A few years back I was reading an old National Geographic magazine about spiders and how they live in fear and uncertainty. I will admit, it made me feel more for these poor creatures who become trapped in our homes or cars and really have no desire to hide from us all the time. I imagined it probably was stressful.
Before I had children, or even when I was a child myself I wouldn’t say I lived like a spider. As a child or young adult I had no concept of mortality or expiration date. Life was full of possibility, no end in sight. Once I had children, my life of fear and uncertainty began.
According to a recent poll by Pew Research, which published the results in January of this year, most Americans, a whopping 75 percent, were most afraid of Islamic extremist groups, like Al Qaeda. This fear has remained about the same in number since the attacks on the Twin Towers. 70 percent of Americans were afraid of cyber-attacks from other countries. 68 percent and 67 percent polled were worried about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs. Are our fears irrational?
Pew Research also states that the United States has spent 16.6 million dollars annually on anti-terrorism efforts. Other sources pin the number even higher, some saying 18 million, some estimate in the billions. If I remember correctly, wasn’t one of Al Qaeda’s goals to bankrupt America? It seems like we are allowing our fears to overcome our sensibilities when dealing with our budget. I will admit, knowing that our shores and skies are being monitored does make it easier to sleep at night and I believe this is what drives Americans to overlook this expense.
After the terrorist attacks in 2001 many people bought supplies in case of a future attack. Many others decided to avoid public transportation, planes and any large gathering of people. “People are particularly vulnerable to this sort of thing when they’re in a state of high anxiety, fear for their well-being and have a great deal of uncertainty about the future.” Dr. Daniel Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard was quoted in a New York Times article. (“Rational and Irrational Fears Combine in Terrorism’s Wake 10/02/2001) There is that word again, uncertainty.
What were Americans fears before terrorism? Communism, poverty, stock market crashing, Immigrants, power struggles and losing War World II were all common fears of the past. As a culture, have Americans developed their own neurosis?
Is it because people view terrorism as a scarier way of dying than any other death? Conor Friedersdorf, a writer for theatlantic.com, wrote, “Government officials, much of the media, and most American citizens talk about terrorism as if they’re totally oblivious to this context — as if it is different than all other threats we face, in both kind and degree.” (“The Irrationality of Giving Up This Much Liberty to Fight Terrorism”) Do we place a hierarchy on terrorism as a worse death than cancer, car accidents or even murder?
If you research causes of death in the United States you would find that more people die from lightning strikes, drowning in bathtubs, football injuries, heart disease, falls and pneumonia than from terrorism.
I think of terrorism as being similar to a tornado. It is unpredictable, uncertain and quick. Perhaps that’s why when a hurricane is looming, the panic is slow to materialize, there is still time to stock your supply of water or head out of state, but a tornado provides no such security, no outcome is a given.
Terrorism is a moment, a flash, a bomb, an explosion which comes with no warning, no way to head out of harm’s way, no way to protect yourself or your family. There is a sense of shock and instant brutality in which most people can’t relate to, or have time to respond to. It is the suddenness of the situation in which I believe causes the fear, the uncertainty.
As a whole, our country has moved past the first days after the attacks in 2001 but just as soon as the mania was calming a bit we were once again shocked at another attack, this time in Boston. Three people died and 140 people were injured. Hardly a number to scoff at but is it enough to cause constant terror? Is it enough to live like spiders and hide in our homes and cars?
Of course, it is easier said than done. Most people probably don’t walk around fearing a terrorist attack in their everyday lives; I know it isn’t my first concern. I really only think of it on National Holidays or when I am in a popular crowded area or event in which I feel like I am a sitting duck. Occasionally, I think of ways people could get away with such acts, if they stood in a certain spot, or wore certain clothes and hid things in certain places. I have on more than one occasion, had to force myself to stop thinking about it and try to imagine that these things don’t happen anymore. If I sit in my house or sit in my car, living in fear, will I ever get to live? I like spiders but I don’t want to live like one.