Bus from Arequipa to Puno, Peru.
Back in the good old days there were sabre-tooth tigers, poisonous spiders, cliffs to fall from and water to drown in. All worthwhile things to fear, all very good to either stay far away from or to handle with extreme caution. Fears your mother would be proud of.
And even though most of that stuff is now extinct, domesticated, tamed or left in Africa, we still fear them. A bit sad perhaps, but nothing to truly worry about.
What rules our lives much more is our fear to speak up, to look ridiculous, to be alone. Where did those come from?
Back in the good old days we spent our time hunting antelope, gathering herbs and running away from sabre-tooth tigers. And with the use of a bit of technology, we were damned good at it. Throwing axes to take out an antelope from a distance. Spears to keep away that sabre-tooth that’s making the neighborhood unsafe. Sticks to dig out the tastiest roots.
Life was good.
Perhaps a little too good?
Lots of food means most of your kids survive to a nice old age (say 25!), to have a whole litter of their own. Growing tribes, more mouths to feed. Enter the third rider of the apocalypse, Famine (the first two, Death and Pestilence were already sitting around the campfire). Time for part of the tribe to go look for pastures greener. Maybe things are better on the other side of that hill?
Fewer mouths to feed, more kids survive. Having kids of their own. Time to go look behind another hill. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Yet at some point, you’re going to run out of hills to look behind. Or at least, you will find some people already hiding behind it. Yet, you’re hungry. And they’ve got way more antelopes than they could possibly ever use. We could just take one, maybe two. Right?
Enter the fourth rider of the apocalypse: War.
The shaman is mumbling something incoherent as he sacrifices an antelope to the newly invented god of war, sure to bring you good luck in the coming battle. Your spears are sharpened, your throwing axes ready. You’re looking forward to the honor that will be bestowed upon you when you return.
Then one of your clan mates speaks up: “Perhaps those other guys aren’t so bad, if we just ask politely maybe we can have an antelope or two?” After a moment of deep silence the laughter starts. “Ridiculous! We tried that and last time and got our asses kicked! But if you feel like that how about you just do things the way you want them, but leave us alone!”
The lone warrior droops off.
The following day the war party return, victorious! New hunting grounds to feed the tribe for many moons to come. As one they had been, united against the common enemy! Singular in thinking and in action. And the results showed!
And the lone warrior? Without his tribe to support him he was an easy snack for the first sabre-tooth tiger to come across him.
Speaking up got him ridiculed, and he was left alone. Being on your own in the stone age kills.
No wonder these fears are so deeply ingrained in our subconsciousness.
Yet life nowadays is different. We (almost) life in a post-scarcity world (ok, the lucky do, but the number of lucky is growing). There is no war with our nearest neighbors and there never will be (for most of us). Being left alone does not mean death. And there are enough tribes out there who will happily accept us if things don’t quite work out with our current one.
So next time fear hits me, I’m going to thank my forefathers (and mothers) for getting me this far, but would they please take their no longer relevant fear and take a hike.
Perhaps you could do the same?