Our worst fears are out there, lurking, maybe closer than we care to admit; and it’s the fear of just how close that keeps us up at night.
H.P. Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” I think many interpret this ‘fear of the unknown’ as fear of ‘what could be out there’. But I think what really scares us is not the possibility of what could be out there, but rather…where out there is it?
Via religion, imagination and scientific observation of the world, our species has classified — and continues to classify — all manners of malevolent forces that lurk just out of our sight.
We have accepted through the ages that Ghosts of various disputations permeate our reality and that germs carrying pathogens live on everything. We don’t fear if they’re there, because we know they are. Instead, we fear that they could be within close proximity to us.
Take a haunted house film for example. When the protagonist enters the aforementioned haunted house, they know what horrible thing lurks there. They just don’t know if that horrible thing lurks… BEHIND THEM! (Cue jump cut to the protagonist looking back behind them into the inky black).
Zombie films are much of the same. Our protagonist doesn’t fear the reality of a zombie outbreak, because in their reality a zombie outbreak is very much real. What a protagonist in a zombie film fears is, among other things, the possibility that a walker is just around the corner or that an outbreak is just around the bend.
Chaos theory is far too complicated for us to predict anything in our lives with absolute certainty. It may not really be chaos, but there are too many moving parts for us to recognize and control. We are, at any second, close to disaster and ruin. We know this to be true. We don’t worry about this fact not being true, we just worry when this fact will come true.
The fear of the unknown is not the fear of an unfathomable question mark. The fear of the unknown is, boiled down, the fear of proximity to death. Sleep tight.