I’ve been traveling this week in northern Mexico, in Sinaloa and Durango, Mexico. While I’ve been here there has been yet another multiple killing at yet another school in the United States. This has got me to thinking about those who fear traveling abroad from the US, and the ironic tragedy of that fear.
Fear of the World
Maps of the greater world, especially the places that get prominence in the serious world news, can, to some Americans, read like a Bosch triptych:
Full of tempting and terrifying possibilities. Best to stay at home and not take that bite of the apple, or, maybe worse, mango. If you do travel, it might be wise to stay with old Europe, or a cossetted Caribbean cruise. Don’t tempt the fates.
The world view of too many Americans is formed by the media, resulting in a perspective not unlike this:
I think this can be a bit unfair to the many American who do travel (unfortunately, as in all stereotypes, there is also some truth in the above map). The graph below shows the great increase in the number of Americans holding passports. By some reports it is up to 35-45% of the population. There has been a great increase in part caused by the new requirement that Americans need passports or travel cards to travel to Mexico or Canada. By comparison, though, 75% of Brits hold passports.
Infographic by dadaviz.com user @Jishai (hosted here)
But still, Americans don’t travel nearly as much as other nationalities, and I don’t think it is just because of lack of time or interest. I would suggest that the American agoraphobia is fueled also by the violence on their own streets and in their own schools. A generalized existential fear accompanies living in a place where random deadly rampages on a daily basis are becoming normal. My sister rushed me out of a store in LA when a young Latino male got upset because he felt the store clerk was watching him closely because of his race. She was afraid of what would happen next if things escalated. This is a level of fear that, when projected on an even more alien environment outside of the US, could be intolerable. Better to stay home with the television, and watch the melee behind locked doors.
The Guardian reports that there were 994 mass shooting in the US in the last 1,004 days. It provides a startling graphic that illustrates this slaughter. “The data compiled by the crowd-sourced site Mass Shooting Tracker reveals an even more shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident – nearly every day.” The graphic is huge, so I won’t reproduce it here. Have a look if you have a chance.
This reality does not create a “world-open” perspective. It is basic human psychology that fear tends to make people conservative and risk averse. America these days, in my opinion, and experience, is a place of fear and danger. From a distance I can better appreciate the effects that fear has on how people are learning to live their lives.