Are you familiar with loss aversion?

“Loss aversion in behavioral economics refers to a phenomenon where a real or potential loss is perceived by individuals as psychologically or emotionally more severe than an equivalent gain. For instance, the pain of losing $100 is often far greater than the joy gained in finding the same amount.”

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What most people fear controls them more than what they love. As systems for freedom emerge (encryption, blockchain, cryptocurrency, censorship-resistant media, etc), systems for control are promoted as “justified” as a counter balance, i.e. fear is magnified and spread. Fear is a powerful motivator and to the extent it’s possible to “choose” anything, smart, successful people are very careful what they fear.

The concept of choice and free will is tricky and mostly dissolves to nothingness if you look closely enough. In fact, EVERYTHING dissolves when you look closely enough. Even if choice is an illusion (isn’t everything beyond “I AM” an illusion or at least unprovable beyond illusion?), we might do well to think in terms of focused intention. When meditating, it sure feels like I use my “will” to refocus intention towards mindfulness.

Using intention, how much power over your own life would you have if you could rationally and intentionally only have fears which serve you? If you’re fully aware to what is (and what is not), someone yelling “boo!” as you turn a corner would leave you completely unaffected. No emotional response. No sense of being startled. Given the facts of the event, you were never in any actual physical danger where a fear response would be rationally useful in protecting you. The vision of the wise stoic monk, unphased by this material world comes to mind. Let’s imagine they are also a Kung Fu master. An unsophisticated and untrained knife-wielding attacker also doesn’t phase them becuase they know their skill level and the inevitable outcome of the situation (the disarmed attacker crumpled on the ground in pain). They respect the knife and the potential for danger, but they do not fear it. Fear is reserved for the real threats where the body’s powerful subconscious needs to be fully alerted for immediate action. See a hungry tiger? RUN! See something that looks like a tiger, but isn’t? Remain calm and chuckle at the coincidence. And this is the problem: that second group, throughout evolutionary history, doesn’t reproduce as often as the first group because they got eaten by tigers they thought weren’t real. Hence the reason we have loss aversion.

And here’s the issue we face today as a species which has so conquered its environment we now have the capacity to completely destroy it:

We’re not being eaten by tigers.

We have such a powerful, evolutionarily refined mechanism for fear which got us here. In many ways we’re like an android in the movies and TV shows where someone else has the remote control. Our receptors for fear can be (and are being) used to manipulate predictable responses. We are controlled by our fears and, in this modern age, many of them are no longer rational or beneficial. Fear can manipulate us into self-harm by the day to day “choices” we make. Example: being afraid to make an investment because loss aversion hurts more than success. Few people can stomach 1 win out of 10 whose gains far outweigh the 9 losses. We call those people rich. Everyone else unwilling to overcome their fears does themself a disservice and actually harms their own life and future becuase of fear.

Now back to our intentions. Which fears in today’s world serve us and which fears are used to control (or at least predict) our outcomes and which are both? Should we fear C*VID? Those concerned with long term effects, mutations leading to worse outcomes, the vulnerable who can die very quickly and severely, and more say yes, absolutely. What about climate change? Those looking at data which tell us the world is on fire, getting irreversibly worse, and all a direct result of our own actions say there is little else we should be concerned about right now as it represents an existential threat to our existence and the biodiversity of this planet we call home. Then there’s the threat of super general intelligence. When these awarenesses come online, will they replace us, destroy us, enslave us, or worse? Nick Bostorm and others provide some very compelling reasons to use intentioned fear for this threat.

I could go on, but my main point is this: be intentional about what you fear. Even your egoic labels of moral standing as a good person can be turned into a fear as you concern yourself with how your actions might harm others (or the planet). And that may be a very good thing for us all as a society. Keep in mind, it’s possible to have a rational fear and still have others use it to control you. Many (I think rightfully so) have a fear of positional authority (especially the violence-backed monopoly variety). Things get very interesting when two rational, intentioned fears conflict with each other. Should we promote the intentioned fear of climate change (require renewable power creation, restrict carbon emissions, etc) or virus safety (masks, jabs, distancing, etc) if it involves lowering our intentioned fear towards totalitarianism? How do we make these decisions when the consequences impact others who may value their own lives differently than we value our own? Should I risk my life or sacrifice it entirely for someone who is suicidal? What about for someone who is morbidly obese and doesn’t take reasonable steps to be healthy and prolong their life? If my concern is for the well-being of society, how do I factor in the 260 million body count number of democide as I weigh the balance between following authorities vs. going with my own individual perspective?

I don’t have answers, and I don’t know how real choice vs. intention vs. determinism is. I don’t even know how these thoughts I share as I’m lying in bed this morning impact those who read them, but I do know I feel compelled to express myself and through that expression, hopefully, better understand myself and what I fear.

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