While swimming today, an odd, irrational fear arose in me that I would not have enough strength to turn around in the deep part of the pool. Now, truth be told, the "deep" part of the pool is only 5'; and that affords me the ability to get my 5'6 head sufficiently above water to take a breath no matter what. Furthermore, I knew that I know how to maneuver myself in water. But it took effort to be with the fear, swim with it, and go through the turns.
And of course nothing happened.
Except that I had a vivid reminder of how the "fear" or "flight" portions of the brain can easily over-ride the rational parts of the brain to the point where useful, purposeful activity is impeded. It takes practice to not be driven by fear.
This then reminded me of how demagogues work; by appealing to fear they hope they can get people to stop thinking. The ability to restrain the discursive mind, as we Zen Buddhist folk know, is very important to act purposefully in the world. But if that restraint is born of greed, hatred, ignorance, attachments, and fear, it becomes very difficult to work purposefully in the world; in fact it is yet an instance of exchanging one head for another, or an escape from where one is, rather than operating in non-duality.
As John Cleese said about why he was no longer a newt, "I got better."
It also reminds me of the Teabagger movement. Fear is their oxygen, and it is fed by demagogues. If we want to build a better world, we should try to help them not be afraid skillfully. We need to realize they're just as much Buddhas as the rest of us. I recently realized a good way to talk with these people, and it has to do with the fact that their language is loaded with fantasy, abstraction, and "what's over there." By gently keeping the discussion as to what is right now, what is pragmatic, what works, it is possible to engage the fearful without further stoking their fear.