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Snow, Fear and Bicycles - The Lyorn's Den

Fri Dec. 29th, 2006

09:54 pm - Snow, Fear and Bicycles

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There was snow yesterday evening. A few centimetres only, heavy and wet, but it was pretty while it lasted.

I had been riding my bicycle into town with a vague idea of going to the library, but as soon as I had left the house, a freezing rain started to fall (it turned to sleet later, and finally to wet snow), and the library is not well heated. Instead I stopped at the tea house, had some tea and read magazines. Mostly women's magazines, which I generally enjoy for two reasons: 1. the cooking, and 2. the immeasurable relief that my life is so very simple and pleasant compared to the lives of the magazines' target audience.

I found a nice, simple recipe for tomatoes roasted in the oven, which I'll try as soon as tomatoes are in season again. I found a whole load of things I did not need at all, and an article which irked me.

It was about fearlessness, a trait the author said she would like to have more than any other. More than courage, which might be more virtuous, but less enjoyable. So far, so good. But then the article drifted into what smelled of agenda, and a disgustingly common one at that.

Basically, it seemed to me, the author was longing for a simpler life, and was mixing a desire for simplicity up with a desire for freedom from fear, which she called fearlessness. I do not feel like untangling that at the moment, but let's say those equations didn't quite convince me. Maybe I'll write a story to examine the differences, but I won't do so today.

The author barely managed not to say that it would be better if people had less choice, which would either have her readers up in arms (at least I hope so!) or her advertisers.

But then she went on about the inverse relationship of insurance and fear. Which can't surprise anyone, really. The more you fear, the more security you want -- but not the other way around, and that was a difference I felt the author didn't get, a blind spot which put her squarely in the camp of all those folks who say that we'd all be a whole lot happier if we had the opportunity to die from an infected tooth, or eat dog food in our old age.

I have to say that (despite being phobic of dentists) I feared a toothache a whole lot less when I knew that I didn't have to worry whether I could pay a dentist's bill, and while I'm extremely unenthusiastic about the idea of old age in general, I didn't quite fear it until the combination of old age and dog food entered the equation. I do not think that I would ride my bicycle with more ease if I knew that scratching the side of a Mercedes in a moment of inattention would lead to me having to sell my cats for laboratory experiments.

I'm generalising from a sample of one, but IMO people do not get more fearful from having their bases covered. They can be made more fearful by scaremongers who want to sell them something, but that's an engineered emotion, not a natural reaction. And one can learn to resist the scaremongers by deciding to be courageous, and fearlessness will follow for reasons of efficiency: Once you have decided that you're willing and able to deal with a problem should it occur, it stops occupying that much of your mind. But not having one's bases covered, knowing that everything that goes wrong can trigger a catastrophe and gnaw you down to the bone -- that breeds fear of everything, everything new and everything unexpected or unknown. Which is why it's in the interest of fearmongers to make us insecure about things we can't do anything about, so we flock to them for the things they claim they can do something about -- for a price.

I didn't worry about money at the bank when a societal contract covered the costs I wouldn't be able to deal with on my own. I worry far too much about it now, because I know that for all my efforts I am entirely unable to weather even a medium case of bad luck. My worry about my health is more proportional to the state of health insurance than to my age. It's depressing. I try not to think about it.

But apart from that, and even including that, I do not worry overmuch. I survived the Cold War, which I never expected to, so my reaction to e.g. any new terrorist scare is mostly boredom and embarrassment at the general level of hysterics. I'm not courageous and not especially fearless, I'm just egocentric and lazy and have a natural talent for not giving a damn. I try not to acquire too much that I'd have to care for, and rarely make other people's problems my own.

Maybe that would help the author of the article. But from what she wrote (assuming she was talking about herself), she wants to be good in her job, get ahead and get recognised, she wants love and she wants kids (and she wants her kids, like her love, not only to be there, not only to be nice and healthy, she wants them to be good enough to show them off, she wants them as close to perfect as possible), she wants a house and she wants respect and she wants to be well-regarded by neighbours, relatives and people on the street. And so she's living in fear of not getting what she wants, yet it's not desire she blames for her fearfulness, but what little security she has.

My reading of the article might be too uncharitable, and there might have been the occasional good point in it, but IMO it was at best unreflected prattle about a subject that'd have deserved better, and at worst propaganda accomplishing the opposite of what it claimed to set out to do.

Oh, well. Not that I'm free of desire. Currently I strongly desire a bicycle I saw in a shop the other day. I bought a bicycle some two years ago with the idea of getting to work with it when I was not in a hurry, but it turned out that days when I wasn't in a hurry were few, and that the bicycle was of the wrong type for me. I had a great Holland bicycle as a teen, sturdy, reliable, comfortable and not too heavy. For a few years I put an average of 5000 km a year on it, and that was the type of bicycle I wanted again. Unfortunately there wasn't any like it, and doubly not for the price I was willing to pay. (Not more than I paid 25 years ago, which is, when you think of it, pretty idiotic.) So I ended up with something called a City Bike which weighs as much as a small battle cruiser and has suspension for both saddle and handlebars, which leads to the whole affair rocking like a ship at sea if I accelerate or go uphill. (And I already set the suspension to maximum weight.) The saddle is as wide as a pub bench, and makes my lower spine (which isn't what it used to be anyway) hurt after going for two kilometres, and the handles is not in any place where I could grip them naturally -- I have to stretch and twist my wrists. It might be a very nice bicycle for someone, but definitely not for me.

So when I went to town day before last, I stopped at the bicycle shop and said, "I'm looking for a light bike with no suspension, a narrow saddle, a short frame, and the handlebar either a full "U"-shape or fully straight, but not in-between. I'll use it around town, not on long trips or off-road. What can you recommend?" They frowned at my disliking suspension but showed me a light trekking bike without it and let me ride it around the block. And now I very much want that bicycle. Only, it costs about four times what I paid for my much-beloved Holland bike in 1981. Which is not too bad, considering inflation, but is it worth that much to me?

I have three months to think about it. January 8th I'm going back to California, and I won't be home until April.

And some links:

Here's one on planetbuilding. The planets are already build, topography, climate, ecology and all. Great.

Did I link this one before? The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

How to deal with critiquing (the literary/beta reading kind).

Also on writing: On novels in progress. The link goes to the discussion of the article on Makinglight, but the original article is linked and the discussion is interesting.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful


[User Picture]
Date:January 1st, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
That's very interesting, and I think you're right. That kind of fearless simplicity the author talks about is a direct result of having your bases covered. It's one of the reasons people with independent incomes are overrepresented in the history of literature. Many otherwise inexplicable social issues -- a long-running war against contraception and abortion that's largely conducted by people who aren't personally opposed to those things; repeated attempts to break Social Security; tightening access financial aid that's sufficient to cover a first-rate education; our inability (alone among first-world countries) to pull together a national health care program -- make more sense if you look at them as mechanisms that leave most people feeling like their bases aren't covered.

That sense that you can't fail confers a tremendous advantage on people who have it. If you want an illustration, just look at the Oval Office.

I don't suppose you'd be willing to identify the article and its author?
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[User Picture]
Date:January 1st, 2007 10:06 pm (UTC)
I don't suppose you'd be willing to identify the article and its author?

I do not know if you read German... finding the first page of the article on the web was easier than I thought: it's here. Author is Anja Jardine, and the whole essay is printed in the 1/2007 issue of "Brigitte", a magazine that is generally quite reasonable as women's magazines go.

I feel like I should comment in the forum, but I as I read the article in a café and do not have it at hand, I probably won't. :-/ Besides, I'm still not sure if I am not overreacting, because being involved in fandom got me into reading blogs, which got me aware of US social issues, which makes me deeply suspicious of politicians and pundits talking about "personal responsibility".

If I remember my numbers correctly, Germany already has the second most inefficient health care system in the first world, and every year they pass some "reforms" which lead to having the sick pay more and offering the insurers more ways to dodge, while talking heads on TV claim we need to become more like the US, and the local newspaper calls for donations so that an old woman who broke her glasses and can't leave home without them can get new ones for christmas.

Those "let them eat cake" pundits and talking heads were either born with a silver spoon in their mouth, or they are just stupid, I do not know. I also do not know what to do about it, which is why I rant on LJ...
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