Terror through annoying inconveniences?
Far from the major catastrophe it could have been, this week's blackouts in the Northeast were, according to most reports, simply annoying. There was no major loss of life (if any at all), no looting to speak of, and most everyone got a day or two off of work and school. Despite some early claims of the event being somehow linked to terrorism, everyone's pretty sure now that it was in reality "just one of those things" modern, industrialized civilization has to deal with from time to time, though no one is sure which one of those things was the cause.
Though most are ruling out terrorism as the cause, I tend to half-seriously think that we could be seeing a new means by international terrorists to bring down the United States. Surprise attacks that result in high casualties are definitely effective in the short-term--look at the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks--but the impact does have a pretty rapid decrease over time (we may "never forget," but we're also not going to always dwell on it every waking minute for the rest of our lives, and if Americans are good at anything it's quickly moving past tragedy to the next celebrity rape or murder case). The payoff for terrorists in future 9-11s is obviously not going to be worth the effort; they may kill a bunch of people and we'll get pissed off, toss the Bill of Rights behind the sofa and start a few wars, but we'll eventually want to move on to buy SUVs and watch American Idol. In the end, what's the point? No one here "gets" the terrorists' motivations anyway.
So they change their tactics. Instead of huge, TV-ready spectacles that "unite" the nation, they engage in effectively harmless, inconveniencing, and annoying "attacks." It will take longer and be more difficult, but the end result could be far greater than blowing up buildings because we would be too damn tired to actually do anything, whether it be sticking a flag on our Humvees or levelling another impoverished state. Turning off the power is just one thing; they could send out computer viruses that instead of any real damage will just make our machines shut down every half hour, or make all text appear backward every Monday and Thursday at 9AM; they could re-program Wal-Mart's pricing systems so that everything rings up $10 more than it costs, forcing the checkers to enter everything by hand and causing extreme delays; they can adjust traffic lights to stay red for five minutes and then turn green for five seconds. Really, the possibilites are endless, and after a while, even though no one has died and even though there was no real damage or loss (other than wasted time), Americans will not want to do anything. We will be annoyed and inconvenienced to the point of exhaustion. We probably won't go attack anyone because we'll have no idea if our military machinery will work or not.
In the end we will live in terror not because we are afraid we'll be killed by a random bomb, but because all of our regular routines will be uncertain, and we'll never know what kind of shit will go wrong on any particular day. Americans can be killed next door, and we'll be okay as long as it doesn't disrupt our schedule for more than a very short while. We can maybe stand a longer wait at the airport, but when every normal, everyday process becomes an ordeal to wade through, America will fall apart.
Of course, I think Mac Tonnies has a much more interesting (and plausible) tentative idea
for what caused the blackouts.