Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Less Fear...More Common Sense...and Earning Your Freedom

The headline on the freebie paper read "Never Safe Enough." From the image I could tell that it related to the failed car bomb attack in Times Square (they've arrested a suspect). I can't stand those freebie papers they distribute in New York (their angle is usually too right-wing for my tastes), so I didn't take one, but I had to wonder what the underlying editorial message of the headline was. "Never safe enough" for what? Was it that we're never safe enough to live without constant fear? Was it that we're never safe enough to actually enjoy our liberty? Or, more likely, was it that we're never safe enough to not be glued to the various news channels (and their advertisers' messages) to ensure that what threatens us isn't standing right behind us?

Still, today, almost 10 years after 9/11, the resounding message from media remains: "There is a threat!"

But this "threat" they're selling (and make no mistake...they ARE selling it) is oddly malleable. It's not only a threat to our bodies or well being (in the form of some bomb or other attack), it's also supposedly a threat to our beliefs...to our very liberty. As if our freedom, this thing we threw out the British Empire to secure, defended against the Nazi and Japanese war machines, and stood up to the Soviet Union and their arsenal of nuclear weapons to ensure is now so completely fragile that a loose affiliation of mostly amateur nut jobs with incendiary devices tucked in their shoes or underwear pose a true threat to it?

This time, to me at least, it actually feels different. Even though the headlines still seem to want us to respond in a manic "we have to do something...people can be hurt...people can be killed" hysteria, I don't sense people responding that way as much as I did when Bush was president. I credit the calmer response to Obama...and to a terror-weary nation.

But, the essence (if not the tone) of that message they're selling is correct. People can be hurt. People can be killed. There IS danger out there. The question is how are we going to respond to it.

When I lived in England in the mid 80's (yes, I'm that old), the IRA was regularly bombing London. They bombed office buildings and pubs so frequently, it lost its ability to terrorize you really. Essentially, you knew you were potentially risking your life going to work or hanging out. And yes, the IRA did kill people. But aside from using common sense (if you see something, Dumb-Dumb, say something), we really saw no reason to change how we lived. The risk was there, but so was the risk of a totally random gas-line explosion or a drunk driver running you over. You had to keep living. It wasn't just false bravado (in the sense of "you have to keep living your life OR the terrorists win")...it was more that "this is it...this IS our life...we're not f*cking wasting it cowering inside because some idiotic losers can't find their way to effect political change without hurting total strangers."

Despite what I took to be the headline writers' urge to drag us back to that place, where people cleaned out their local hardware stores' supply of duct tape, I really hope we've grown a bit. There's no doubt that one day (probably soon) some idiot with an S.U.V. will manage to explode his car bomb in a crowded place in the US and people will die. I sincerely hope it won't affect you or anyone you love (just as I truly hope it won't affect me or anyone I love), but because I love them and I truly love this country, I want them to live freely and I want them to live bravely. That means owning their part of defending freedom, by being worthy of it. Not cowering. Not giving away their liberties to ambitious politicians. In fact, as appropriate as it is to praise the authorities for their fast action in this case, it's equally appropriate, and patriotic, to resist further invasions into our privacy or liberties by them.

For my part, I say "Hello" to the police who patrol the subways. I'm thankful for their service. But I say "No, thank you. I'll walk," if they ask to search my bag. (The next subway stop isn't that far away.) It's a tiny gesture, I know, but tiny gestures add up. As important as it is to respect the authorities, it's equally important for them to respect the public. Walking a few extra blocks is inconvenient, but so was standing up to the British empire, the Nazis and Japanese, and the Soviet Union. With a combination of common sense and determination to enjoy your liberties, you are "safe enough," or as well prepared to endure the threat as anyone can be. Keep calm and carry on.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Brent said...

Well said, Ed. We are in a dangerous world, and it is easy to try to trade away freedom for safety, though it is a false trade off - you rarely become more safe (fear is used for social control, so you certainly won't FEEL safe even if it somehow becomes more safe), and you really lose a lot of freedom.

My favorite body of work surrounding the "Culture of Fear" as it is used for social control is fnord.

Here's a link: http://bit.ly/1aerqN

5/04/2010 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Lady Xoc said...

"For my part, I say "Hello" to the police who patrol the subways. I'm thankful for their service. But I say "No, thank you. I'll walk," if they ask to search my bag. (The next subway stop isn't that far away.) It's a tiny gesture, I know,"

Ed, this is the precisely tiny gesture I try to make whenever I can. The frustrating thing is I live in Jersey City and I've had to cave in because swimming is no option (especially with a bag).

But all kidding aside, and I'm no pollyanna, I find the NYC cops to be more human(e), in ordinary encounters, than cops I've run into in other large cities, and I'm no fan of cops in general. The other day when lower manhattan was gridlocked by parades and demonstrations and it took over an hour to get from Canal St to the Brooklyn Bridge, and tempers were boiling on both sides, the cops I spoke with were really mensch; They were just following orders, but they were as unhappy as we were. It was easy to be nice to them in the camaraderie of mutual frustration. What I can't abide is the peremptory, quasi-military, checkpoint mentality in the public transit. There is a paranoid presumption of guilt which is a provocation in itself.

5/04/2010 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger David J. Angelovich said...

If The Man wants to make the world more safe by banning SUVs I wouldn't mind though....

5/04/2010 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

At first when I heard about the "bomb" it consisted of some propane tanks and a firecracker that the not insane hillbilly had concocted between video taping his chicken dancing to lady gaga.

The threat level was then raised to threat level "non-american looking suspect" at which point I started to consider what the city would gain by making up such a story, to which all answers point to nothing.

I am now taking it as serious as you can for a botched attempt to hurt people. Even the people that frequent times square... which I lump into a category with Canal st and the guys that try to usher me into strip clubs, or that take pictures of trump tower... etc... i could go on.

I couldn't agree more that we are being sold the right wing, fear monger secret handshake.

In the whole of our lives, wherever an attack comes from, you still need to live your life without fear of attack, otherwise terrorists do in fact succeed in their secondary mission, the first being murder and maim, the second being fear and confusion. However that same fear is being generated from within the networks of the right wing and its media.

5/04/2010 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

We all have our particular peeves about security. For instance,I don't mind a museum or subway search if the guards/police are polite, but it's a different story at airport security. Too many of those power-weilders are annoying at best and a threat to decent people at worst.

I drive an SUV and I wouldn't trade it. Mine is a small vehicle but eminiently useful for moving art supplies and paintings, and it allows me to drive more safely back and forth from Manhattan to Massachusetts in winter.

But as LX says, "There is a paranoid presumption of guilt which is a provocation in itself."

5/04/2010 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

My chance of dying in a car accident is greater than my chance of being killed by a terrorist. Yet I do not ask that cars be taken off the streets.

Fear creates adrenalin. I fear that we have all become adrenalin junkies.

5/04/2010 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Julian says:
I am now taking it as serious as you can for a botched attempt to hurt people. Even the people that frequent times square... which I lump into a category with Canal st and the guys that try to usher me into strip clubs, or that take pictures of trump tower... etc... i could go on.

... so you think it's ok of those people who "frequent times square' to die?

I could go on...
but I will better stop here.

5/05/2010 08:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

OK Mery, then I ask that cars be taken off the street. Bicycles and walking only (maybe some buses, maybe electric motorcycles). Cars only to be used outside of cities for long distance travel, where trains cannot reach. And trains should be adapted to carry cars. Now make it so world.

5/05/2010 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I experienced Sept 11 as someone living on the West Coast who happened to be in NY on business.. and yes, my co-worker and I found ourselves in a few scary/chaotic evacuation situations during our few days in the city, but we routinely commented on how well the police handled the situation, and how comparatively badly it would have been handled if it had happened in our city..
but the real kicker was on our flight home, which was one of the very first flights out of JFK (on the Friday after, the day they tried to open for the first time, then closed, then opened again later in the afternoon...) and 4 men with Arabic passports were disallowed from boarding our flight.
It's hard not to profile people in a situation like that, and yea, I was a bit nervous, but the big thing I took away from that experience is that if you let fear control your actions, not only are you limiting yourself, but you almost invariably end up hurting other people in the process.
As a result, I always try to be brave and rational and ignore the fear mongers, not only for the sake of my own life and freedom, but out of respect for the lives and freedom of others.

5/05/2010 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Barbara Cowlin said...

Everytime I have to go through the Border Patrol checkpoint (every Friday) on my way to and from teaching at the Tohono O'odham Community College on the reservation, in southern Arizona, I bite my tongue. I'm white, I'm grey haired, I drive a Mini-Cooper. It offends me to be stopped. It offends me to be asked where I'm coming from. It makes me angrier to be asked where I'm going. And it makes me angriest of all when I'm just waved on because I don't fit the profile.

5/05/2010 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

IRIS - please don't stop... don't forget canal street and the strip club promoters..

was i serious? yes... no.... maybe you didn't catch the irony... maybe..take a vacation

but now you know my humor incase I need some character references when I lose my composure and get arrested by HLS. You may or may not be willing to forgive my humor.
What if I was muslim?

Are you calling homeland security as we speak? ;)

Extend the liberties such as the freedom of speech, even if you are not serious and yes, I am dumb enough to actually try it.
There is no lack of people who take irony the wrong way. I have experienced Catholic school rules and I can't stand the FCC. I know many people that really care enough to dislike the message in A Clockwork Orange and think people are "good" when I believe society is a thin veil, and when chaos (nature) happens, society goes into lockdown, then falls apart. The point is chill out. These things are nothing new. Terrorists have been around a long time and this country is no stranger to it.

I'm not calling for a galvanization of being either far right or far left. Given that is pretty much what American politics are currently. But the far right is not curbing their messasge or being any less nasty, using the freedom of speech to press their agenda. So I am doing my part to say whatever I want because if I can't say something as a joke then.....

5/06/2010 01:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Eva said...

You sound a little wired Julian, but perhaps that's what we all need. Your energy impresses me and I don't know what Iris was talking about. I didn't read that you thought the people that frequent Times Square should die at all. It reads like you are even willing to feel for obnoxious characters, because nobody wishes death on anyone the way the radicals do.
I don't agree that society falls apart so easily. We are well put together at this point and American society resembles a NY apartment. Looks impressive because you've never experienced something like that, but look a little closer and you find cracks, old pipes, rats, roaches and an old racist super.
However the apartment can be renovated and repainted for a new tenant and the super can be replaced.

Please stop reading so much post apocalyptic fiction and stop poking the bleeding hearts with a stick. They are not going to say anything worth while no matter how hard you goad them.

5/06/2010 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

Eva
Thankyou for reading what I actually wrote. You may be right, I do read a bit of P.A.F. Most recently I've read The Road twice and Edward suggested I re-read my Euripides plays which was sound advice.
I'm making my way through the all the writings of Slavoj Zizek at the moment which goes along quite well with P.A.F though he calls for a further move into moving ourselves away from our most basic human nature.

I think it's strange that they always look at what the terrorists were reading or where they went to school to show that many of them come from educated backgrounds. I don't think this point has ever had any relevance because the numbers of educated ones are far out numbered by the uneducated especially when you look at the uneducated or self-educated radicals in our country.

I enjoyed your NY apartment analogy. Building supers are always so nice though. When I lived in Boston, I took my computer to a little shop that serviced Macs and he gave me 200 dollers off because, and I quote "because you seem like a good kid and you're white".

Freedom of speech moment::
thank you/fuck you/just kidding...

5/07/2010 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Eva said...

Julian -
I think you meant the un-educated far out number the educated, those coming from any background.
Right? Typo?

Please please please say yes.

5/08/2010 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

haha, yes Eva it was a backwards typo. Thank you.

5/08/2010 03:41:00 PM  

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