When human beings are reduced to stateless savagery, the nuanced complexities of civilized language give way to a barbaric display of uncontrolled aggression, suppressed fear and unbridled rage. Some would call this post-apocalyptic life sheer madness. I currently call it home. Of the 50 most violent cities in the world, 32 are located in Brazil, the most violent of which being the one where I was born and raised.
No other country has a higher number of homicides, not even the four most populous in the world: China, India, USA or Indonesia. Despite having a smaller population than any of these nations, Brazil has the highest absolute number of homicides in the world, approximately 60,000 per year. Even when the days fail to remind me of this ominous fact, the nights are glad to oblige.
My nightly walks by the beach are nocturnal acts of martyrdom. This is a section of the city devoid of public lighting, never mind public safety. At night, the presence of the state is nowhere to be seen. The reach of the law is limited by the speed of a bullet, the sharpness of a machete or the hardness of a fist. Some contend that to venture outside after dark is a suicidal act, but I beg to differ.
Living in fear is the slowest, most excruciating form of death. It corrodes your being from the inside out. The freedom to live constrained within a block of concrete is tantamount to prison life. To move from one enclosed space to another, always in fear of the transition in between, is not my idea of freedom. Paradoxically, one must be willing to die for freedom in order to truly live free. Either we overcome our fears or our fears overcome ourselves. Having travelled through some dark valleys, these are two lessons I have learned so well.
And so I set out, night after night, to take my long walks by the beach. Kant was not the only one who believed in taking daily constitutionals. Before leaving, I realized that my safe return was never guaranteed, so I surrendered my soul to God. I also vowed to act according to one guiding principle: project confidence to avoid conflict. Everyone I encountered was treated with respect, regardless of appearance or conspicuous behavior. If anyone walked straight towards me, I walked straight towards them, projecting confidence and closing the distance.
At all times, I set my gaze on the horizon and appeared to ignore my surroundings, while surveying my flanks with my peripheral vision. If anyone established eye contact, I reciprocated in kind. Never did I display emotion. Never did I display fear. The times I was violently accosted or attacked, I always fought my way out despite being unarmed.
As the months progressed, I amassed a small collection of scars, both physical and emotional. Each one has its tale of ultraviolence, but none of which I would care to tell. The only people fascinated with war and violence are the ones who never experienced it. As you become desensitized to violence, you become fearless, but then something changes inside you. Jokes become less humorous, music less melodic, films less moving, even social interactions more robotic. All because you become less empathetic.
In the end, I learned that only the heartless and lifeless are entirely fearless. I set out in search of freedom only to find myself locked inside a different kind of prison. My body was set free; my heart bound in chains. Having declared war on fear, only later did I realize what was really at stake. If the price of victory is the loss of one´s own humanity, what is the point of winning? I would like to know.