Sunday, April 8, 2012

Safety in Numbers

I'm used to being asked by friends and relatives if I feel safe. I live in New York City, though not for much longer. I'm moving to Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific coast.

People who don't live in New York tend to think it's a nice place to visit but they wouldn't want to live there, even though annual reports on crime statistics for decades have ranked New York among the safer cities in the country.

And even fellow New Yorkers look askance when I tell them about our plans for moving to Mexico, where drug wars and kidnaping seem to be the leading industries if you go by what you read in the news. They ask if we have any concerns about security, though what they're really asking is what can we be thinking.

But what I've noticed about the most murderous criminal outbursts in my own country is that they don't happen on the darkened streets of New York or any of the other biggest cities.

They happen on quiet college campuses in Oakland or in Blacksburg, VA. On a military base in Texas. In a high school in a predominantly white Colorado exurb.

There may have been a time when such locations would have seemed remote from the alienation, poverty and social disfunction that used to seem like the root causes of violence. But that's not how I look at them now. I see them as insular, culturally monochromatic places where there is enormous pressure to fit in and measure up.

I think you're less likely to find yourself ducking for cover to avoid becoming a victim of random mayhem in a place where oddness, ugliness, incapacity and failure are taken for granted as readily as their more comely opposites.

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