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Monday, January 4, 2016

Living In Violent Times

My practice just did something that surprised me.  We discussed contigency plans in case someone violent came in and started trying to hurt people.  We utilized information from the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security to train our staff what to do in case of an intruder, terrorist, or anyone else that might want to cause serious harm.
Does that sound extreme?  Unfortunately in our current society it's something we have to consider.  The world is very different than what it was when I was growing up.  Back then I used to roam alone in the woods behind my house for hours completely unsupervised.  Sure, I had a large German shepherd with me so it was unlikely that anyone would mess with me.  However, my parents never really worried.  I can't say that I'd be so open with my kids.

In many ways violence is much better than when I was young.  Overall murder rates have been steadily decreasing for about 20 years, and are now at a rate similar to the 1950s when the rate was the lowest since data was started to be tracked around 1900.  Gun murders are at the lowest rate since 1981 and gun robberies and aggravated assaults are at the lowest rates since 2004 (source).  When it comes to mass shootings the US actually ranks 9th globally when looking at the rate versus population.  The worst mass shootings in the world were not in the US (Norway and Australia hold those records) and much of the world has seen such violence (source).  And many of the worst shootings in recent memory happened in places with high levels of gun control (the Sandy Hook massacre and the recent terrorism in California come to mind).

So overall crime, violence, and murder are down, gun control laws don't always help (29 were killed and 130 injured last year in China by knife-wielding attackers), and governments are supposed to be trying to make our lives safer.  If all of this is true, why as we enter 2016 are many businesses having to make plans like my practice?

The following is entirely my opinion, and I don't have a lot of facts to back them up.  But it makes sense to me.

We have more global organizations that want to kill anyone different than them, especially radical Muslim groups like ISIS.  Go back 30-40 years ago and the idea of a group of terrorists committing mass murders in first-world countries was unheard of.  Now we see terrorist groups making large attacks across the globe, including the UK, Spain, and several in the US.  The proliferation of such evil, murderous groups and their ability to reach outside of their homeland is worse than ever.  Sure, there have been evil people and evil organizations in the past (Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, and many others).  But with modern travel and technology these groups can now go places and reach people that were impossible just a few decades ago.  These groups also aren't capable of waging large-scale traditional war in order to invade and take over their enemies.  Instead, they send small groups of followers against innocent civilians rather than military or political targets.  The entire philosophy of these evil people has changed, where it's more about simply killing people to make themselves known rather than acquiring territory or capturing targets.  I don't think we've ever seen terrorism just for the sake of violence to this degree in human history.

The other "problem" is our modern idea of instantaneous news and a 24-7 news cycle.  During my childhood we would often have to wait a day or more to know that something happened.  Now we can stream the event live on our computers and smartphones.  This ready, immediate, and ubiquitous access to these events puts them in the public consciousness in unheard of ways.  Fact after fact states that violence, murders, and gun-based crime are all decreasing rapidly in Western civilization.  But I don't think that anyone really feels that way.  Why not?  Because each and every instance is now in our faces faster and more thoroughly than ever before.  When I was a kid we had three networks and one newspaper to carry the news.  Now in addition to those things we have multiple 24-hour news channels on TV and countless websites that can plaster an event everywhere we look.  Remember the hoopla over the OJ Simpson trial back in the 1990s?  Imagine the same trial happening in today's world when the internet is available to just about everyone in their hands wherever they go.

I do think that the world seems scarier and less safe than when I was young, and I grew up during the Cold War when nuclear war with Russia was a very real concern.  I blame our technology and news-obsessed culture, as well as the growth of terrorist groups that could care less about the innocence of civilians. 

So my practice now has some plans to handle a monster coming in with deadly weapons. I see the need for making such plans, but I hate that we have to do it.