I have started a project of clearing my old file cabinets. I believe this was written in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late summer of 1980, jotted in an old notebook with yellow paper, three pages of which were torn out and saved. It seems I might have been dealing with fears of my own:
I was thinking this morning about fear and began comparing types of fears and specifically the types of calamitous fears. The old fears of calamity were based on natural disasters - there was an intense respect for and fear of the power of nature - "fear, fire, flood - flee" - the old cry. Volcanoes and hurricanes and the whirlwind of death brought on by epidemic.
We no longer have an intrinsic fear of or respect for what nature can do, and we are taken aback by the effrontery of a Mt. St. Helens or a Hurricane Allen.
But modern society - modern science - has produced a new fear, perhaps the only one we can actually respect, because it is a manufactured fear in the most literal sense of the word. The fear of atomic warfare, or of the release of atomic disaster from power plants is all we have left of real fear of the power of an external force; but since it is a fear manufactured by humans, it can be manipulated by humans, and so the old power of god to bring the whirlwind as a power of chastisement has been transferred to the hand of man.
For man, for all his magic, was never truly able to command the winds nor to conjure the spirits of earth, air, fire, or water. But the bomb supplants the old powers and, in the minds of the people, it surpasses them in power and wonder and it inspires, not the fear of god, but the fear of man and therefore leaves them at the mercy of their merciless selves.
It is nearly the middle of August and there is a yellow poplar leaf lying on the asphalt of the parking lot