by John Krehbiel on 3 March 2013
As humans developed self-awareness, we developed a tendency to ascribe agency- see definition 3 here- to things that do not in fact have agency. We anthropomorphize animals all the time, ascribing human thought patterns to cats, dogs, even fish.
Most of the time this does no harm, especially compared to the converse. It is unlikely to hurt you to think that a boulder tumbling down a hill was maliciously trying to smash your noggin, but if you thought that the lion you saw was as intentionally inert as a cloud, you’d be its lunch.
But now we live in a world of instant communication, a 24-7 news barrage. When something bad happens, or might have happened, or was planned to happen, we hear about it right away. So we think there is an ax murderer lurking in every public toilet. A rapist behind every bush. A slightly higher crime rate in an area translates into certain death for anyone foolish enough to go there.
And so now, we get this kind of nonsense. Some idiot mishears a ringtone, and a school goes on lockdown, because, after all, every random noise is a death threat, right?
I think maybe the calculus of these things has changed. We might be better off thinking that a lion is a cloud than thinking that everything is a life-threatening malevolence.
“You can’t be too safe” has become a harmful lie.
-- 2013-03-03 » John Krehbiel