Saturday, August 25, 2012

Random Acts of Randomness

You probably heard about that shooting that happened yesterday by the Empire State Building. I used to work just two blocks away from there, and less than a month ago, I had my farewell company lunch at the Heartland Brewery; the restaurant you saw on the news, the restaurant that had the gunfire right in front of it. Yep, not thirty days ago, I was eating lunch there. You’re probably thinking: “Wow, makes you think.”

Not really.
Yes, it could have been me. But it could have been me ANY day. It could be me today. A similar shooting could take place at the deli around the corner from my apartment. I’d be caught flat-footed, and would fill up with lead before I knew what was happening.
But getting back to yesterday’s shooting: The shooter had been out of work for what…a year, so hypothetically he could have stopped by during any of those days; not just yesterday. I walked by there quite frequently. Any day over the last year, I could have been there on a day when the shooter snapped. I could have been caught in the crossfire.
But what is always lost in the idiotic media coverage of these kinds of events is that that chance—the chance of encountering unpredictable violence-- exists every single day. Every time you interact with the world, worst case scenarios are all around you (and you can also get hurt at home of course). Every square inch of Earth has the potential for violence. Every square inch of Earth has already experienced violence. Every time you take a step forward, you are walking on someone’s grave. It wasn’t always concrete.
Every single day you are surrounded by disaster, and despite what the news might lead you to believe, extreme violence can happen anywhere at any time. Your parents weren’t totally crazy to plant that idea in your idea. Every subway car you ride probably has at least one person on the edge. Every mile of highway you drive down probably at least one person with a kettle of violence brewing inside him. And he already has a deadly weapon…his car.
But although violence can happen anywhere at any time, it rarely does. And the kind of chaotic violence that took place by the Empire State Building is such a low probability event that it isn’t worth thinking about. It doesn’t make sense to alter your life one bit to account for the possibility of ultra-low probability events. The only thing to “learn” from these events is that yes, you’re never completely safe anywhere, and when you see something that looks amiss, there is nothing wrong with crossing the street. It can pay to be paranoid.
Yes, in aggregate, some places are more violent than others, and yes, walking down the street at 3:00 AM is probably a bigger risk than doing it at 3:00 PM. But that is about all you can do to “avoid” violence; basic risk management.
So turn off the news and go on with your life like nothing happened. Be vigilant, but don’t lose sight of the cold, hard statistics, which favor your continued (mostly) safe existence. In other words, be a nerd with an edge (too bad those skinny jeans will make it nearly impossible to run away from the perpetrators).

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