Anyway. Trying to wind down so I can get to bed, I've been catching up on some of the RSS feeds I follow, and I found a really interesting article:
Fear of Crime
The author tells the story about how when he moved to NYC for school his uncle gave him a hunting knife for protection in the dangerous big city. That's a story I am familiar with, though in my case I was moving to Cleveland. I wasn't given weapons, but I did get suggestions from at least a half-dozen people on how to protect myself. Part of this was being a young woman (I was twenty-four at the time), living on my own in a large city. Never mind the fact that I was living in an apartment with a 24/7 security guard that specialized in grad and international students and that was quite literally within sight of my school. Cleveland was a lovely city, and I miss it a lot, and I truly can't remember ever feeling unsafe personally.
This wasn't blindness or callousness, and it was probably helped by the fact that I was a bit of a homebody. I had a group of friends (waves @ TCBS) that were long-term Cleveland natives, several years older than me and settled in the suburbs. So I would get picked up and deposited at my door, we would go do something nice, and beyond that I was stuck in my campus and fannish life. I didn't really feel the need to go out and do stuff, certainly not at night. But I know for those people back home, the only time they heard the name "Cleveland" was when there was a crime-spree that made the news down South. And just like everyone around you seems to be saying this week's vocab words (because you are keyed in to hear them), I think that when you know someone in a far-off city you arew more tuned in to news about it. Suddenly that place can seem like a very, very dangerous place to live.
We all know that happily-ever-afters make for bad stories (or at least short ones). They also feel rather personal and somehow less real, at least to me. I remember watching the new Alice in Wonderland a few days ago and having a bit of a eucatastrophe moment. It's when Alice kills the jabberwocky and all the card-knights drop their swords, and you hear this clanging that's similar to when swords meet but is different - it actually made a peacenik like myself weep happy tears. Even remembering that scene has me smiling. But things like that, even if they were reality (or, to speak more precisely: in re rather than in intellectu), they would hardly be worth mentioning. They would feel like "my" happiness ratbher than something universal. Even when the good news gets reported on, it's more as an oddity rather than anything else.
Getting back to the Slate article, it makes the point that for a wide variety of reasons people tend to think the world is more dangerous than it is (statistically speaking). Those reasons actually make a lot of sense, and I suppose it makes sense in most every way to overreact to fear. Evolution-wise, you're more likely to survive if you stay as far away from danger as possible. All things being equal, which of course they never are: sometimes being gun-shy costs us important opportunities. And "tough on crime" does make a good sound-bite. And people desperately want information when they're scared, so I can easily see why that drives news ratings up. Who wouldn't want those things?
But there's another aspect that I think can be all too easily overlooked. Because I see a real similarity between this phenomenon and our perpetual war on terror on the one hand, and our "social" wars on the other hand. Reading the reports of CPAC, one of the Ron Paul supporters made the argument that conservative moral issues like abortion and gay murder should be put on the back burner until the economy is fixed. (It never will be.) For years Americans were told that we shouldn't insist on those pesky Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. There were real Bad Guys to catch, and so long as we were at war, us "decent folk" should just grit our teeth and bear it. After all, we didn't have anything to hide, right? Sometimes I feel like my country was sold on temporary sacrifices that are structured in a way that they'll never go away.
I know that there are other people besides the news organizations and the politicians who spin fear into gold. That phrase military-industrial complex is almost cliche, but there's some truth into it: for some people, perpetual war in all its formats is good, even as it is driving my country into the ground. The other theme that came out of CPAC was this idea that America was exceptional, that we should be leading the world, how outrageous it was when polls said most Americans thought China was the superpower. But I don't know where this myth that America was some great world-leader came from. My country has done a lot of good for the world, and I'm proud of that. But we didn't really have long-standing empires like the British, French, and Spanish did. If we won World War II it was because we stood on the shoulders of giants: those Europeans, and especially the British who had been being bombed regularly while we sat safe across the Atlantic. Between slavery and our horrid handling of Native Americans, I don't see my country as having any great claim to the moral high ground, either.
I can't help wondering whether my nation's anxiety goes back to this myth? When you expect to be #1 and you aren't, when you expect everything to be perfect and it's not, it's too easy to believe that things would be right if not for... whatever. Crime. Immigrants. Business practices. Micro-managing nanny states. Whatever.
Or maybe this is all just human psychology - we're just wired, predisposed, something, toward seeing the world in this way. I really hope not - that would be truly depressing!