Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Brothers Tsarnaev and the Paralysis of Fear

A teenager shut down Boston and its environs yesterday: the MTA went nowhere, schools and universities closed, Red Sox and Bruins games cancelled, airspace over Boston closed. Residents were ordered to shelter in place; that is, to stay inside their residences. Boston was silent, except for the sounds of police and fire. A bustling city was still. Such was the power of a wounded nineteen year old who was cowering under a tarp in a boat. Christopher Dorner paralyzed Southern California with fear from February 3-12 earlier this year by killing two innocent civilians and two police officers, while wounding three officers. Such was the power of a crazed ex-cop holed up in a mountain cabin. The D.C. Sniper (John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo) terrorized the Beltway (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) for three weeks in October 2002. People were scared of traveling to Washington, D.C. Such was the power of an unknown assailant engaged in random acts of violence. The odds of being attacked by the Brothers Tsarenaev, Christopher Dorner, or the D.C. Sniper are far less than being in a bad auto accident in Boston, Los Angeles or the Beltway. Yet we willingly accept the risks of driving daily, but are scared stiff of a perpetrator of random acts of violence. Such is the power of fear. Boston was actually safer when locked down. No one had to brave the streets with the crazy Boston drivers (I’ll rather drive in Midtown Manhattan or the 405 during rush hour than in Boston). Boston had great air quality during the lockdown – no dirty auto exhaust fouling the air. Fear can be terrible, irrational, unfounded, but it exists. The irrational fear manifests itself, often in tragic ways. We should be cautious as Londoners were during the years of IRA terror, but they continued with their lives. Be cautious of unattended packages, but don't freeze. Fear can freeze us when we must act. Fear can grip us and deprive us of our senses. It can bring forth primeval emotions. It may possess us. Demagogues appeal to our fears. We have feared leprosy and lepers back to Biblical times. More recently, smallpox, tuberculosis, and polio aroused great fear. AIDS victims, including school children attempting to use a school’s drinking fountain, were ostracized 2-3 decades ago. Ryan White was expelled from middle school in Kokomo, Indiana because he had AIDS, despite medical studies that showed he posed no risk to others. Fear causes us to boycott and sometimes commit violent acts against people of other religions, ethnicities, and national origin. The recent prejudices and fears directed towards Hispanic immigrants were earlier expressed against the Irish and Italians, Jews and Catholics. Fear causes people to burn down halfway houses before they open, and smallpox and tuberculosis houses in the past. Much of nuisance law developed around lawsuits brought against these establishments to block them. Fear expresses itself today in opposition to new developments as opponents pull out a parade of horribles and NIMBYs engage in what if’s. What if this? What if that? All of which are extremely unlikely, but people are susceptible to taking the worse case scenarios as extremely probable. NIMBYs have acted against airports, apartments, bridges, cell towers, churches, dams, donut shops, fast food restaurants, food trucks, golf courses, halfway houses, highways and toll roads, hostels, incinerators, industrial parks, low income housing, pipelines, ports, post offices, power plants, prisons, rehab centers, respite centers, retirement homes, sanitary landfills, schools, solvent recovery centers, stadiums, subdivisions, transmission lines, and wind farms. The result is as much freezing of infrastructure improvements as the citizens of Boston yesterday. Fear can freeze civilization. FDR told us that the only thing to fear is fear itself.

No comments: