Fear of Flying

Yglesias asks:


I've been feeling like I should say something about the failed terrorist attack this weekend in New York but can't come up with much beyond the observation that I don't quite get why this is prompting so much less freaking-out than the Christmas underpants bomber did. Both seem on a par to me -- amateurish failures that seem to indicate that whichever people might be inclined to kill American civilians don't have much in the way of capacity. Is the country learning? Maturing? Or is it just that airplane-related incidents have some special grasp on the public imagination?

With due respect to the country, I doubt we've matured. I suspect that this is, in part, about psychology. There is something quasi-divine about air-power--whether it be the ability to cover North America in a matter of hours, or bomb people from nearly invisible heights. The airplane is a symbol of our potency. 

Moreover, I think people believe, rightly or wrongly, that dying in an airplane is a uniquely horrible way to go. Obviously more people died in 9/11, but I think the way they died also sticks in our minds. Certainly people don't think about train crashes the way they think about airplane crashes. Lastly, it's probably the fact many of us are so dependent on air-travel. 

What scares me most about all of this is the foreboding sense that, sooner or later, one of these idiots is going to get it right. And I doubt there's much we can do to stop that from happening.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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