. In the sixties it seemed we knew where we were going. Our future was ‘out there’ in the inky black. Since then we have seen a number of great leaps backward. The space shuttle has been grounded, major world powers have shown diminished interest without the motivational influence of the cold war, and projects of great potential within our technological capabilities, such as manned missions to Mars and the robotic exploration of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, have been shelved. However the public fascination of space is undiminished and is popularized in the media by celebrity scientists like Neil Degrasse-Tyson and Brian Cox, corporations are taking an interest and new national space programs in Asia are taking their first tentative steps skyward but there remain societal and psychological barriers. The fault is in ourselves not in our stars. No matter what wonders await us, known or unknown, we find reasons to remain in the safety of our terrestrial cradle. I have always been baffled by this hesitancy but I have come to believe it results largely, not from a misguided view of space exploration itself (though this is certainly a factor), but from a negative view of ourselves as a species and one that I can’t get on board with. Shame of one’s own species tends to market itself as a form of prudence or pragmatism but a more exultant view of the human project need not be impractical. On the contrary, I believe it is the only practical outlook.

The more well-meaning objections to expanding into space are those relating to the financial and material resources needed. Such commitments demanding great investment would surely be better made to solving problems here on Earth, particularly those of global poverty and environmental degradation. Those who put forward this argument are labouring under the misapprehension that ambition and responsibility are mutually exclusive. In terms of the environment, their argument is self-refuting in the sense that these missions are entirely complementary to their goals. It was our study of the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus that helped us understand its potential effects here on Earth. As for Mars, the first comprehensive study of ‘nuclear winter’ was based on conditions observed after planetary dust storms in the Martian atmosphere. Many scientists believe Mars once had a biosphere, or at least the conditions necessary to support one, thus further exploration and potential manned missions could be invaluable to our understanding of climatic degradation and reinforce the need to care for our home planet. Experiments in planetary engineering and colonisation may even yield new methods of addressing whatever damage our presence is inflicting on the Earth. Solutions to environmental problems will inevitably rely on technological advancement and growth of the kind that space exploration stimulates like no other endeavour.

But how can we justify expanding beyond the Earth when so many on it languish in poverty? It could be argued that it is easy for those of us who have had a privileged enough existence to study astronomy or read science fiction to dream of the stars while others struggle just to stay alive, in this sense investment in space could be seen as ‘elitist’. This argument, while certainly emotionally compelling, I find somewhat condescending; the assumption that those living without the privileges we enjoy are not capable of ambitious dreams. Dr Sagan recounted a trip by a colleague to New Guinea where she visits a tribe almost completely ignorant of Western civilisation and modern technology but they know of Apollo 11 and the names of its astronauts, they wanted to know “who was visiting the moon these days”. I challenge anyone not to feel humbled by this account; it illustrates the power of new discoveries to transcend cultural, social and economic divisions. Greater investment in NASA and other exploratory institutions will not have a detrimental effect on our attempts to solve problems of poverty. In fact we know from experience, particularly those of us who live or have lived in Africa, that throwing money at the problem alone does not work and, in many cases, exacerbates it. What is required to solve these problems, to whatever extent that it can be achieved, is a far more complex range of fundamental social and political changes. Furthermore, like the environment, solutions to poverty will involve, at least in part, technological advancements (particularly in areas such as agriculture and energy). If you are still convinced that space programs take up resources much needed elsewhere, look up a chart of the annual expenditure on space exploration compared to the global military budget; it is a drop in the ocean to our great shame.

Although rather misguided, these objections are at least grounded in good intentions. However, a disturbing trend has emerged, particularly over the last two decades. There is a certain abject attitude towards the human race to be found in contemporary pseudo-intellectual circles. It is not unusual for great dreams and ambitions for humanity’s future to be met with a tone of sneering mockery. This sometimes relates to the unrealistic nature of these ambitions such as the technological demands of colonisation and the difficulty of developing propulsion systems that could carry us to other star systems. It is paradoxical that some of the proponents of this argument often raise the same concerns about the environment I mentioned previously, when in fact they display the same lack of imagination and short-term attitude that led to our environmental problems in the first place. I was gratified to see that Christopher Nolan’s recent science fiction epic, Interstellar, gave a warning of sorts about the dangers of this kind of attitude. Of course we don’t yet possess anywhere near the technology required for interstellar travel and planetary colonisation schemes remain threadbare at best, but to presume to know what is (or is not) ultimately possible is both arrogant and defeatist. To illustrate how fatuous this line of argument is, imagine showing the Large Hadron Collider (or even just an iPhone) to an eighteenth century alchemist. Technological advancements on the scale of ‘deep time’ will simply be beyond our understanding and, unless we destroy ourselves first, which is by no means foregone, incredible technological advances are inevitable. As Arthur C. Clarke put it, sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.

But there is more to this change in the social Zeitgeist than merely an obsession with short-term practicality. Delve a little deeper and you will most likely find a kind of will to self-destruction. Over the last century, untold suffering, genocide, war and damage to the environment have created a cultural environment conducive to a particular view of the human race as an infection on an otherwise idyllic planet. How humanity has spoiled itself and its environment, wouldn’t it be better if we just faded into oblivion? One of the greatest crimes of modern bien pensant thinking has been to nurture the view that ambition constitutes naïve escapism whereas the hard-won truth is best represented by a cynical view of humanity. In fact, the opposite is true. Self-abnegation and defeatism relieves one of the duty to think about problems creatively, it is the easy way out. To think of the human race as a long-term project, on a scale of millennia, expands the remit of critical thought and encourages us to think of problems in terms of solutions and opportunities.

There is another notion to consider in all this: our responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to the universe at large. Some people seem to think that nature would be better off without us to ruin it, but without us, who is there to bear witness to it all? It is highly likely, given the vastness of the cosmos, that there are other civilisations scattered throughout the universe but we are not entitled to take this as an axiom. The scientific method dictates that we cannot assume anything without conclusive evidence. For all we know we are the only sentient beings in the universe, thus we are the means by which the universe is able to think about itself, to become self-aware – to quote the philosopher, Alan Watts, “the universe dreams through our dreams”

We are a complex and troubled species, but we are capable of so much. We have irrepressible genetic personality and a tendency to exceed our own expectations if we just dare to stretch ourselves (as evidenced by recent grand successes in projects such as CERN, Curiosity and Rosetta). It is essential that we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of complacency or defeatism as we have a responsibility to fulfil our potential.

As Carl Sagan put it: “Our planet and our solar system are surrounded by a new world ocean, the depths of space, it is no more impassable than the last.”

Is Discourse Dead?

I have been thinking a great deal recently about what has happened to debate and dialectic in modern Western society. This is not to say it has become extinct entirely but something gangrenous and virulent has infected it.

When I first started out in my academic career, discourse felt more experimental. Many of my politics seminars had a distinctly Socratic emphasis to them; we would ask questions and test concepts no matter how outlandish they might seem and regardless of whether we liked the answers. Of course the usual academic orthodoxies intruded but if you had the courage of your curiosity you could work around them. But even then the early signs of this worrying trend were beginning to creep in.

In a brilliant recent article in The Spectator, Brendan O’Neill laments the rise of what he calls “Stepford Students”, a new generation of apparently politically engaged young people more interested in shutting down debate and drowning out unfashionable opinions, than actually engaging with them and having their convictions challenged. This was something shockingly familiar to me – I have seen the transformation among members of my own peer group and certainly in the younger generation.

But, sadly, this is not just some nascent student movement. We have seen this trend spread into public discourse and even high profile media platforms. Take for example the recent “shirtstorm” incident, which I have already covered elsewhere. The incident itself is not a case of shutting down discourse in itself, but the resulting exchanges seem to involve a great deal of people making the case that if you think the attacks on Matt Taylor were unreasonable, you must be harbouring your own gender prejudices and/or subscribing to the view that women at large (rather than the vocal minority in this case) should be seen and not heard.

Another example was Ben Affleck’s total sabotage of Bill Maher’s interview with philosopher and prominent critic of Islam (and religion as a whole), Sam Harris. During the segment dedicated to individual interviews where the broader panel are expected to step back (as is the procedure and etiquette on Bill Maher’s Real Time), Sam Harris made some comments about his issues with Islamic doctrines and their effects in the real-world, whereupon Affleck promptly waded in accusing Harris of racism and equating his comments to spreading stereotypes about African Americans or calling someone a “shifty Jew”. You only have to understand the difference between a religion (a set of beliefs and truth claims) and a race to understand what nonsense Affleck was spouting, as Harris said “we have to able to criticise bad ideas”.

But it is not just about closing off the possibility of conversation. In order to do that, as the Ben Affleck example shows, the most effective way is to first smear your adversary to the extent that it justifies not engaging with what they have to say. It reminds me of a comment from the late Christopher Hitchens, who said that one of the problems with engaging with some people on the left is that they assume that if you disagree with them, it must be for the worst possible motive. In this context, it becomes very easy to justify denying your opponent a platform.

Whether Islam is a repository of bad ideas can and should be up for debate, as it should for any religion or belief system and I assume (perhaps too generously) that Ben Affleck does understand the difference between a religion and a race – but this is how the orthodoxy of political correctness rots discourse and creates a terror of honest discussion about difficult subjects. And this, I believe, is why our students and sections of our media have taken to shutting down debate rather than engaging in it. It has, perversely, become the line of least resistance.

Also Read: Has Feminism Lost Its Way?

Buddhism: Its Serenity, Its Science and Its Sometimes Unsettling Ambivalence

The idea of Westerners talking about Eastern spirituality never fails to conjure up images of pretension, as embodied by racketeering hippy ashrams or university students seeking an escape from their monotheistic upbringing by claiming to be ‘quite into Buddhism’ (notice they very rarely say “I am a Buddhist”, dabbling is generally the name of the game). Despite these associations one can understand how such ideas gain popularity in cultures dominated by a combination of the modern market and Judeo-Christian religion. I may mock those in the West who pursue it as a form of escapism or as a fashion statement but I confess to being interested in the subject myself, although I have certain reservations that would prevent me from adopting it as a way of life. Read More…

9/11: The long fading memory of History

(Originally published September 11, 2012)

It is a cliché but also a truism that everybody remembers where they were when it happened, or at least when they found out about it. Eleven years on, it is worth reflecting on this memory. I refer not to the need to pay tribute to the dead (also a worthy and, in my opinion, necessary activity) but to notice how an event that, for so many years, has seemed current has now passed into history. This does not diminish it as a climatic and game-changing event for the entire civilised (and uncivilised) world.

I recall that the day after the event, by strange and auspicious coincidence, I was to have my first class of ‘American History’ for my high school History course. We walked in and sat in silence, the air still abuzz with a surreal electricity from the events of the day before. Our teacher walked  around the classroom with a handful of photocopies of the infamous image of the burning towers now seared on the brain of almost every human being, gave us each a copy, walked to the front of the class and simply said: “This is history”.

At the time it didn’t feel like history. I had studied history and there was something intangible about it, distant and arcane. This was the very essence of ‘NOW’, the rubble still smouldered, mobile phones still screeched desperately from under the rubble, fanatics ululated joyously around burning American flags and everywhere ordinary citizens fearfully contemplated ‘what’s next?’. We were at the threshold of a savage new millennium.

The foul architect of that atrocity lies dead at the bottom of the ocean, but the consequences of that day still ripple through global society and politics. Hatred towards Western secular society still ferments among fundamentalists, and the need to stand up to that hatred is still manipulated for political gain in the West. Britain and America are still dug into a seemingly intractable conflict in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East remains unstable. But the ‘now’ has extended into a kind of historical perpetuity. We are paying a price to history, a debt we did not ask for but incurred nonetheless.

Anxiety

One of the things I have had to accept about myself as I have grown older is that I am a worrier. I have never been and probably never will be one of those people who take a lazily stoic attitude to life, confronting every problem with a shrug of the shoulders and another swig of beer.

But accepting this aspect of my personality has the benefit of giving me some insight into what it is to worry. To worry is to project oneself forward and imagine the potential negative outcomes of a situation, fixating on hypothetical outcomes, rather than focusing on the situation as it is now. One of the best ways to cope with this tendency is to develop the ability to laugh at oneself. This provides a natural check against overly obsessive thinking and facilitates the self-awareness to know when your thinking is getting just plain silly, and then to laugh at it rather than perpetuating obsessive thinking.

What can also help is to reflect on what fear is. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reflection that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” has been so criminally over-quoted that for a long time I didn’t give it much thought. But when you unpack it, you can start to appreciate its wisdom. Think of the last time you had an intimidating event approaching: a high pressure job interview, an exam, a medical procedure or anything of that nature. One thing to notice is that often the period of fear preceding the event is much more unpleasant than the event itself. “Fear itself” does not have any actual content independent of the event that it is anticipating – it is essentially the creation of additional unnecessary unpleasantness.

It is in this way that fear becomes crippling and self-perpetuating. A number of years ago I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. Once you experience your first panic attack, it is not necessarily what triggered the first attack that you dread but the sensation of panic. Thereafter, it is the anticipation of having another panic attack which becomes the trigger. Having spoken to others who have experienced the same or similar problems, I now know that this is a very common phenomenon.

Fear, as an emotion, is often nothing more than a conduit for more fear. It is virulent. It multiplies and divides, eventually overwhelming your psyche if it is allowed to. Unfortunately, fear has survival value in evolutionary terms and is thus ineradicable in us.

But it can be conquered. The opposite of fear is acceptance, even to the extent of accepting that you are afraid and that it’s okay to be.

If you feel afraid, it is worth asking yourself, what are you really afraid of?