What happens when a society places the idea of safety at all costs ahead of the common good? This is one of the questions raised in Sasha Abramsky’s eighth book, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream. Carefully researched and sourced, Jumping at Shadows is a multifaceted examination of how fear is stoked — by the 24/7 news media and opportunistic politicians — and how it manifests in society in the form of ubiquitous and invasive surveillance, open- and concealed-carry firearm laws, parents filled with anxiety about protecting their children from perceived danger, and suspicion of Muslims, immigrants, African-American males, and anyone else deemed an “other.”
Abramsky illustrates how Americans spend “huge amounts of energy trying to literally remove all risk from our daily interactions” while ignoring more statistically likely dangers such as driving an automobile, pneumonia, or the side effects of medications.
Many undesirable outcomes result when the line between safety and liberty is crossed, and our ability to calculate risk and assess danger is compromised by conditioning. In such circumstances, we are more inclined to accept simplistic, black-and-white solutions and all kinds of excesses in the name of security. As Abramsky puts it, “Hysterias don’t solve vast societal problems. Too often, overwrought responses generate more of the very conditions they were intended to vitiate, creating cycles of chaos and, at the same time, ever-greater curbs on personal liberty.”