Hierarchy of Fear and the “Equivalence of Threat”

So, what creates that hierarchy of fear in people? I would like to apply a concept to this exploration. I call it the “equivalence of threat.” Basically, if you can establish an equivalence of threat on part of the perception in question, it’s possible to ferret out universal truths about how the mind processes fear. Possibly. Any seeming equivalences conjured by human perception might break down if examined closely enough.

Still. That’s no reason to be discouraged. Let’s give it a “whirl,” shall we? Tornadoes vs. Warheads, then. Seems like a fair comparison. The former is much more likely, has occurred very frequently compared to the former. Would it be safe to assume that tornadoes are more feared than warheads? Depends on the context.

If the threat of warheads were to rise suddenly, the distance created by a lingering but subdued danger would activate cold war-esque anxieties. But not only that. Which renegade state is in charge of these warheads? This would be a factor too. If we’re assuming equivalent power and maliciousness among nuclear capable states, russia-phobia might be the tie breaker. Nothing like a snow-covered helmet screaming at you as it obliterates everything in a cleansing white light.

So, while russia-phobia trumps other states when it comes to inspiring fear over nuclear warheads, it doesn’t clear up that glaring flaw of overlooking the leviathan state known colloquially known as the U.S. of .A. With the current shaker of the executive branch, America trumps russia. Also it snows there, so America would have its own screaming snow-covered helmets to throw at people. While states and their individual rights have been emphasized, so to has the federal authority over those states. And nuclear warheads are the apex of executive branch authority.

America emerges the victor in this very close race, but then how does it stack up to the malicious arm of nature known as the tornado?

If the threat of tornadoes were to rise suddenly, what then? The threat is theoretically equal. But there are certain factors to consider that make murky this hierarchy of fear.


  1. Visual Splendor

A great white light versus a dust-colored, twisting arm of nature? Hmm. That’s a tough one. I would say the tornado might win out here. The observer has the luxury of time to watch as a tornado whips through a neighborhood or city. However, the observer would have the luxury of time in the warhead case presuming a scenario where they might see one state annihilated by the white light and then think to themselves “I’m next.”

But the color of the sky is important to human perception. A green sky acts as the backdrop to a hulking, pitch-black tornado. How would the green sky/tornado scenario compete with the warhead case if you add the doppler radar into the mix. Massive blots and their approach are repeated over and over again. Pink spells disaster. Tornadoes might win here.

2. Technology, History

Tornadoes seem divorced from technology, they cannot be “dropped” by a nation-state. Two points here. Architecture plus natural disaster helps create a sort of technology, but one that isn’t categorically recognized. Tornadoes are also firmly within the construct of the human perception of “nature” rather than technology and so exist outside of time and bureaucracies. Thus they seem alien and unpredictable. However, the sense of pre-history given by a tornado doesn’t matter to human perception. How it has affected civilization is the only thing that matters.

A counter-point to this would be that pre-history seems alien, massive, like comets destroying things or beings rising from incredibly vast bodies of water. Does a tornado evoke that?

Warheads seem easily controlled and potent expressions of aggression. They are rightly feared. Their legacy in history is secure because of World War II, unless another world conflict occurs in which these weapons aren’t used and another fear takes its place. Seems sort of unlikely.

So, tornadoes won the visual splendor test. What about technology/history? Technology gives a sense of being controlled, despite the potential to be used by a maniac. However, from the view of technology/history, we see the contrast: and unfriendly and unpredictable tornado with no human concept of vengeance or purpose. Something that exists beyond time and civilization. Something that frolicked with extremophiles and and emperors.

The tornado wins hands down. Am I biased? Maybe.




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