Threats, risk and fright

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I was working my way through Techmeme yesterday when I had one of those sharp, jarring intellectual moments, where a number of memories suddenly reinforced each other.

They were:

1. A conversation with Mara
2. Of Paradise and Power, by Robert Kagan
3. Bruce Schneier's Blog
4. Kathy Sierra's recent experiences
5. Mara's experiences in Israel. My sister is a very powerful influence on my perceptions of the world.
6. My own experiences with death threats, the archives of which have been regrettably lost when I was forced to rebuild this site from scratch in 2003.

14 years ago, my then 17 year old sister came to visit me on the campus of my University. I was really excited to see her; I wanted to show off this cool new thing called a "homepage," a forerunner of the blogs I now administrate.

We went for a walk along Euclid Ave.; I needed to get some cash, and there was an ATM on the corner. She grew increasingly uncomfortable as we walked further down Euclid Ave. I didn't notice. It wasn't until we were at the ATM and taking out cash that I noticed that she was looking nervous. Which led to an exchange similar to the following:

Me: "What's up?"

Mara: "I don't like it here. It's run down, it's dark and there are dangerous looking people walking around."

Me: "Oh, come on! It's fine!"

Mara: "You only say that because you're big and a boy."

I was gobsmacked. It hadn't occurred to me that my size (6'4" and 17 stone) would have any kind of impact on how I viewed a situation. I mean, you're the same person on the inside all the time, right?

Well, no, and it had been intuitively obvious to my sister, who is less thick than I am.

Fast forward ten years later. The Twin Towers have been taken down by Islamic terrorists and topping the best seller lists is a book on international relations called Of Paradise and Power, by Rober Kagan, a fellow for the Carnegie Institute for Peace.

In this book, he outlines the Bear in the Woods theory of international engagement. The international diplomatic community could have skipped ten years of confusion had they just taken the time to consult my sister, but they got there nevertheless.

The Bear in the Woods theory, crudely summarised, is as follows: a man eating bear living in the same woods as you looks very different to you if you have a high powered rifle than it does if you have a bow and arrow or a hunting knife.

What's the result?

Well the result is that, without any need for deep cultural analysis, we can predict with some certainty that the U.S., with the best equipped and most expensive armed forces in the world, is going to be far more likely to attempt to deal with threats than Europe, which spends so little on defence it could easily be conquered by a highly motivated troup of well-armed Brownie Scouts.

But people in Europe still feel secure, in part because of differences in media organisation and a populace innoculated against jingoistic warmongering after millenia of conflict.

Which is precisely what Bruce Schneier discusses in his excellent paper on the feeling of security.

The reality of security is a mathematical exercise, one in which my colleagues and I are well practised. As both of my regular readers (Hi, FS! Hi, Maman!) will know, I spend a lot of tiime thinking about whether it actually makes you safer to be unable to park near the airport or if it just makes you feel safer.

Bruce Schneier lays out the difference between security theatre and security. He also begins to explore how to change your perceptions about security and to bring your perceptions in line with reality.

Kathy Sierra has had a pretty horrific experience. I'll leave it to the reader to take a moment to read her most recent post; I feel for her. She's frightened at the moment and has cancelled a recent trip to a tech conference to stay at home with the doors locked.

I've spent some time thinking about this and my sister's experience in Israel.

My sister and her husband were refugees from Israel's war with Lebanon last summer and spent six weeks living with me in Edinburgh. When they went back home, even though there was the occasional Katyusha rocket hitting the middle of their street (detailed mapping information removed to prevent targetting), they still went out, went to the local cafe for lunch - which they did even after it was blown up by a suicide bomber and then rebuilt.

Were they afraid? I'll let her comment on this, but certainly after a period of time they weren't bothered at all. Frustrated, maybe, that Haifa, a city of relative peace in Israel, had been targetted specifically because Muslims, Jews, Christians and Bahai's get along well and this belies the Kharajite and Wahabist philosophies.

I've also gotten death threats, all from people angry about my stance on feminism (to summarize: "There are better ways to acheive equality than philosophies which alienate and marginalise 49% of the human race."). They were pretty graphic and went into excruciating detail.

I found them funny. Why?

Well, I was armed to the teeth. I own a home in Virginia. In that home is a veritable arsenal of weaponry, including sniper rifles, shotguns, assault rifles and handguns. I'm a former Marine and know how to use them. Also, I'm single and have no children.

So the threats didn't bother me. Because a bear in the woods looks different to me than it does to someone in a different situation - in this case, a woman with children.

Kathy, I hope the police/FBI catch the perptrator and you can get on with your life.

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Thanks, Nae. I appreciated this post - as in "I appreciate a well-written book", not as in "thanks, I need to hear you like me".

I do agree with you (umm, obvious, I guess?).

Hmm, afraid in Haifa. Well, before the war, no. Not a jot. I felt safer there than just about anywhere else I've ever lived. And I'm not one to deceive myself about my safety. Of course, I was trained in precautionary measures. I can't explain it, but living there sort of brought out a sixth sense in me about what was and what wasn't safe there.

In any case, after the war, which Mark and I snugly missed all curled up in Edinburgh, yes, there was a different tenor in Israel. We all still went about our business, but as of when we left, there was definitely an undercurrent of heightened awareness - that war isn't truly over, and the whole world knows it, because in reality it is about so much more than what happened last summer. Of course, I also returned to Israel pregnant. As you said, that does make a difference.

To Kathy I send my deepest condolences. She's right - the line has definitely been crossed.

on a much lighter note: did you get my text message a few days ago?

This article from Monday's Post immediately jumped to mind:

Nothing as personal as Kathy Sierra's experience, but threats nonetheless.

Good to hear from you, Nathan!

Hey, Mara!

I did, but my bloody £$%#! phone is having difficulty receiving Vodaphone signals.

The 900MHz antenna is fried, and the Vodaphone cell towers are so oversubscribed that it switches off of 1800 every 10 minutes.

Anyway, I had to get a new phone and I lost all my texts when I did. Which bites the big one.

I love you lots and can't wait to meet my neice or nephew!

Holy crap! That's bad. And, Nae, you got death threats from feminists?

Hi, Mensch!

It was a long time ago. And I unfairly, though understandably, tarred all Feminists with a "well, if that's your attitude then to Hell with you" brush. I still feel that way. I know it's not logical, but the wound is still open in my heart. It caused a big rift with Mara for a while, and it's still a touchy issue sometimes.

I had a nasty run in with a group of Andrea Dworkin wannabe's, who ran around quoting Catherine MacKinnon and putting posters up that said: "The following men on campus are potential rapists . Aaron Anderson, etc." and proceeded to list every boy enrolled at Case. And they put posters above the urinals that said: "The solution to rape is in your hands."

And then there was the Take Back the Night march, which Mara assures me was run differently at other university's, for which I'm glad. But at Case, when I heard about it, I thought: "Well, all violence is a bad thing, but it's like eating an elephant. One bite at a time, so let's start with violence against women." and I went down to the organizing office and offered to help out. And I was told that was ridiculous, since I was part of the problem, being male and all. I was pretty pissed off. So I wrote in my column - the very first Definite Article, in fact - criticising this decision. Ultimately, they let men march in a separate march in support, but I was already turned off, not that I'd have settled for anything less than equality. Two wings of one dove, remember? I was still devout then.

So I wrote about the other bits and pieces - the posters, the unwarranted vitriol on the Case message boards, the one-sided reportage in the same newspaper that was publishing The Definite Article, the misanthropic attitude of the faculty (particularly Barbara Krasner, the faculty advisor for the Take Back the Night march) and the result was death threats. Mostly by email, some anonymous some not.

The first one I got, I asked the girl to meet me for lunch and we talked it out. But then they came in swarms and it was just too much and I gave up on them. And basically all subscribers to Feminism. The only ideologies I've come across that want to kill people who don't agree are Feminism, Stalinism, Christianity and Islam. There might be more, but that's what I've seen.

I understand now that the actions of my fellow students were misguided and stupid. And I was hot-headed in my response. But they made an enemy for life out of me. I'll never be able to accept Feminism as a philosophy. I can barely tolerate it as long as I don't hear about it and don't discuss it.

Basically, as far as I'm concerned, its a dangerous and deadly poison. It turns perfectly reasonable people into man-hating terrorists, drives wedges in between people who might otherwise love each other - or at least get along - and sows the seeds of disunity and dissent. In short, I know Evil by at least one name, and it is Feminism. Again, that's been my experience.

Threaten my life and you're off my Christmas card list.

You know, I suspect that what you experienced was fueled by one woman in a position of power - possibly the faculty advisor you mention. What you experienced was mob mentality at its finest (worst). Not that it was directed only at you, obviously. Thank goodness my experience with that brand of feminism has been limited. In fact, I wouldn't even call it feminism. It's male-bashing hatred and completely and totally unproductive. I'd say you know Evil by at least one name, and it is some psycho-wacked-out professor at Case.

By the way, you want to know why I minored in gender studies at Mount? I wanted to have a better understanding of how men and women related to one another. Wow. Sounds like I would have been about as well received as you if I'd tried to do that at Case - at least during the time you were there.

Of course, we've been through all this before and know full well that our goals and desires are the same; we simply come at them from slightly different perspectives. The rest is semantics.

Wow. No wonder you've an issue or two with Feminism - I would, too, if I’d experienced that.

I'm actually quite angry to hear that these women at Case were doing such damage by estranging so many men. Most feminists today acknowledge that finding men who will "support the cause" is crucial to bringing about equality, and it sounds like the women at Case kind of, sort of (barely) were acknowledging that men needed to make change in conjunction with women, but they fell so short of welcoming men – you were all just estranged from them. They left you feeling like criminals. Yikes.

Regardless, I was pleased to read this post. It definitely speaks to my experience. Another dimension of this issue that should be considered is not only the perception of the threat, but the likelihood of the threat. Bears also have different opinions and perceptions about Nathan with a firearm than they do about pregnant Mara.

It sounds like a cycle of repetitious invalidation to me. How frustrating.

Hey, Mara!

You're right about that; we do want the same things, just different approaches.

The only thing I'm still bitter about is that the same group of people who organized the Take Back the Night march also organized the student vote for the editor of the Observer and elected one of their own. Who promptly fired me and cancelled The Definite Article. Dirty censors. I was pretty unhappy about it.

Hey, Kristen!

It made me a big fan of Egalitarianism. More obscure as an ideology, but lacks the divisive us-and-them language that Dworkin, MacKinnon, Sklar, et al use.

Rather than finding men who will support the cause, we could work on finding people who will support the cause. It's gender neutral. I'm a lot more comfortable with that.

Instead of saying: "There's an earnings gap between men and women." let's say: "How can we tie pay to merit? How can we come up with objective measures of merit?" That sort of thing.

Oh, Nathan, you should have been at OU instead. Each year, there was a campus vote on including men in the Take Back the Night march. Majority ruled, no questions. And no one got all up in arms about it. If you turned out your side, then you got your way.

Of course, that was sort of the M.O. in Athens: The answer to unpopular speech? More speech. Like when the College Republicans reserved part of the green for Family Values Day, the Swarm of Dykes (not making up the name at all) reserved the space just across from them and staged mock gay weddings the whole time the little Alex Keatons were handing out their flyers.

Brilliant. It's one of my favorite college memories. I think you would have enjoyed it.

Merseydotes, that would have been hilarious! I'm really sorry I missed it.

You're right! I would have really enjoyed it.

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