Living Without Fear?

I don’t fly.

It’s not that I’m afraid of heights or superstitious about technology, and it’s certainly not a fear of terrorism.  Commercial aircraft are insanely safe, especially when compared to interstate highways.

No, I won’t fly because the security offends me.

Before we get too far into this:  I’m aware this isn’t an entirely rational attitude.  I’m O.K. with that.  And there really is a worthwhile point to what I’m talking about; hang in there and I’ll talk you through it.

So, yes:  It pisses me off that, in order to hop a flight to Chicago, I’d need to take off my shoes, surrender my pocket knife, and leave my dandruff shampoo behind.  And I’m not even going to get started on the x-ray machines.  I’m so offended by all this that I haven’t hopped a domestic flight since the Towers came down.

Now, if it were just about me and my own safety, this attitude might be rational, or at least understandable.  But of course it’s not; some jackasses took over passenger planes with boxcutters, turned them into flying bombs, and did their level best to change our way of life.  It’s only reasonable that folks would want to prevent this going forward, and rather than ending commercial airlines we’ve opted instead to scan the passengers.

Plus, I’ve been told about pre-check and the safe fly list and all that.  Good innovation there; pre-screening for regular business passengers makes perfect sense.

Intellectually, I know this.  But it doesn’t matter; it still pisses me off.  And, since I don’t enjoy being pissed off, I don’t fly.  It’s that simple.

Fortunately, I don’t travel much; also fortunately, Amtrak runs regular service to Chicago if I ever want to go there.  Lovely trains with beautiful names — the “Empire Builder”, the “Broadway Limited”, the “City of New Orleans”.  The seats are wider, there’s Wi-Fi, and there’s no fee to check my heavy bag of spare books.

A couple of years ago, I was riding solo on the “Silver Star”.  It was a bit crowded, and they seated me on the aisle side next to an acceptably attractive young lady.  I was looking forward to a pleasant conversation — a chance to pick up new stories is always delightful, and I’d just gotten a couple on the way down that I was eager to try on a fresh audience.  Alas, it was not to be; she was polite but standoffish.

It took me several hours to figure out that she was afraid of me.

Half of you already knew this four sentences ago, but to me it came as a complete surprise.  I was mystified (We’re surrounded by a couple hundred people; what could I possibly do?) and also a little offended (As a rule, I don’t hurt people).  But then I thought it through, and I ended up mostly just very sad, very tired.

Because from her perspective, it made sense.  Here she is, maybe five feet something and a hundred pounds or so (I don’t know these things), and they trap her on the far side of this massive hairy guy three times her size.  Of course she’s intimidated; she’s also inconvenienced.  If I need the bathroom I can just get up and go; she’d need to ask my permission — and the last thing she wants to do is make eye contact with the strange man.  Which makes the whole thing unpleasant, awkward, uncomfortable, and yes, quite legitimately scary.

Some of you are still confused, so I’ll explain it:  Women in our society are afraid of men.  They’ve been encouraged from a young age to think of all men as potential predators; given the statistics on sexual assault, rape, and even simple muggings, it’s hard to condemn this practice.  Situational awareness added to some basic caution is probably a valuable subject of advice to give a young lady when first she leaves home.

That all this is reasonable is something I find horribly depressing.

And then there’s the part of me that decided to stop flying.  That chunk of my personality is enraged, furious that we could live in a society where it’s reasonable to inoculate our ladies with the fear of sexual assault in order to protect them from harm.  More appropriate, I should think, would be to fill our country with gentlemen who would never even dream of taking undue advantage of a lady, and ladies who could rely on the character of those around them.

But then, I was brought up reading tales of Arthur and his knights.  So of course that’s the civilization I dream of, and in a real sense it’s the one I expect to see.  It’s why I’m so distressed; reality has a hard time living up to my expectations.  And, so, naturally, I want to change reality to fit my desire.

I think about gender equality as an ideal, and it’s hard to restrain myself:  I want to advise people — regardless of their gender — to never take counsel of their fears.  Be prudent, but not unduly so; be humble yet confident; if you want something, go get it — and never try to harm someone else.  I can think of no better way to live, and no better wisdom to offer.

But dare I?  Because, just as with the jet planes those jackasses turned into flying bombs, it’s about more than just me.  There are consequences to actions and even to advice, and fear exists for a reason.  What right have I to counsel fearlessness in the face of a world such as ours?

I don’t fly.

But I also don’t rant about how awful the security checks are, because it’s not my place.  If ever I do choose to fly, I’ll stand in line patiently; I’ll endure inconvenience and indignity, and I’ll try to do so with a smile on my face.

And the next time I’m seated next to a young lady on Amtrak, I’ll be sure to offer her the aisle if she wants it — or even to move.  Because it’s about more than just me.

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2 comments

  1. Poor John, I’m sorry she found you scary, since you’re such a teddy bear. But I also understand her reservations. It’s hard to not be at least a little cautious when surrounded by strangers, no matter the gender, but for women it is a bit more complicated. I’ve been lucky to have had enough positive men in my life, and enough personal strength and confidence, that I can mitigate the appearance of fear (don’t let them see you sweat) but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t felt. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we lived in a world in which such anxiety was unknown?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bruce Schneier (a fairly famous computer security expert) calls the TSA, “security theater.” And rightly so. The TSA has never thwarted a single hijacking attempt and numerous tests of their security have demonstrated that it is quite easy to bring many different types of weapons, including explosives, onto a commercial flight. The TSA has failed to detect and prevent every one of the test items from being carried onto a commercial flight. There is nothing irrational about being annoyed at wasted money, time, and the requirement to comply with useless infringements upon your person.

      Nor is it reasonable for young ladies to assume that any male is a threat to her. Regardless of who you are there are people in the world who absolutely are dangerous to you in a very real and personal way. To assume that any person who exhibits any trait of one of those dangerous people is also a threat is unreasonable. Physical violence is more often committed by males than by females. Is it reasonable to then assume that all males are likely to be physically violent without provocation? Of course not. But a man lurking in a dark corner muttering to himself and staring at you with wild eyes is clearly someone a sensible person would not seek to interact with.

      Reason and judgement are the difference between sensible precaution and childish fears that are not based on reality. It’s just as reasonable to be frightened of monsters under the bed as to be frightened of all men simply because they have the capacity to be dangerous. Any human can be dangerous. There is no perfect safety this side of the grave and training young ladies to fear all men is no solution. Training young ladies to have rational caution in dangerous situations and to recognize the difference between a dangerous situation and a normal situation is exactly what is called for. It’s no more or less than what any man expects to do. Isn’t that equality?

      Liked by 1 person

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