Last weekend my wife and I were at a birthday party for her elderly grandfather. His brother, who we don’t know very well, was there too and when I was introduced to him, it was mentioned that he was the one who had hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail over five months. I was talking to my wife’s uncle about our upcoming hike up to Machcu Picchu over the summer and he said I should talk to this guy since he’s as expert a hiker as they get.
I made mention of our four day trek up the mountain to Machu Picchu to him and my father in law happened to hear us. Later I stepped out onto the back porch to play with the kids in the yard and he ambushed my wife and me. His hands were shaking, his voice trembling and he was literally scared for our lives.
He urged my wife not to go on the hike. He warned of impending doom- kidnappings, mudslides, disease, bugs, drug smugglers and everything else in the world you could ever hope to be afraid of! I started to argue with him a bit, saying thousands of people make this hike every year, or that it was a trip of a life time, etc… then I just stopped. I looked him square in the eyes and said, “We’re not scared”.
My father in law kept arguing with me, despite there being no argument at all, like a religious zealot arguing the existence of God to an indifferent atheist who offered up no counter argument, no disagreement, just a simple “I don’t believe in God.”
Today my wife told me this trip has turned out to be a huge debacle in the family. My father in law has apparently been on a crusade to illicit the support of other family members to talk us out of this trip into what he must consider the bowels of hell.
It’s so queer to me to imagine being so gripped by fear. Not simply afraid, but gripped, seized, consumed. I don’t think my father in law is driven by any other emotion but absolute fear. I wonder if he even knows where Peru is, what its people are like, or what language they speak there.
I admit, this trip will not be devoid of danger, but then again what is? Surely, even a routine drive down to Costco, whizzing down the interstate at 80 mph surrounded by dozens of autonomous vehicles manned by people screaming at their children, fiddling with the radio, eating fast food or God forbid, texting while driving is riddled with just as many life threatening dangers, especially if you consider many of us drive on a daily basis!
Perpetuating a Culture of Fear
I think that my father-in-law’s fearful emotions are definitely more magnified than the average person’s, and he definitely wears them on his sleeve for the world to see, but when you consider the constant trickle of fearful reporting we’re fed by the media on a daily basis, is it really all that unreasonable?
After the Boston Marathon bombings, we saw martial law enacted live in Watertown, MA and who protested it? Who was upset by it? For a period of time, all freedoms were stripped, federal agents went door to door, tanks roamed the streets, transportation was forbidden and the only establishments allowed to be open were some donut shops! Was this an SNL skit or just the Federal Government poking fun at how pathetic we’ve become?
Immediately following the bombings I watched the memes roll out one by one. I saw George Stephanopoulos immediately jump to the idea that we might become a security state similar to Israel. I saw local reports that there would be deeper searches and pat downs to enter Turner Field for Braves baseball games, then I saw the average man on the street interviewed and praising it!
PLEASE TAKE OUR FREEDOMS. WE NEED SAFETY. PROTECT US!
If you’re my father-in-law, a relatively uneducated guy who has never really been anywhere, knows little of others cultures, religions or geopolitics and accepts the news as even somewhat truthful like most of us, then of course you’re going to be scared shitless. We’re constantly being conditioned to FUCKING COWER! To duck and cover. To greet frisking and full body x-rays with a smile, because it’s what is good for us, it is what keeps us safe.
But I’m not scared, and even if I was I would still defy the desire to give up freedom for a misplaced sense of safety.