My Top Ten Fears

Staring into the abyss.

Published in Prospect magazine, October 2004, Issue 103, interviewed by Elena Lappin.

"It is a very American fear; we don’t feel protected."

10. The last orgasm. A childhood friend told me that every male is given a certain number of orgasms, and each one that you waste by masturbating is one less that you will be able to enjoy. I have never been able to shake that. Orgasm seems to me like rebooting a computer; the thought that I might lose the possibility of starting all over again is frightening.

9. Imprisonment. As civil liberties have become endangered by the Patriot Act in my country, I find myself thinking about this. I fear the loss of all that I am at home, that the people I associate with will be taken away, and that my time will not be my own. Although Joseph Brodsky has said that while freedom gives you maximum mobility and minimum time, prison gives you minimum mobility and maximum time….

8. Abandonment. My father died young, aged 59, in a veteran’s hospital. I was asked "Are you dumping this very sick man?" It happens all the time. De Tocqueville said that Americans are always staring into the abyss. It is a very American fear; we don’t feel protected.

7. Homelessness. Sixty-nine per cent of Americans own their own homes, the highest percentage ever, and yet you find homeless people everywhere. American cars are fall-back residences. I'm not "living in my car" but I fear it anyway.

6. Unemployment. I was unemployed on two occasions and I found it the most instructive spiritual experience of my life. That feeling of being superfluous, of having nothing that anyone wants, forces you to find another way to say that you're worth something. My duties today sometimes feel dispensable.

5. Car accident. I have a recurring nightmare about a terrible car accident. My mother was involved in a near-fatal accident before my birth. My heartbeat stopped, and for two days there was a chance that I would be stillborn. I have also had a few close calls myself.

4. Habitat destruction. A nature video called The last feast of the crocodile shows many battles to the death, among animals, for an essential substance: water. We are destroying our renewable resources, which can lead to catastrophic loss of life.

3. Nuclear exchange. Russia and the US are both still on three minute alerts. The bomb is not behind us.

2. Arson. A group of arsonists could start a number of fires at once. It's an easy low-tech form of terrorism which attracts domestic sociopaths. I have experienced a large fire and it is very frightening—you get a sense of cremation.

1. Hijacking of a nuclear power plant. A Chernobyl in the suburbs of New York and LA would be many times worse than 9/11 or the original Chernobyl. There would be no real recovery from it. We know the 9/11 terrorists discussed this option. And yet evidently this catastrophe will have to occur before anybody believes it can happen at all.