The Connection Between Terrorism and Child Safety

Readers — The Boston Marathon bombing has brought us an outbreak of sanity in the mainstream media. For instance, there’s this piece from by Dr. Charles Raison. (For God’s sake — even his NAME means “reason” in French!) He argues that our brains haven’t evolved to parse the difference between a likely danger and an unlikely one that is shocking and rare. Terrorists, he writes:

…commit acts that frighten us so unrealistically that we as a society change our behavior in ways that are profoundly out of proportion to the actual risks involved.

While I certainly advocate reasonable caution, I also want to encourage us not to fall victim to the mismatch between our evolved, and overwhelming, emotional reaction to certain types of events and their actual risk in the modern world…. A first step toward getting wiser about how we react to events like the Boston bombing is to recognize that we evolved to overreact to these types of dangers, and that therefore we should not immediately change how we live our lives based on these reactions.

Bravo! Then there was this piece by Steve Chapman at the Chicago Tribune trying to put our fears in perspective:

What happened in Boston would hardly warrant news coverage in Iraq, which today saw 37 people die in at least 20 attacks across the country. It’s a shock to Americans because it’s so exceptional.A 2011 report by the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response found that the number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil actually declined after 9/11, averaging just 16 a year. Between 2002 and 2010, it found, there were only 25 deaths in such incidents.

That was news to me. And here’s Ross Douhat from the NY Times, hoping what I’m hoping:

…what I hope we don’t see, when the next race or a parade or festival looms up in front of us, are layers of extra stops and searches and checkpoints, wider and wider rings of closed streets…more of the concrete barriers that Washingtonians have become accustomed to around our public buildings … more of everything that organized officialdom does to reassure us, and itself, that soft targets can somehow be eliminated entirely, and that everything anyone can think of is being done to keep the unthinkable at bay.

This kind of security theater is a natural response to terrorism, but it’s a response that since 9/11 we’ve done an absolutely terrible job of reasoning through and then gradually ratcheting back.

The overarching message? America is extremely safe but, alas, can never be completely safe, no matter how excessively we constrict our lives.

Same thing I say  about children. Focus on the least likely, most horrific childhood dangers and you can ratchet up the safety measures beyond all reason. And beyond almost all effect. – L.

Let’s not trade stars and stripes for this.


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5 Responses to The Connection Between Terrorism and Child Safety

  1. Red April 23, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    The whole “fear of terror” also just skews people’s perspective. We had a person who was speeding down our local, residential street so excessively in recent weeks that we ended up having to get the police involved. Several times she had almost hit pedestrians and honked at them and flipped them off.

    When confronted, she went off on a rant about how the parents in our neighborhood should be more concerned about the “real problems” of school shooters and bombers than about speeders. Lady, my kid has a FAR, FAR higher chance of getting hit by you and your damn SUV than of being shot at school or bombed in a crowd.

  2. Red April 23, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    (She also tried to attack one of the parents who she believed had reported her, so maybe she was right in a way. We should be scared of “terrorists” in our midst–since apparently she, our neighborhood speeder, thinks that terrorizing people who reported her is an appropriate response to a reckless driving ticket.)

  3. Brian April 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    I expect we’re only seeing sanity because the terrorists turned out to be Islamists, and it serves the media to downplay the risk. Before we knew who it was, CNN et al. were ramping up the panic over right wing domestic terrorism.

  4. BL April 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Speaking of the Boston bombing …

    Police had the whole metropolitan area in complete lock down. That probably made it easy for Tsarnaev to hide and move around – nobody to stop him but the predictable bureaucratic movements of the authorities.

    When the lockdown was finally eased and people could actually walk into their own back yards, the guy was detected within minutes.

  5. anonymous this time April 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Hey Lenore! That interview you linked to with “Charlotte Talks” on NPR was my favourite one yet. I really enjoyed that interviewer, and your conversation with him was really fun to listen to. Some of my favourite sound bites from you yet! You go, girl! :-)