Thursday, April 24, 2008

4-24-08: Theory of Everything, Part One: Fear of Change

Part One of my Theory of Everything is the ubiquitous fear of change in human society. Fear of change, scientifically referred to as "Metathesiophobia" (source:, is, from my experience, a subconscious, almost primal, trait in virtually every human being. I myself exhibit this fear constantly, and it usually has to be pointed out. Sometimes it manifests itself in the form of anxiety, nausea, or in a more obvious form. Every one exhibits the trait in different ways in different situations, but it is ever present.

What causes this fear of change? Is it a genetic trait, or is it learned? Does it appear more frequently in different cultures, or is it simply masked in different ways? For instance, one might say "A primitive culture is obviously more resistant to change than a modern, civilized culture." That seems to make sense to me at first, but look at the logic involved. One would assume, in that case, that the fear of change is magnified in such a culture because they have either gone longer without seemingly large changes, or their being primitive in relation to a more advanced culture would make them somehow less intelligent and "open to the idea." But is that really true? One could make the case that their apparent resistance, assuming they have been exposed to other cultures and simply refuse to budge, is because they simply believe they don't need to change. Is that really a fear? I think it would be more obvious if they were threatened with extinction, and were stubborn, then it would more likely be out of fear. Say a disease like smallpox, which has been virtually wiped out in western civilization, is rampaging a small tribe of people. If they knew they could be saved by modern medicine, and valued their own survival above all else, and still refused to change, that might be fear. I believe it would at least play a small part.

But I like to focus more on the subtleties of the fear of change. It seems to take shape frequently, even in the most mundane of instances. Sometimes it might be a small change in a daily routine, or trying out some new food. People tend to revert to the lowest common denominator: safety. Change can be dangerous. A lot of it is. And don't say "Well, not really; staying the same can result in harm." No: staying the same means staying the same. If something bad happens to you, that is indeed a significant change in your lifestyle. BAM! You find out you have a horrible disease that could have been prevented by you not eating Brazilian nuts every day for 25 years. But you love Brazilian nuts, so you blame something else. People seem to immediately place the blame of a significant, catastrophic change in their lives on some other thing that is new to them. In this case, maybe it's just shit luck or you ate something funny last week. It can't be the nuts.

I think (and remember: this is just a big guess; you probably shouldn't be using this as a solid source) this fear is simple human nature: people find the path of least resistance. On top of that, people tend to find routines. People will do something, learn it nearly instantaneously, and revert to that. Early learned habits or skills, like motor skills, are difficult to break later on. I think the same is true of mentalities. People don't necessarily have a fear in the sense that they consciously form a fear of something based on logic; it's mostly instinctual. It's amazing how frequently it shows itself. See for yourself.

That's it for this for right now. I'll let you mull that over.

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