Why the round numbers?

It’s 9/11.  The 5 year anniversary.  Everyone is commemorating, remembering, honoring — even mourning anew.  And I’m glad for that.  I think we should remember, and I think we should be spurred on by that memory to be ever vigilant in the way we fight this war, deal with the enemy, etc. 

But I wanted to take a slightly different angle on the anniversary of the attacks, and ask everyone a quick question…

Over the last couple days, I’ve experienced a number of people — from pastors to reporters — talking about the fear of being attacked again today.  I’ve heard people praying that God would protect us.  I’ve seen pundits and analysts and reporters alike wringing their hands.  And I just don’t get it.  So here’s my question…

Why does everyone assume everything’s going to happen in round numbers?  Why did so many think the end of the world was coming in the year 2000 (why is it different from 1999 or 2001)?  Similarly, why do people think that if someone were to attack us, that they would do it on the same day someone attacked us before?  Isn’t 9/12 just a good a day.  Or that it would be on the 5-year anniversary?  Is that somehow different from the 4th or the 6th?

I know this is a minor question in the grand scheme of things, but everyone else is all over the “let’s remember” stuff.  I would just be noise adding my thoughts.  So, instead I’ll stake out this bizarre nook.  Plus, I’m curious.  Anyone willing to weigh in?

To what do you contribute this phenomenon?

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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2 Responses to Why the round numbers?

  1. Neva says:

    As for the whole end of the world thing, people like to place significance on our perception of the world and assume that the world will run according to it. So since that was a big number to us, obviously something had to happen, right? Forget the fact that it’s an arbitrary date system, it’s significant to people so it had to be significant in some other manner. Human beings are all about perception and providing meaning to what can otherwise feel like a big, arbitrary, uncaring universe.

    Fears about a repeat of terrorism on a round number are a little more logical given that we’re not looking at forces of nature but at other people who are also inclined to think numbers are important. However, I’d say the biggest issue is that the date Sept 11 gets people thinking about terrorism. So they start thinking about it, looking around for things to reassure them, and deciding they may not feel much safer now. My gut feeling really is that people are just being constantly reminded of terrorism right now, so they worry that other people are thinking about it, too, and might be planning something.
    From a more logical standpoint, I’d say that’s exactly the reason I wouldn’t expect much to happen today. Given the date, a lot of people are on edge and watching for something. Makes more sense to wait a few months until people are focused on something else and go back to being less vigilant.

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  2. Brad Bull says:

    I think terrorism is more symbolic in it’s attempt to scare. I in no way intend to belittle the lives lost, but ~3000 people in a country of over 300,000,000 is really not a lot, but as a symbol it was devastating. I think people are on edge, because an anniversary is symbolic and a terrorist may be more likely to pick that date than a random date.

    I am curious if anyone reading this is actually scared of a terrorist attack. I will say again that I think a persons chance of being involved in an attack are up there with being struck by lighting twice in the same spot. I am going to watch Ted Koppels piece “The Price of Security” tonight (TIVOed from yesterday). I am curious on the current cost-benefit of sacrificed freedom vs. security gained. I know there are some books on this topic, if I ever get the time to read again 🙂 I am sure some freedom costs are really good deals as far as security gained (your data mining post for example) and some may not be good deals (unlimited detentions, torture)

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