Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why are we Americans such sniveling cowards?

I know this isn't a new question -- I've posed it before, and so have quite a few other people. It's even the underlying theme of Michael Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine: the typical white American wanders around scared shitless most of the time, totally convinced the world is full of people whose only goal is to invade his home, steal his worthless tchotchkes, rape his womenfolk, and probably abuse his dog while they're at it.

I was reminded of this pervasive paranoia recently when I read an account on one of the blogs I occasionally wander through about an incident occurring on the opening night of the Wisconsin state fair in West Allis a few days ago. As fairgoers left the grounds, a group of young thugs began assaulting some of them. Depending on the news account, it was described as a flash mob, a mini riot, a group mugging, and so on. Bottom line: you had a group of young thugs briefly running wild. No one's sure just how many thugs there were because it was the middle of the night, it happened fast, and people's impressions were confused (aided, no doubt, by the fact the Wisconsin State Fair has some wonderful beer gardens). Overall, the experience was frightening -- no one expects to have someone try to snatch your purse or knock you down as you're leaving a fairgrounds in suburban Milwaukee -- but injuries appear to have been minor and the total number of victims rather small, especially considering some of the initial hysteria following the news reports.

So how did the blogger who relayed this story respond to it? He's going to make damn sure he's carrying a gun the next time he goes to Wisconsin. WTF? A one-time incident with a handful of young punks means the entire state, cows and all, is now too dangerous to enter without loaded gun in hand? Does he think he's going to get mugged at a rest stop on his way to the Dells?  I then found myself thinking about the young guy who was on jury duty with me back in 2009.

This was a young man, probably early 30s, who was at least six feet tall, not an ounce of flab on him (not quite a gym rat bod, but definitely physically fit), who in the world of potential targets for muggings might as well have had a flashing neon sign over his head screaming Not Worth the Risk. He was probably the least likely person in Atlanta to ever have to deal with some young punk demanding his wallet. But it came out in conversation that he was both a major believer in the right to concealed carry and nervous as heck about having to walk from his car to the courthouse unarmed because "you never know what type of people will be around a courthouse." (Yeah, like cops. Sheriff's deputies. Bailiffs. And maybe people in handcuffs.) He was afraid to walk half a block in downtown Decatur without a gun. In the middle of the day! He probably didn't appreciate me laughing at him.

He also treated us to a long monologue about how he'd absolutely never take MARTA any place because it's just too dangerous, and he and his wife live in a gated community and don't understand how anyone could live in some of the old neighborhoods in Atlanta where you're right on a public street and "anyone can drive right by." It was bizarre. He didn't look certifiable, but he certainly had a fine case of galloping paranoia.

I don't get it. What are people afraid of? If you look around, how many armed robbers or home invaders has the average person actually encountered? Answer: zero. Everyone interacts with hundreds, maybe thousands of people, on a casual basis every day -- passing them on the sidewalks in cities, seeing them in grocery stores and shopping malls, working in a building with many, many people -- and none of those strangers tries to rob you or make your life miserable. What are the odds that you're going to encounter the one lone nut who's going to want your wallet? Minuscule to nonexistent. And, if you do encounter that nut, what's wrong with just handing the money over? Why would you want to take a chance on channeling your inner Wyatt Earp and possibly dying in the process over something as replaceable as a few credit cards or some cash?

The thing that I find the strangest is that it's usually the people who have never had anything bad happen who seem to worry the most and want to carry the biggest guns. They've never been burglarized, but they're convinced their house is so full of good stuff that some one's going to want it. They've never been mugged, but they flinch every time they pass a stranger on the street. They live out in the middle of nowhere, some tiny town in a rural state, but are convinced "terrorists" are going to target the local feed store. It's bizarre, narcissism and paranoia in one neat package.


  1. This is not said as an excuse.

    Popular mass news media and popular TV and movies have an excess of violent stories.

    Media never reports the statistics of a crime, such as, "this crime happens to .005% of the population, no they simply make a big deal of it and then move on to the next scary-messy-tragic crime story.

    TV shows, such as "Criminal Minds" delights in perverse crimes, mostly against women. It's a fictional show but they show lots of blood and the sadists doing their creepy worst.

    Films ... how many movies rely on explosions, killings, violent behavior and lots and lots of guns? Too many, that's how many.

    Then there's right wing talk radio and Republican stumping their "values" ... getting tough on crime, saying we need more prisons, etc.

    Seems to me, the list I've mentioned is enough stimulation to push people into their own dark fears.

  2. About 12 years ago someone brought a gun to our county fair on July 4th and shot at someone there. The response? Metal detectors and cancel the fireworks. They have not had fireworks at the fair on July 4th ever since. Apparently the fireworks draw the wrong element to the fairgrounds...

  3. I blame TV news, which brings crime from every corner of the country into our living rooms, making us think crime is pervasive in our community, instead of rare.

  4. Crime rates are continuing to drop but people talk as if they lived in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia. Generating fear buys votes from the paranoid crowd.

  5. I think it's the fear of the "other" that strikes people who normally only are around people who are like them, but who now -- I guess because of the prevalence of instant media -- constantly see and hear people they have no experience with.

    I live in the DC area and work with a guy originally from rural Vermont: he's tall, white, middle class. He's a major gun advocate. He's never had any incident. And never will. But just try to pry his cold dead hands ... blah blah blah.

  6. I have been around guns most of my life: I use to hunt, 22 years in the military, Navy pistol team, combat vereran; as a bush teacher in Alaska I carried a pistol when kids were on outings for bear protection (usually one or more parents would also chaperon with a rifle.
    Most of the people who carry consealed are fringe nut cases and they scare the hell out of me - hell, armed cops scare me.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  7. I've not seen Bowling for Columbine.

    I don't think I'm paranoid but I am wise enough to be cautious, any of us can fall within that five percent.

    My hope is to die not having to use my ammo.

  8. In fact, the blogger in question has been burglarized, has been forced to draw (but fortunately not fire) his gun defensively, and has always brought a gun along on his visits to Wisconsin. And other states, too.
    I don't carry a gun out of fear, though. I carry one because I want to. But the thing about guns is that the people who might obey a law against carrying a gun aren't the ones you need to worry about. The people who use guns in the commission of crimes carry those guns regardless of any laws to the contrary.


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