Readers — The Boston Marathon bombing has brought us an outbreak of sanity in the mainstream media. For instance, there’s this piece from CNN.com 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.