The worst thing about the sort of lone-wolf vehicle attack that took place in New York on Halloween is that there really is no way to prevent them. You’d have to ban pretty much everything bigger than a smart car, and while I suppose that would encourage more Americans to ride public transit, since an awful lot of us won’t fit into those glorified shoeboxes on wheels, I rather doubt that the American people would stand for it, since they certainly can’t sit in it.
So while I understand the usual rush of “we have to do something!” that comes pouring out of the political and pundit classes when something like this occurs, it’s not because I empathize with their anxiety, it’s because I understand their opportunism. Fear sells. I realize I’ve had a tendency to harp on this concept, but I find that people tend to forget that the media is not their friend if they’re not reminded constantly. Fear sells. And if you can make someone afraid, you can make them malleable. You can take that chance to shift their perspective, twist their views, maybe just a little, but each tiny increment adds up over time.
And of course there’s a whole raft of folks out there touting the resilience of New York and its citizens, and cursing a blue streak at anyone who tries to politicize this act of terrorism (leaving out the fact that one cannot “politicize” an act of terrorism: it is, pretty much by definition, already political). For me those people are damned near as annoying as the fearmongers trying to frighten us into line, since almost invariably the people telling us we’ve nothing to be concerned about, and that the people of <insert city or locale here> are sufficiently resilient and/or diverse that they’d never let fear drive them into acts of bigotry, have lost no-one in the tragedy they claim to be dealing with. It’s easy to be “resilient” when it’s not your kid lying dead on the ground.
Roles reverse depending on the nature of the tragedy, with the Right and Left swapping between victim and stoic as easily as turning a page, because they’re both working out of the same playbook at this point. The words are different, but that’s about it. Horseshoe Theory come to life, galloping to the front, not a reflection of objectives, but of tactics.
And it won’t end. Because we’re not suddenly going to see a universal reform of Islam, or a way to screen out the crazies before they get their hands on weapons, or some method of ensuring that our intelligence apparatus can detect and defuse each potential tragedy before it occurs. That’s the stuff of Hollywood, and comic books, and you might have noticed that “pre-crime” ranks high on the list of “signs you might be trapped in a dystopian future” in both of those instances.
So yeah. We’re gonna have to deal with people playing on our fears or our pride, and the very best we can hope for is not an end to it, but for enough people to realize they’re being manipulated. Because while that won’t stop terrorists or madmen from carrying out their acts of evil, it will at least reduce the sheer unrelenting hypocritical harping we get in the aftermath.