By Paul John Caña
Every time there’s news of a terror attack, our emotions make the same pit stops – shock, disbelief, rage, finger-pointing, grief, sympathy – on the way to its eventual destination: distinterest and apathy. After we vent our frustrations and fears on social media, taking care to use the appropriate hashtags, of course, we invariably go back to the general mundanity of everyday life.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and here’s why.
After the latest incident of high-profile terrorism, this time in Europe’s de facto capital, there were the usual expressions of sorrow and calls to action from many of the people I follow on Twitter and Facebook. Some squeezed into 140 characters or less the question that many of us tend to ask each time something like this happens: what is the world coming to?
The implication is that humanity is descending into madness and chaos. Anarchy reigns and no place in the world is safe, even rich, First World countries which are supposed to be above the troubles plaguing developing nations. The news paints a horrid portrait of a planet beset with unending violence and strife. It’s all we can do not to run to the nearest bunker, wrap ourselves in blankets, and wait out the impending apocalypse.
This is where I take exception. A plane crashing is a terrible thing, but we shouldn’t discount the thousands of other flights that take-off and land safely every day from the hundreds of airports around the world. So there’s no need to say that air travel isn’t safe. What happened in Brussels is appalling, but in much the same way, trumpeting the deterioration of world peace and order the moment we hear of another instance of suicide bombers blowing themselves up in the middle of a crowded train station in Europe reeks of fear-mongering and paranoia.
There’s that oft-quoted study by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker which he detailed in his book The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. According to him, we are actually living in the most peaceful time in all human history.
It sounds unbelievable, considering how much we’re bombarded with news that tell us about mass shootings, train derailments, plane crashes, and, yes, suicide bombers almost on a daily basis, but Pinker’s findings are backed up by solid research. In World War 2, for example, the human population lost about 300 for every 100,000 people each year. It dropped to the 20s during the Korean War, and further down to the teens during the Vietnam War. Today, he says we’re down to about one war-related death per 100,000.
“If you get your view of the world from the news, you’re always going to think that we’re living in violent times,” Pinker tells PRI.org. “Because if anything blows up, if there’s any shooting anywhere in the world, it instantly gets beamed across the globe. News is about stuff that happens. It’s not about stuff that doesn’t happen. And as long as violence hasn’t gone down to zero, there will always be enough incidents to fill the news.”
The lesson here, I believe, is that there’s so much more that’s happening around us beyond what we see, hear and read on the news. We need to cultivate an attitude of discernment before we rush into any conclusions about the world and our place in it. Developing a sharper, more informed thought process would help us transcend the immediate, often inaccurate opinions we form when faced with information we get from the news media.
All this isn’t to say that we should choose to be callous about the bad things that’s actually going on. Let’s not kid ourselves; the world can seem like a shitty place, and we don’t even have to turn on CNN or browse through BBC News’ website for proof. But see, that’s exactly what the cowards who carried out those attacks in Brussels (and Paris, Madrid, London, New York, etc) want us to think. It’s been said over and over again: we call them terrorists because sowing terror is what they do. They want us to live in fear because they can’t stand the thought of people being free, being happy, being able to live.
Let government leaders figure out the appropriate, calibrated response, and we need to be vigilant about what steps they intend to take. But as regular citizens, there are things we can do to stand up to terrorists and let them know that the shroud of fear and evil they tried to cover the world with won’t work.
We will mourn the dead and care for the injured, but eventually, in time, we will get back up and move on. We will go to school or work. We will buy groceries and ride our bikes. We will spend time with family at home, have drinks with friends in bars, and kiss lovers on the lips in parks. We will watch a movie or a concert, read a book, have a coffee, and laugh at a joke we see on TV. We will never forget what happened, but we will live, and we will endure.
It might be simplistic and naïve, but to carry on with our lives, to continue existing in the face of threats real or imagined; that, I think, is the ultimate revenge.