A few months ago somebody put a latch on the door to the garbage room in our apartment building. It's a very tight latch, so I have to fight with the thing before I can get in and throw our garbage in the bin. Why is the latch there? Was somebody stealing garbage? And if somebody was, is the latch going to stop him? The most pathetic thing is that sometimes I catch myself latching the door on my way out. About a year ago somebody put an intercom on the front door of the building, with a secret code you have to push to get in. We've been living in this building for a solid 10 years and I know for a fact that during the first nine of them, when the front door went unlocked, there was a total of zero break-ins. But somebody decided we needed an intercom and a lock and a secret code. Sometimes when I'm at home and the buzzer rings, I find myself asking who's at the door, which tenant he wants, and what he wants the tenant for, before buzzing him in. And to show you how pernicious this all is, I am so far from being a security freak - I'm the neighborhood eccentric who leaves his car windows open every night. (This way the car isn't boiling when I get in, and no car thief is stupid enough to steal a banged-up '92 Justy, so let them call me eccentric.) In fact I'm such a naive, trusting soul that I haven't bothered to fix the lock on the gas tank. (This way it's a lot less hassle to get gas, and since I have yet to hear of anyone who's heard of anyone who's ever had gas stolen from his tank, I think I'll go on living dangerously.) WHAT IS WRONG with people today? What is wrong with the world? This didn't start with 9/11 or the intifada; it doesn't have anything to do with terrorism. For a very long time, I'd say since the late Seventies, after everyone was sure the Sixties were good and dead, people have grown steadily more cautious and suspicious and anally-retentive and constipated about everything. Nothing in this world ever gets looser, only tighter. Have you heard of any penalty in any walk of life, any punishment for breaking any law, rule or regulation, becoming more lenient? No, that's permissiveness. That's liberal hippie nonsense. Throw him in jail, throw him out of school, three strikes and you're out. Be firm. Be constipated. It's not just harder and harder to get on an airplane - it's harder and harder to get out of a supermarket. Now the security guards are checking your receipt to make sure you didn't just load up NIS 500 worth of groceries and stroll past the manager and all the check-out clerks 10 feet away without paying. It doesn't matter how impossible the restrictions are already, they can always be cranked up until they're even more impossible. The more time it takes, and the further you have to drive to find a parking place in the city, the heavier the parking fines and the more frequently they tow away your car. There will be no coddling of criminals around here. AND EVEN if it does have something to do with terror, chances are the newly-installed security measure just wastes your time. You used to have to open your trunk for inspection before driving into a parking garage; now you also have to open it when you drive into a regular, open-air parking lot. The security guard doesn't inspect your trunk, of course, he just gives it a perfunctory glance. There could be tons of explosives being driven into the lot for all the security guard knows. But for the owner of the parking lot, as for everyone else, the idea is to always find new ways to make people know you've got your eye on them, to show them they can't get away with any funny business. As for what goes on at the office, enough has been written about how companies are always finding innovative ways to spy on their employees, then penalize them, fire them, prosecute them; I don't need to add anything. Everybody's a strict disciplinarian these days, everybody's firm, everybody's constipated. Security is next to godliness; lean against a car and an alarm goes off. Freedom is too dangerous for people. There are no loose screws or bolts anywhere, every one has been tightened and tightened as far as it'll go. HOW DID WE come to this? My guess is that we've always been there, that as the world becomes more crowded, and technology more sophisticated, and the media more adept at frightening and outraging the public, people become more wary, more obsessed with protecting themselves. Having come of age in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I used to think this was aberrant behavior, but the longer I live the more plainly I see that the late Sixties and early Seventies were the aberration, and that fear is the enduring foundation of society, every society. It's a dangerous world. Everybody has to take precautions. Everybody has to keep the latch on the garbage and the lock on the gas tank. You never know who might be out there.