Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The United States Of Fear

These two pieces above are perfect companion pieces.  One explains how the constant drumbeat of doom from news creates an unrealistic picture of the news.  The other shows the real world consequence of having a screwed up mental picture of the world we live in.

America is safer than it has been in decades.  Almost all forms of violent crime are down.  Maybe it's the Broken Windows policing, maybe it's abortion, maybe it's unleaded gasoline.  But violent crime is way down.

But stories of violent crime are obviously very attractive to news editors.  The old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads" isn't fiction.  And so we have a picture of a world where there are drug addled child rapists behind every bush.  So we support the increased militarization of our police forces.  The idea that a police force needs a fucking tank is ridiculous.

For all the caterwauling over Obama's tolerance of the NSA and CIA's aggressive and probably illegal snooping on Americans, the fact is that every day a SWAT team is blowing the doors off someone's house to arrest a pot dealer.

The police themselves are not immune to the drumbeat of fear.  Here's a chart for you:

This charts the number of law enforcement officers killed in felonies.  Each year has some "noise" but the trendline is pretty clear, despite the fact that America's population has grown by 100,000,000 people over the same time period.

Still, police officers feel under attack from mythical drug lords that they saw in the latest Steven Seagall movie.  (Actually, I'm joking, there are no more Seagall movies.  Thank God.)

The same calculus applies to our foreign policy.  There are a lot of simmering conflicts around the world.  Israel-Gaza is a sad tragedy for both sides, as the Israelis become the thing they once despised: bullies who unjustly subjugate the weak.  Meanwhile, the Palestinians cling to their hatred more than their future.

And yet the fatalities in this conflict will likely settle around 2,000.  That may be 2,000 too many, but that would have been a day's worth of casualties in a past war.  The Ukrainian civil war has also lead to fewer than 2,000 deaths.

There are obviously horrific things happening in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria.  But we are slowly weaning ourselves off the steady diet of wars between nation-states, even as we replace it with civil wars and ethnic violence.  These smaller conflicts are numerous, but ultimately less fatal.

Yet, we are constantly treated to a steady drumbeat of "this is a new Munich" and a steady stream of new "Hitlers".

The world IS a violent place.  Some places are more violent than others.  America does have a violence problem and a gun problem.  It seems daily that a kid shoots someone with Daddy's gun by accident.

But the reason Daddy has a loaded gun by his bedside is because he carries in himself a picture of the world that is false and frightening.

And it's driving us all insane.

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