Sunday, September 3, 2017

There's nothing to fear but fear itself

Anthropologists tell us that if you could bring a Stone Age man to life he would have no trouble fitting into today's civilization. He could use a computer, drive a car, fly a plane -- anything that modern humans do. That's because he was just as intelligent as you and me. Not much happens from an evolutionary point of view in just five thousand years. I would expect most people would accept that premise. What they might have trouble realizing, however, is the reverse is true too -- today's man is no different than his Stone Age predecessor.
Man back then was hard-wired to fear things and for good reason. Imagine your many, many-great grandfather as he sat knapping some spearpoints on the steppes or prairies or the plains of the Serengeti. He sees a brownish-tan object. If he reasons it might be a lion or a saber-toothed cat or giant bear and moves to higher ground, he lives and passes on his genes which includes the ones to fear anything you don't know. If he thinks, "Oh, it's probably just a rock," he eventually becomes  dinner and his line disappears.
This explains why people seem so quick to fear things. We fear strangers, things that go bump in the night and anything that is unfamiliar. Fear first and ask questions later is our motto. Over time our reasoning ability overcomes some of our fears but we're always ready to revert to survival mode at a moment's notice.
From an outdoors perspective this could explain why so many people are afraid of snakes, spiders, creepy insects (literally, insects that creep) the dark and most animals. It also explains why it is human nature to horde food -- we're afraid of starvation even though in reality we have so much food that we're dying from obesity. Freezers full of fish and game are a good example. I always cringe when I hear stories of how the power went out and somebody lost the natural bounty in his freezer and has to start all over. What a waste, both for losing the freezer-burnt food but also for feeling the necessity of accumulating it in the first place. There are too many people in the world now for us to stockpile wild food and then throw it out when we discover we don't need it or that it has gone bad.
When it comes to wild fish, my family has adopted the practice of just keeping what we need for a single meal. Most frozen fish, including northern pike and walleye, go downhill very rapidly as far as taste is concerned. They are wonderful when fresh but once frozen I can tell the difference in just one week. I find them extremely "fishy" tasting after a month, certainly no better and maybe not as good as frozen fish I can buy at the supermarket.
I would rather have the thrill of catching and releasing fish and only eating a few of them fresh than the false smugness that comes from stockpiling them in the freezer. I use my vanity genes to overcome my fearful ones. I'm such a good fisherman, I tell myself, that I can always catch fish any time I want them. It's worked so far.

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