Boy, it's getting hard not to wring your hands and clutch your pearls nowadays. It seems the world just gets scarier and scarier. But, as John Stossel reminds us in his new column, the world is safer now than ever before and we're all living much longer, healthier lives.
But it makes sense that people would feel frightened. Ebola's no laughing matter and now that it’s arrived in the U.S., people are naturally on edge. But Americans also need to remember that our tracking and health care systems are far better than that which exists in Liberia and other parts of west Africa (where the virus continues to spread). And as for ISIS, the terrorist organization is indeed terrifying and it must be eradicated but we cannot start living our lives as though a knife wielding maniac is lurking behind every corner. Crime is down and as Stossel points out, so are terrorist-related deaths and injuries.
Look, sometimes I want to crawl under my bed and sit there for a few years until these problems pass but it's important to keep the good news in mind and try hard to put these warnings of doom, gloom and bodily injury for what they are–fearmongering.
As Lenore Skenazy points out at Reason, the warnings don't just center on the truly terrifying (like Ebola and ISIS) but on rather mundane things like the horror of "a man" hanging out near a bus stop.
A reader, Kate, sent me a message about the note her son's school sent home with him. Kate lives in Canada, but the trend is strong in the U.S., too:
"Today's alert was to let us know that the police were contacted "regarding a suspicious motor vehicle seen between 8:15 and 8:30 AM" near one of the schools this morning, a "white work van with an orange flashing style light on top that was not operative" operated by "a male approx. 50-60 years of age with a full white beard and wearing an orange construction style shirt and ball style hat." Of course, there isn't enough detail included to explain what on earth is so suspicious about a work van driven by a workman in a small Canadian town on a Wednesday morning. Instead there are tips about setting up 'code words' with parents and kids and never going into strange places out of public view."
These notes are not benign. By adding to the belief that our kids are in constant danger the minute they leave the house, they make it seem too risky to send kids outside unsupervised. That's how we end up with cops collaring moms who let their kids walk to the park or play outside. It is equated with negligence.
This actually happened recently at my school. A few kids reported that a man spoke to them while they were walking home. The man said nothing bad or inappropriate but only said a few pleasantries and asked a few basic questions. Nothing too personal or intrusive. Upon being told that a man spoke to them, some of the parents of these children reported the incident to the school and a full police investigation was launched to ascertain the identity of this "talking man."
It turned out, the "talking man" was an elderly substitute teacher who clearly hadn't gotten the note that he's assumed to be a child predator and would be better off keeping his mouth shut. The school eventually informed all parents that the "talking man" had been identified and that the mix-up had been resolved.
It was quickly swept aside as a misunderstanding but one can't help but contemplate the atmosphere we live in where a nice man can't have a simple, friendly conversation with a group of kids without raising the "child molester" alarms of parents and school officials.
The best thing people can do at a time like this is be prepared to be freaked out. The media likes a scary story and clearly there’s a lot of material to spread around. But Americans need to remember that we are living in the best of times and must resist the urge to be crippled by fear.