I'm flying home today from Pittsburgh. It does feel a little somber to fly on the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., especially since I'm leaving from Pennsylvania, not too far from where the fourth plan went down in a farm field.
It's all cause for reflection about our nation's sense of security. It's not just 9/11 that spooked us. We feel insecure about our personal information -- something as mundane as shopping at Target or Home Depot can now be cause for concern. We also feel insecure about our communities. Sometimes that's justified. If you're an African American in Ferguson, Missouri or in too many other places, there's far too much reason to feel uneasy.
But much of our insecurity comes from false perceptions of risk. I'm always struck by how many local newscasts contain the phrase "keeping your family safe." Try this. Listen for it and I'll bet you'll hear it virtually every evening. There's this pervasive view that you or your family needs to be protected from... something. It's as if national and especially local newscasts are designed to scare the bejesus out of old people and young parents.
Now, I might go a little bit overboard in the other direction. When I was mayor, I never used an electronic security system the city had installed at my house, and I eventually had it removed. I kept my name, address and phone number in the phone book. I just didn't worry much about this stuff. And over eight years, through some pretty tense controversies, nothing bad happened.
I don't think my casual attitude toward these things is irresponsible. Energy unnecessarily expended on obsessing about security is energy that could be spent on something more productive. According to the National Priorities Project, the U.S. has spent $8.5 million every hour on homeland security since 9/11. We've got so much anti-terrorism gear now that the federal government is giving it away senselessly to local police departments. In fact, some of the trouble in Ferguson can be attributed to a military mentality among local police encouraged by the Homeland Security culture.
Moreover, being worried all the time is just no fun. I don't want to live like that. I don't want to sleep with one eye open. And when you look at the odds of being a victim of a real or virtual crime or some natural disaster, for most of us it's just not all that likely.
Your odds of being murdered are one in 18,000 and the chance of being the victim of identity theft is one in 18. One in eighteen might sound a little too close for comfort, but it means there's about a 95% chance you won't be a victim.
Yes, there are appropriate security measures that need to be taken. I'm all for being appropriately cautious. I have no trouble holding my hands over my head for the TSA machine at the airport. But I wonder if the bad guys win when we obsess about threats, real and imagined.