We no longer hunker in caves, terrified that our precious bit of fire will go out or that the monster howling in the dark will brave that fire and come after us. We no longer build walls around our cities, women rarely die in childbirth, and children rarely die in childhood. Most of us here have more than enough to eat. Yet we are crumbling around the edges, quaking deep in our nervous souls.
What is it we fear? Since we have what we need to eat, we fear the contents of that food. Will it raise my triglycerides? Will its nitrates urge my cells to turn rogue? Will the pesticides kill more than the bugs they were aimed at? Sugar has morphed into a major monster, yet I clearly remember when it was a guileless treat. Meat is bad; fish is full of mercury, peanut butter is laced with allergens and fat. Wheat is questionable, milk is full of monstrous lactose, and honey just brings us back to sugar. I cower through the supermarket as each food snarls at me from the shelves. I’m left with the choice of going home hungry and empty-handed (thereby hangs anorexia) or prostrating myself in front of the chocolates and shouting, “Take me! I’m yours. “
Of course, we’re all afraid of terrorists (Osama’s demise notwithstanding), which actually may be reasonable since fear is what they do. We seem, however, to be more afraid that they won’t like us than we are that they’ll blow us to grizzly bits and make us wear burqas.
We’re worried now about this house of cards we call our economy, which is dangerously tipsy. There’s 9.0 earthquake gearing up just off the coast here, and at any time some batch of lunatics may set off an EMP.
We’re scared to fly, but driving is worse. We worry about the driver with the cell phone, the drunk driver, the car-jacker, the red-light runner, the lady who does her mascara in the rear-view mirror, not to mention worrying about the gas.
Because of the gas we are riddled with planetary guilt, which is generating enough fear to make us shiver in the cold and obsessively sort garbage, scared to death of our own carbon footprints. What is amiss when we strike terror into our own hearts over the very stuff of which we are made? We are carbon.
We must, however, if we are to be trendy members of society, be afraid that the climate is warming. After all, consensus is consensus. I wonder if it’s OK to be afraid of science done not by evidence, but by peer pressure? After all, even if the climate warms, will we not adapt? Move north? Crank up the AC? Will we not survive the demise of the polar bear?
Yes, I know – Rachel Carson, but we know now that species go extinct all the time and this big wide wonderful world just keeps rolling along, but that implies purpose, and a great many of our fellow-travelers are most afraid that this whole shebang might actually be meaningful, and therefore may be expecting meaningful thought and behavior from us. Heaven forbid -- which seems to be their problem.
But fear is fear, and if we breathe too much of it, we develop hypertension, duodenal ulcers, arthritis, insomnia, indigestion, depression, and a killer drinking problem. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Speaking of which, I wonder if the cry of a hungry wolf reverberating through a dark cave was worse. It was bad enough to drive us to the way we live today – odd though, that we haven’t yet rid ourselves of the fear, and that fear itself is causing us to crumble.