Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Of course you do. If you were old enough to tune in to that day's events, you can likely recall not just where you were, but also what you were doing, who was with you and, perhaps most notably, how you felt. Shock, sadness, fear, anger. Just a few of the emotions that gripped nearly all of humanity on that ominous and fateful morning.
To say that much has changed since then would be the understatement of the century. Not just regarding the numerous wars of aggression and the erasure of civil liberties. But because of the magnitude of that day's events, we've also undergone a rather significant, albeit subtle, sea change of the mind. I'm referring now to what I call the 9/11 effect.
September eleventh marks a paradigm shift in the collective psyche of our species. Billions upon billions of human beings gained critical insight into the hazards of terror left unchecked. In this post 9/11 world, consider how differently most people now think of responding to imminent threats on an airplane. Imagine yourself on your next flight. The pilot reaches a cruising altitude and announces that it's now safe to move about the cabin. Someone then emerges with a knife and declares their intentions to take over the plane. What are you thinking at that moment? And, more to the point, what is your course of action?
Will you be calling for the government to come to the rescue at 30,000 feet? Do you hold a meeting and engage in lively debate with the other travelers on how to proceed? Will you waste time blaming the hijacker's weapon of choice? I doubt it.
In all likelihood, no small number of passengers will swarm, tackle, beat, stomp and otherwise stop the suspected hijacker. In very short order and for one simple reason, I might add. The price of doing anything less is death. This is one of the psychological legacies of 9/11. Airline passengers worldwide, even the pacifists among us, have been compelled to ponder the question, “What would I do if...?” And many of us have answered that call with a resounding, "Please! I wish a motherfucker would."
It's this type of sentiment - the eagerness to defense oneself - that yields the most effective response to imminent, deadly threats; whether posed by a hijacker at 30,000 feet or by a mass shooter at ground level. Immediate and relentless defensive actions, to include counter-attack, apply in both cases. Of course at ground level, there may be opportunity for escape that just doesn't exist at altitude. And while it'd certainly be beneficial to arm oneself, those ill- equipped to deal with a mass shooter, yet fortunate enough to safely make it to an exit, are probably better off fleeing than fighting. Absent that opportunity though, one's survival is linked directly to one's willingness to resist. Which is also the bedrock of the most peaceful outcome: deterrence.
How likely is someone to open fire into a crowd knowing those people are capable, willing and even eager to defend themselves? About as likely as someone is to try terrorizing a plane full of people whose culture is one of resistance. In other words, not very. But when such a paradigm does not deter a potential shooter, when someone is adamant about their intentions on mass murder, when our metaphorical backs are against the wall at 30,000 feet, we have two options . . .