To live well, one must take risks. To live long they must be calculated in a calculus informed by knowledge of self and knowledge of world. Let the romantic in one be tempered by the realist to avoid the fates of Christopher McCandless, Timothy Treadwell, and Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan:
Asked why they had quit their office jobs and set off on a biking journey around the world, the young American couple offered a simple explanation: They had grown tired of the meetings and teleconferences, of the time sheets and password changes.
“There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world,” wrote Jay Austin who, along with his partner, Lauren Geoghegan, gave his two weeks’ notice last year before shipping his bicycle to Africa.
They were often proved right.
[. . .]
Then came Day 369, when the couple was biking in formation with a group of other tourists on a panoramic stretch of road in southwestern Tajikistan. It was there, on July 29, that a carload of men who are believed to have recorded a video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State spotted them.
Bruce Bawer in Death by Entitlement offers astute commentary (bolding added)
Their naivete is nothing less than breathtaking. “You watch the news and you read the papers and you're led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” wrote Austin during their trek. “People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted....I don't buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we've invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own.” This rosy view of humanity suffuses Austin's blog: “Malawians and Zambians are fantastically friendly people.” And: “All throughout western Europe, when folks asked us where we were headed and we'd say Albania, their faces would drop and they'd start muttering 'Oh, no, no, no.' Albania, they'd tell us, is dangerous. The people of Albania will steal your spleen....The Albanians we come across are perhaps the warmest, friendliest, smiliest...people we've met on the continent.”
Austin's blog also provides a window on his (and presumably her) hippie-dippy worldview and ultra-PC politics. Elephants, writes Austin, “may very well be a smarter, wiser, more thoughtful being[s] than homo sapiens sapiens.” When white South Africans tell them “that the nation and its redistributionist government are making poor, ignorant choices,” Austin sneers at their “Eurocentric values” and their failure to realize that “[n]otions like private property” are culturally relative. This is apparently a comment on the South African government's current expropriation of white farmers' land without compensation. (To be sure, when a friendly Afrikaans man advises Austin and Geoghegan to move their tent because they've pitched it too close to a black settlement and may antagonize the locals, they're quick to let him lead them to a safer spot.)
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The Times article about Austin and Geoghegan drew hundreds of reader comments.
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Perusing all the reader comments, I found exactly two that mentioned Islam critically. Here's one: “Tajikistan is 96.7% Islamic. It is a dangerous place for American tourists....This is not Islamophobia. It is common sense.” Here's the other: “As a Western woman I have no desire to visit a majority Muslim country because of the religious and cultural bias regarding their treatment of women.” Both of these comments attracted outraged replies. (“Many parts of the US are not so kind to women either, particularly those states that have managed to close just about all their Planned Parenthood clinics.”) Several readers railed against “religion” generally, as if terrorism by Quakers and Episcopalians were a worldwide problem.
Indeed, this being the New York Times, moral equivalency was rampant (“Yes, they [the ISIS murderers]were brutal....But what about our treatment of prisoners in Guantamino Bay?”), as was a readiness to blame Islamic terrorism on America (“There are consequences to our nation's decision to murder Muslim civilians by the hundreds of thousands”) or, specifically, on Donald Trump. One reader comment, a “Times Pick,” read, in part, as follows: “A great story and an admirable couple. But those who condemn their killers as evil probably fail to recognize that ISIS fighters see themselves as being on the side of good. For them, these young Americans were an embodiment of the Great Satan....Instead of bandying around moral absolutes, perhaps we should recognize that good and evil are relative categories, dependent on your culture and your values.”
[. . .]
Times readers called the couple heroes. No, the heroes are not these poor fools who stumbled into an ISIS-controlled area; the heroes are the soldiers from the U.S. and elsewhere – most of them a decade or so younger, and centuries savvier, than Austin and Geoghegan – who, while the two 29-year-olds were on a year-long cycling holiday, were risking their lives to beat back ISIS. What, then, is the moral of this couple's story? In the last analysis, it's a story about two young people who, like many other privileged members of their generation of Americans, went to a supposedly top-notch university only to come away poorly educated but heavily propagandized – imbued with a fashionable postmodern contempt for Western civilization and a readiness to idealize and sentimentalize “the other” (especially when the latter is decidedly uncivilized). This, ultimately, was their tragedy: taking for granted American freedom, prosperity, and security, they dismissed these extraordinary blessings as boring, banal, and (in Austin's word) “beige,” and set off, with the starry-eyed and suicidal naivete of children who never entirely grew up, on a child's fairy-tale adventure into the most perilous parts of the planet. Far from being inspirational, theirs is a profoundly cautionary – and distinctly timely – tale that every American, parents especially, should take to heart.