There are a lot of people who want you to be scared and obsessed with public safety right now. I’d like to suggest that it’s in your best interest — and the best interest of everyone around you — to turn your television off and quit obsessively following the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
If you live in Boston or if you have family there or if you somehow have such a personal tie, I understand that you want to keep up with it more than the rest of us. That’s understandable. It’s a local story for you, and it affects you in a personal way. But for the rest of us — the vast majority — it’s worse than a waste of time. It’s creating exactly what terrorists want. (I’m calling the perpetrator of the bombing a terrorist on the assumption that creating terror was his intent. I’m not implying anything about who it might have been or what the person’s cause might be. Because I don’t know.)
Terrorists want you to be scared. Pure and simple. They want you to be looking over your shoulder and wondering when something bad might happen again. They want you to wonder whether it might be in your city next time. They want you to eventually feel that you’re willing to do anything to convince them to leave you alone.
Politicians want you to be scared. They wouldn’t word it that way, of course, but they like people to be scared because it allows them to seize more power. The increased power and budgets of the federal “security” bureaucrats over the last 12 years or so are perfect examples. Before Sept. 11, 2001, Americans wouldn’t have stood for the privacy invasions that were foisted on us. But scared people go along with such intrusions, because we tell ourselves it will make us safer.
Television networks want you to be scared. They want you to watch what they’re beaming into your world, because the more you watch, the more money they can make. (And ratings are way up this week for cable news.) It’s a simple calculus of entertainment for them. If millions of people wanted to watch one-handed midget bowlers play chess between bowling rounds, they’d be happy to put that on the air. They don’t much care what they broadcast — as long as you’re watching. And they’ve learned that if they can make you believe you’re in danger, you’re going to watch. I’ve written before that news has changed in terrible ways, becoming nothing more than an extension of entertainment. It scares me what it’s become, and it scares me that people pay so much attention to it. I think we’re generally better off without it.
Unless you have a direct stake in what’s going on in Boston, you have no reason to be afraid. What happened shouldn’t affect you. If the rest of the country went about its business without batting an eye — and if television ratings went down when networks filled their time with titillating fluff and speculation — the terrorists would find their tactic didn’t work, politicians would find themselves unable to take advantage of us, and TV execs might have to figure out some other way to fill up their time. (I’ve argued before that we all ought to turn off television, so I’m not convinced they’d find anything better. But that’s a different issue.)
I’ve heard some people say they’re watching the coverage because it’s entertaining. That’s their right, of course. I’ve had others say they watch because it helps them keep an eye out for politicians trampling on our freedoms. Watching it happen and being aware of it has really made a big difference in the last 12 years or so, hasn’t it?
I suggest that you’ll be happier if you concentrate on your own life and quit worrying so much about things you can’t control. I think it’s healthier for us to focus on our families and friends — and on finding ways to accomplish the things that matter to us. You’re obviously free to disregard my suggestion, but I think you’d be happier.
People want you to be afraid. They can’t achieve that if you refuse to be sucked in to the black hole of uncertain media coverage. So turn off your television. Pay attention to real life that’s relevant to you. We’ll all be happier and more secure if we do that.