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OF WHAT Are We Afraid?

Trick? Or treat?

Based on how things went at our house last Thursday night, I’m not entirely convinced that Halloween is a dog’s favorite holiday. I mean, talk about frustration!

Our little mutt is the end result of some pretty severe genetic manipulations, coming from a breed that for centuries had been engineered as watch dogs for Buddhist monasteries in ancient Tibet. So of course, with literally hundreds of disembodied souls drifting up to our door all evening, he did his best to make sure we were well aware of each and every one of them.

The dog would sense these ghastly intruders long before the doorbell rang, and while I was balancing on one foot, waving the other at the dog, and opening the door a mere crack, I would squeeze out an offering to the often very short reincarnation of a teenage ninja turtle.

This would, of course, was all pretty annoying to the dog.

Occasionally the dog would sense such overwhelming evil standing out on our porch that he would push through the door to protect us from the likes of a two-year-old in pig tails, pink tights and the cutest little gossamer wings.

n

For several years, back in the days of the Dee Volunteer Fire Department, I used to help put together a haunted house at the fire station. While they were nothing compared to the elaborate masterpieces of horror that Paul Henke produces for the Hood River Fire Department each year, I was still proud of our little productions. One year we had a set that involved living room furniture, automatic garage doors, dropping giant spiders, monsters draped in rattling chains, twinkling lights, and (of course) a buzzing chain saw. Older kids were delighted to be so safely scared out of their wits. Success was measured in tears, with the goal to have just one kid cry. More than that was too much, and less than that meant we just weren’t scary enough.

Being scared is one of those weird things about humans. Is there any other species that would intentionally put themselves into situations where they might reasonably be expected to wet themselves? Maybe, but I’m guessing not.

n

I have a good friend, known her for years. She’s a delightfully gentle pediatrician who likes nothing more than a quiet evening with a glass of wine and a book of poetry. But when it comes to movies, she’s all over “Friday the 13th” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

J1 and I went to see Paul Henke’s show this year, and as we waited in the smoke-filled living room, admiring the ghastly Christmas stockings and skull-adorned Christmas tree, the kids we were surrounded by were positively giddy with anticipation of the horrors awaiting them. They could barely contain themselves, kind of like our dog. When we got to the room with the hanging dolls, a girl in our group was so frightened she literally hauled off and smacked one of the clowns that were jumping out of the corners of the room. When we were finally chased from the house by a madman with a chainsaw, the first thing I heard was, “let’s go through again!”

We all have varying tolerances for fright, however. Not everyone likes to be scared. But I get the feeling it’s kind of a love-hate thing for a lot of people, and I think that our politicians have figured out how to take advantage of that.

Seems like we’ve always got to have something to be afraid of. If it’s not a World War it’s a Cold War or a rogue state or a suicide bomber. We’ve got fiscal cliffs and budget ceilings and (horror of horrors!) the Affordable Care Act. (Help! Help! I’m being forced to buy health insurance at a discount!)

After Sept. 11, 2001, scaring the public became institutionalized. Rather than simply securing the cockpit of large aircraft so that insane people could not take over the controls and fly them into buildings, instead we implemented a security system that hires tens of thousands of people at the cost of billions of dollars a year to scan the body cavities of millions of innocent citizens searching for excessive amounts of toothpaste and inch-and-a-half long nail clippers.

Yes, we are a very tiny bit safer now when we fly. But what about when we get on a bus? What about trains? What about our schools?

Yeah ... what about our schools?

n

I don’t think our reaction to this event was a bad thing to have happened because it was a good safety drill. But a few weeks ago a nut-case held up the bank just across the street from my clinic. He had a handgun, and he got away with a pile of cash. Banks have been robbed this way since handguns were first invented, and I don’t think at any time in the past 200 years has a bank robbery ended with the robber fleeing to the closest school and injuring innocent children.

So, what did the ensuing 2-hour lockdown of our public schools accomplish other than to scare a lot of parents and keep a lot of kids from getting lunch on time?

Well, for one thing, it was a good drill. There are circumstances when a school lockdown would be advisable. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t fault anyone for doing what they thought was in the best interest of our kids. I have two of them at the high school myself. But I think we may be expecting a little too much.

I think we, as a society, need to put some thought into our fears and have a discussion about what we want to be afraid of and how much we want to spend to make ourselves feel safer. No one wants another grade-school catastrophe, but what are the real risks? Do we really want to shut the schools down every time there’s a bank robbery? Do we want to be searched to go into a movie theater? Do we want the NSA screening all our phone calls and text messages? Does any of this make us significantly safer? Or does it just make us feel a little more afraid and a little less private?

n

My dog was bred to bark at intruders, whether or not they are malicious criminals or simply adorable little trick-or-treaters. And to be honest, it can really be annoying. But he doesn’t really know or understand the difference, and I can’t expect him to.

But I think we can do better.

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