Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ostriches and actual toughness

I’ve been to New York one time. I’m almost embarassed to say that...especially since I’m now going to attempt to somewhat relate to New Yorkers through my infinitesimal experiences there. But yes, one time. For two whole days. I didn’t even fly in—I took the train. While I was there, I rode the Subway, and I got a ride in a cab from a Muslim driver. I walked through the masses on a Friday night (and a Saturday night) in Times Square. In other words, I put myself at risk. For two days. And I felt good about it. It was a good “screw fear” kind of feeling. When I left, I felt an amazing amount of respect for New Yorkers for doing what I did (for all of two days) basically every single day of their lives.

One of the most frustrating parts of the 2004 Election for me was watching the terror debate get dominated by people far removed from actual terror. While people in New York—people who actually felt the blow of terrorism and the fear of it in everyday life—quietly and overwhelmingly voted for John Kerry to protect them from future attacks, people in Wyoming and Oklahoma voted overwhelmingly for protect New Yorkers from future attacks. The people who talked the toughest about eliminating the threat of brown people were the ones who didn’t actually have to face the threat. Meanwhile, the ones who refused to back down from fear were too busy living their lives.

Which sounds about right, actually. Living your life in the face of terrorism is infinitely more challenging than trying to talk people into being afraid, a point Maha Barb brilliantly makes today in light of Michelle Malkin’s basically calling all of New York ‘ostriches’ for not caring enough about terrorism.

[A]ccording to Lulu, if one is not living in a constant state of terror, one is an “ostrich.”

I’ve got news for you, toots: People can’t live that way. And some of us, you know, live here. And if we choose to stay here, we must expose our precious flesh to the dangers of subways and tunnels and bridges and high-rise office buildings and Muslim taxi drivers every single damn day.

But just because we are not in a constant state of mind-numbing, inchoate fear, does not mean we are not mindful of what can happen. A whole lot of of watched the worst that terrorism can do with our own eyes. We were not sitting safely in our living rooms watching a little picture on a television. We were there. We lived with it. And we lived with the shrines and the smell and the sorrow for weeks after.

Believe me, you don’t forget something like that.

We’re still living with the hole in the city. I walked by it just a couple of days ago. Nobody’s forgotten anything. People still cluster in front of St. Paul’s to read the sidewalk display about the recovery effort. There’s still a big flag hung on the front of the Stock Exchange, and another from the ceiling in Grand Central Station, where armed National Guard still stroll through the corridors.


Fear does have its uses, of course. If you confront a snarling dog, for example, fear gives you that nice shot of adrenaline that might help you climb a tree to safety. But the reality of modern life is that most of the scary things we face are things we can’t run away from. If we’re going to live our lives as we choose to live them, fear is an obstacle that must be overcome. Stirring up more fear isn’t helping anyone.

Fear isn’t helping anyone but some politicians, I should say.

New Yorkers on the whole do not like it when some politician frightens us with a terrorism threat, and we find out later the threat was absurd (e.g., destroying the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch). We get annoyed when news stories hype a threat to the office buildings we work in, and then we find out the threat was based on three-year-old information. And we do not appreciate someone who lives somewhere else, who was hundreds or thousands of miles away from Manhattan on 9/11, screeching at us that we’re supposed to be afraid. And that if we’re not afraid, we must not understand the dangers we live in.

You want to step over here and say that, Michelle? Out loud? On a New York City sidewalk? You might not like the reaction you get. You should be afraid, actually.

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