The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I worked at a family-owned amusement park for kids along the Jersey shore. With other high school students, I operated the rides, picked up trash, collected tickets, and filled in wherever the owner, a squat man with thick glasses and a growl, ordered us. The park included teacups, boats, a train, an airplane ride, and a kid-sized carousel.
One night just before closing, a young couple came up to the carousel where I was working. Their toddler was excited about riding the “horsey,” but the mother felt anxious. She had been debating with the father about whether to let him ride. Finally, she relented. As I strapped him in, she said to me, “Is there any way he can fall off?”
Before going any further, you should know three things about me. First, I had worked all day and all night and felt exhausted. The exhaustion didn’t come from the physical work as much as having to deal with the public.
Second, even back then I had a philosophical bent. I remember going on my own to Carnegie Hall to hear the Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti, speak. I also would argue about God with everybody from atheists to Jehovah’s Witnesses, mainly just to argue.
Third, related to number one, I am an introvert by nature, which means that social interaction takes a lot out of me. If I go too long without rest or quiet, my social interaction can become antisocial interaction.
So, in answer to the mother’s question about whether there was any way her son could fall off the horse, I said, “Probably.” She blushed, the father laughed, and both sat down at a nearby bench to watch junior and wave.
I bring this up, because I am reminded of it nearly every time I run into high anxiety, which, as you can imagine, happens every day, everywhere. People are on edge. They are mistrustful. Sometimes, they get violent. And the violence can destroy lives in so many ways.
Right now in Northern California people are dealing with wild fires, which experts believe are the result of recent lightning storms. The skies are hazy, humid, and smokey. Communities have been evacuated. Mothers won’t let their kids play outside for fear of respiratory problems.
This comes after a period of intense heat and the now familiar phenomena of COVID, face masks, social distancing, rioting, racial tension, media wars, brownouts, layoffs, and a presidential election shaping up to be even more divisive than the last. It feels as if we are under heavy mortar fire. I wouldn’t be surprised if earthquakes and food shortages followed.
As if that weren’t enough, I have noticed more homeless people on the street. Many act deranged and hallucinatory. Last week, one of them threatened to assault me outside a convenience store. I also have come across broken glass and vandalism in the neighborhood, which scares business owners at a time when they are picking themselves up after being knocked down by the lockdown.
So, legitimate reasons exist for the anxiety. It would be foolish to argue otherwise. However, I am concerned about more than people shunning each other in grocery stores. What strikes me is the ease with which they have succumbed to anxiety without so much as a second thought about the significance of their behavior. They surrender control of their actions, speech, and even bodies to the point that they are–literally–muzzled.
We could be witnessing the emergence of a new kind of slavery, one born out of the existential angst of the last century but adapted to the dehumanizing, social control of the current one. This slavery dispenses with individualism, grace, and humor. These detract from the planned, egalitarian utopia and relieve anxiety. So, we can’t have that. The pharmaceutical industry, for one, wouldn’t stand for it.
I feel as if I have slipped into an alternate reality, one in which the mother doesn’t let her son out of the house, let alone on a carousel on a summer night. After all, the world has become a dangerous place. It’s too risky to think, to breathe, to ride a horsey.
Better to shelter in place.
Image credits: feature by Finn on Unsplash; face masks by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash. For more, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”