The injection of fear has its price
I was a kid during the height of the Cold War when they used to make us duck under our desks because of the possibility of an exchange of nuclear bombs between the United States and the Soviet Union. Those of us who grew up during those times know all about what fear can do.
When I studied psychology back in the day, I read about Freud’s theory that the secret to understanding our inner turmoil; the reason why we could continue to function (even before anti-anxiety medication) was the competition in our minds between the fear of death (Thanatos) and our capacity to love (Eros). I concluded that the reason we didn’t all off ourselves was that there were compensating reasons for staying alive. Freud was right when he wrote his theory. I mean, when you tell a kid to hide under a desk in preparation for a nuclear bomb that has to provoke a certain amount of societal anxiety. Such anxiety has to find a place in every human psyche and we have to make room for that fear. Every time we raise a terror alert in the United States, we are injecting a little more fear into every citizen. Oh, sure, we can dismiss a lot of the anxiety such an alert brings with it. But is there a one of us going through an airport security inspection who doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that the plane they are about to board might explode in mid-air because of a plan hatched by a terrorist? Based on the recent killing of terrorist Bin Ladin and the subsequent analysis of the information that came with the raid of his lair, we know that more is coming.
The folks in the New York City Fire and Police departments have been quite open about their expectation of another terrorist act. It will happen on a subway or in an airport or on a train in Grand Central or Penn Station. When it happens, as it did with the World Trade Center or the bombings of London subways, we will pick up and move on, despite the devastation. We did it after 9-11. We did it after Pearl Harbor. We would be fools not to understand that it will happen again and that when it does, it will most likely happen in the capital of the world, New York City. That’s why it is always astounding to me that when the anti-terrorism money is being allocated by the Congress around the country, most, if not all of it, isn’t given to New York.
The president of the United States has been widely criticized for being “soft on terror.” All of that has now changed since he ordered the hit and possible execution of Osama. But there are consequences of that killing and those consequences are most likely to be felt in New York where we refuse to try killer terrorists after they are caught for fear of reprisal.
Many children are able to distinguish between the killing they see on TV and the real thing. They are raised knowing that the guys on TV are just actors. Similarly, they know when they are hearing about real carnage. When we read about an almost bombing in Times Square or an almost bombing of an airplane by a shoe bomber, our fear quotient goes up. We all pay a price.
When we read about a kid bringing a gun to school or an older student jumping from the window of a school library, it means that the famous Freudian choice between love and death may have gone a little out of whack. Clearly, when and if the next terrible thing happens despite our utmost precautions, someone will become the political fall guy. No governor, mayor or police chief wants that to happen on their watch. As long as there are deluded people who are willing to kill themselves to make an extremist point, there will be senseless acts of terrorism. Some could kill thousands of people; others could kill hundreds of thousands.
We have to be vigilant but every time we make a new terrorism prevention rule, the cost to our basic civil liberties goes higher. Our minds and our society are paying that price.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/10/11