Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real

In the throes of contractions, Talin's water broke. Her midwife went all counter-culture on her and told her to wait it out.  For like, two days. After several hours in labor, her son emerged healthy and undamaged from his passage down the birth canal.  This story is unfamiliar to moms who've given birth.  The manufacturer's owner manual specifically states that once the water breaks delivery must occur within 24 hours because the baby's sterile environment has been compromised.  If you do not follow the instructions, any parts that end up breaking cannot be returned.  It's the, "You broke it, you bought it" policy that's applied quite aptly to American labor. The scare tactics that parents-to-be are bombarded with at the moment of conception are so commonplace to us that you needn't experience childbirth on any level to be afraid of it.  Very afraid of it.  Nursery rhymes and Mother Goose tales meant to soothe and inspire laughter are more like the big bad wolf dressed in grandmother's clothing.  Because fear is a pipeline from the cradle to the grave, Yardiegal will follow the trail and examine the ways that we are scared-y cats.

Fear is not something that just happens to us.  It is a coping mechanism we fall back into when situations are unexpected and unaccustomed.  Not all fear is bad, especially when you're swimming at the beach and sharks appear. The adrenaline rush will quickly send you out of the water onto dry land.  The kind of fear to which I'm referring is the Pavlov's Dogs-type-- when two, unrelated stimuli are presented to a being (human or animal), that being will have an automatic, learned response. Let's go back to that beach where you see a beautiful woman in a bikini, and you salivate.  Your eyes pan her silhouette as she walks by holding a bottle of your favorite beer. To your dismay, you may never see this pretty woman again, but anytime you see that bottle of beer you'll salivate.

We are conditioned to expect the worse.  In response to doomsday Y2K, people stockpiled their shelves with a year's worth of survival gear in case all Hell literally broke loose.  Don't like wearing hats in the winter?  Too bad,  you'll catch a cold. If you don't read to your children daily, they just may grow up illiterate and stupid. While you're at it, keep an eye on your kids at the beach.  If  they manage not to get swept up by the current,  there is a risk that some stranger may kidnap them.  I think we spend more time making sure we have an umbrella than actually taking a walk in a rain shower.  At some point, everybody gets wet.

Politicians and historians like to invoke the wisdom of the of founding father's architect of the United States and its constitution, but their wisdom was a front for fear.  After breaking loose from colonial tyranny, these great men constructed the constitution as an insurance policy.  In case foreign invaders tried to take what they claimed belonged to them, or in the threat of national mutiny, the law authorized them to protect their borders and booty by any means necessary. It started with giving Britain the boot, next was France, Spain, Mexico, and Indigenous Americans. The U.S. was born into a constant state of alert.

Sometimes, when people are afraid, instead of admitting it, they become controlling.  For years, Russia scared us.  The expansive country convinced us that their nuclear weapons were more powerful, more long-range, and that they had more of them then we would ever know.  They were lying, but it didn't matter.  The fear of communism made us tighten our grip on Latin America and affected our relationships with other countries.  Instead of extending a helping hand to Cuba, we punished her.  Our punitive actions cost us a would-be ally.  Like two lifelong friends whose misunderstanding cost them a friendship,and their children will never have the benefit of even knowing each other, we suffer from not knowing what could have been with Cuba. We are the richest nation on earth with the largest defense budget and we do not feel safe.  And, in case you hadn't heard, Homeland Security no longer uses the color-coded threat level system.  It's now called the National Terrorism Advisory System.

The British documentary, A State of Mind, follows the daily lives of two, young North Korean, teen girls training for a national celebration and is a rare glimpse into this culture. Beyond a silent commentary on the insular world of North Korea, the film also illustrates the profound fear in the minds of its people.  From school-age, North Koreans are taught to fear a U.S invasion of their borders. The most notable scene in the movie shows children memorizing a map of United States and reciting  mini-anthems about how the U.S. is the axis of evil and oppression.  At random, air raid sirens go off reminding the people to find shelter or take arms in the event of an American attack.  North Koreans must depend on food rations and more alarmingly,  know nothing of life outside of the 38th parallel. What little knowledge they do have of the outside world is shaped and censored by state propaganda.

While watching the movie, I was reminded of a time during my childhood.  Every Saturday at 12pm an air raid drill would go off in my city for about twenty seconds.  I learned that the sound correlated with the sight of rusting, fallout shelter signs I would see on the sides of random buildings.  It spoke of  an era I never lived through and had little understanding of.  If we were no longer in danger of an air attack, then why, I thought, do the sirens continue to blare?    Did we need to be reminded to be scared of something?

Fear of the unknown ends up being a fear of something that does not exist, which makes Winston Churchill's most quoted quote about fear actually true.  It teaches us to hang onto the past and to worry about a future that has yet to be. It's the nightmare that feels as if we are actually living it, yet we wake up a bit sweaty and smiling in relief.  All we need to do is take a few deep breaths and remember that we are alive and in one piece.

No comments:

Post a Comment