Noyzes – January 16
Volume 17, #1
“The Home of the Brave?”
The conservative right, and their media lackeys, have chosen many silly reasons to pick apart the way that Barack Obama has done his job. Some have been fair, the vast majority have not been. The most recent furor falls in the latter category.
The latest source of collective outrage is the fact that the President didn’t go all drama-queen in his public reactions to the awful acts of violence displayed recently in San Bernardino and Paris that resulted in mass loss of life.
It is understandable to have some concern over these matters. It is easy to picture any one of us caught in that situation where you’re not doing anything wrong other than living your everyday life.
Concern, caution and heightened diligence are fine. Irrational hysteria is not. Particularly irrational hysteria that is not on par with the actual threat.
Most of us don’t make good decisions when we’re hysterical. That’s why it is vital in times of crisis that our nation’s leaders don’t bullshit us, but also that they project a sense of calm that is rooted in a resolute belief in the American way of life. To unduly freak out helps to make terrorism the center of our existence in a way that those who attack the United States want us to.
We’ve already lived through this lesson during the badly mismanaged and expensive Iraq War, as well as the never-ending war in Afghanistan. Neither of these engagements helped to achieve retribution against the Saudi citizens who are reported to have been directly involved in the 9/11 attacks.
A lot has happened since 2008, but you’ll recall that President Obama was elected primarily because he didn’t fall prey to that wave of hysteria that gripped a blood-thirsty nation after 9/11 and he was one of the few politicians on record that joined me in opposing the Iraq War from the very beginning. The entanglement in Iraq is viewed by most as such a universal foreign policy failure that even President Obama’s most ardent critics are not suggesting that we repeat the mistake of sending tens of thousands of poor & working class whites, blacks and browns into a war zone where victory is not only fluid, its’ very definition changes from week to week. That’s because victory, in the way that we have understood it in previous wars, is largely impractical. During his most recent press conference, I could sense that President Obama badly wanted to tell the American people this, but sadly we are far too emotionally immature for him to burden us with this truth. So allow me. We are never going to defeat terrorism. Never.
There are a lot of people in the world, including some of our fellow citizens, who hate America. Some of that hate has been well-earned quite frankly. But even if you reject that notion and naively believe that America has strictly been a force for good in the world, you’d have to be a fool to think that military action can help to eliminate all the people who would wish to do America harm. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the threat. That would be irresponsible. But we should view this threat like we do all the threats in our lives. We want to gain as much information as possible and be transparent with that information. We want to be proactive against those threats that we can protect ourselves against in advance. And when harm does arise we want to attack it as aggressively as possible in an effort to eliminate it. What we should not do –whether the threat is Middle Eastern terrorism, Chicago gun violence or high blood pressure- is begin to live like cowards in a bubble in a misguided belief that behaving this way will make us safer.
As a man of science I personally feel that the terrorism threat is grossly overblown. For all the consternation over ISIS, consider that as of January 2016, the number of Americans who have been killed at the hands of ISIS has not even reached double digits. And do know that even if by some miracle we eliminate all the terrorists tomorrow, as if this were some bad Tom Cruise movie, this planet of ours will continue to be a dangerous place. There are literally a million ways to die in the West.
For example, Ramon Rodriguez was killed doing construction work. But unlike the over 1000 people who will lose their lives this year from hazards directly tied to the job, Rodriguez had the misfortune of standing at the wrong place at the wrong time when a Porta Potty fell four stories on top of him, killing him instantly. Teenagers Jeff Dailey and Peter Burkowski each died of heart attacks after getting excited from achieving a high score in a video game. Disney employee, Javier Cruz, died in a parade while dressed as Pluto when he was run over by the “Beauty and the Beast” float. Robert Williams, an employee at Ford, had to experience the indignity of being murdered by the robot that was created to take his job. And we are all far more likely to die as the result of our own personal incompetence more than any existential threat. Consider Ghulam Rasul and Muhammad Sultan. These two morons were preparing for a suicide attack in Pakistan when they got into a heated argument on their way to slaughter more of the primary victims of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism: other Muslims. During the argument, one shoved the other, causing one of their suicide vests to detonate, killing them both. This is the lot that has America paralyzed with fear?
Foreign executioners preparing for beheadings on grainy videos certainly project a frightening image when looped again and again on CNN. But you should feel comfort in the fact that there are all types of things right in your own back yard that are more likely to kill you long, long, long before some dude 8,000 miles away will.
A far greater risk than you being the victim of some hidden terrorist plot is that you begin to alter your life for a potential risk that is less likely to occur than you being struck by lightning, killed by African killer bees, the Ebola virus, losing all the money in your banking account from a Y2K glitch, being run over by a parade float or struck by a port-a-potty. By scaring you out of living life, the terrorists that we empower have already killed many of us symbolically.
This culture of fear would be less concerning if it were only confined to terrorism. However, it seems these days that Americans are scared of most everything. Parents are scared to have their children be exposed to the world without them because they watched the movie “Taken.” And I know more than a few Chicagoans who rarely venture out after sundown because they have been convinced that flurries of bullets are as common as flurries of snow, in spite of the fact that gun deaths have fallen to nearly 500 a year in the most recent decade, down from the average of 900 per year during my high school years in the early 1990s. This is not to minimize the violence in Chicago, only to put it in its proper context. And the factual context is that as violent as Chicago remains, it is a far less violent place than it was through most of the 20th century. Only the media coverage has grown louder.
Even in recreation, I can’t seem to escape this reactionary, pansy mentality. To wit, after Steph Curry experienced some discomfort in his calf during the nationally-televised Christmas Day game, the broadcasters immediately clamored for Steph to sit out as the only reasonable thing to do. Since he’s a true warrior (not to be confused with a Warrior) Steph returned to the arena and somehow managed to complete the game without ruining his career. Seems to me that in this short life, doing what you love is the reasonable thing to do. Honestly, what the fuck? It’s understood that it’s a long season and Steph’s ultimate goal is to win a championship, not a big game in December. But this was a Finals rematch on Christmas Day with literally the entire world watching. What kind of competitor would willingly want to come out of that game? Had it been something more serious, I have little doubt that Steph would have exercised the same caution he did a few games later in a nondescript game against the Mavericks. But the line between caution and being a pussy seems to becoming increasingly blurred.
Don’t get me wrong, I have all kinds of limits to the risk I expose myself too. You’ll never ever catch me bungee jumping, sky diving, surfing, riding a motorcycle, whitewater rafting, rock climbing or no shit like that. That’s because the pleasure gained from those activities don’t outweigh the risks involved for me personally. But my fear of something going wrong is not going to prevent me from doing things I actually enjoy. What I will do is act on the information I’ve been given on the risks that come with a given activity, be proactive about how to limit my risks and try to enjoy these things in moderation so as not to unnecessarily overexpose myself to risks. This is how I have always tried to live my life: by living life. And no bitch-made, religious zealot is going to make me stop that now. After all, it’s not like all of a sudden these clowns made life dangerous in a world where we routinely share roads with people who are texting, white-girl wasted and just plain stupid while sitting behind the wheel of a car.
As it relates to groups like ISIS or the next ominous threat that is looking to get us, we want to take that threat seriously and be constructive about the ways that we can limit that threat. But if being other than ourselves is our defense mechanism then we’ve already lost. That pertains to us as individuals in how we live our lives and deal with our own personal phobias. But it also pertains to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Peace and God bless,