Dog Whistle

As I arrived home from work tonight, our street was pitch dark and quiet. Our street is almost always quiet -a dead end that finishes at the water. I struggled, Bridget-Jones-like to exit the car with my jacket, four bags of groceries, my handbag, and my laptop. And as I locked the car, someone whistled.

I looked around, blindly in the dark, and they whistled again. There are no streetlights. Perhaps someone was trying to get my attention. Perhaps they were calling a dog. I’ll never know.

As I stumbled inside with my load, I told my husband that there was someone out on the street whistling. Quietly, he went out to check the mailbox.

“There’s no one whistling at me,” he shrugged.

It was the perfect response. A reaction but not an overreaction. A slightly comical twist to lighten the tension.

***

When people are really, really afraid, and you just tell them not to be afraid… I’m not sure that it helps much.

That’s no reason to stop saying it though. Franklin Roosevelt did very well with the “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” speech. It was a very relevant message then (Great Depression, everyone who still had money suddenly terrified of investing it, which gave everyone less money overall). Economics is weirdly built on intangible things like feelings and belief. But his speech is also an equally relevant message now. Frightened people make very bad decisions.

Nobody seems to want to believe it, but the world today is the safest it’s been in my lifetime. Crime has declined in most developed countries. Other than anomalies like the current British discussion on Trident, the threat of nuclear winter doesn’t enter most people’s consciousness anymore. And perhaps we’ve all forgotten, but the nuclear threat was such a normal part of our lives in the 1980s that we hardly considered any alternatives. Yes, we have terrorism to deal with now (and crazy, angry men who just want to watch the world burn)… but we had all of that in the 1970s and 80s too, in case anyone wants to forget Lockerbie and the IRA, Tehran, Beirut, bombings in Rome, Vienna, Berlin, etc, etc, etc. Just because some of us were too young to be watching the news back then, it doesn’t mean those things weren’t happening. But I don’t remember wide-scale panic in the small town where I grew up. I certainly don’t remember an open discussion of banning foreigners or certain religions from the country. Proponents of that would have been a very fringe element in the 1980s.

So the fear that I see today just makes me sad. I understand it as fear (not necessarily stupidity, or bigotry, or even anger), but it still makes me sad. It is so pernicious and yet so completely unnecessary. I don’t wonder how we got here – the screaming skull of Hard Copy has a lot to answer for – but that doesn’t mean that this is a natural or desirable state of being.

… I also know that there’s a lot of hate on Trevor Noah at the moment, but this stuff just makes so much sense to me. I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m not the only one who is saddened by the fact that the safety so hard-fought and won is being squandered without being enjoyed… just because so many people refuse to believe it exists.

What use is safety when you only feel it by locking yourself away? That’s not freedom – that’s prison…

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