There are surely more dis­rup­tions to come. Stephen E. Flynn, a secu­rity expert and former mil­i­tary officer who is co-​​director of the George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, ticks off the most likely threats: a break­down in the power grid; inter­rup­tion of global supply chains, including those that pro­vide our food; an acci­dent at one of the many chem­ical fac­to­ries in urban areas; or damage to the dams, locks, and water­ways that shuttle agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and other goods out to sea. The No. 1 threat, he says, is a ter­rorist attack that prompts law­makers and a fright­ened public to shred the Bill of Rights or over­react in another way.

The ten­dency in gov­ern­ment has been to focus intensely on these threats—or other prob­lems, con­sid­ering the wars on cancer, poverty, drugs, crime, and so on—and to try to elim­i­nate them.

“If you look at the post-​​World War II area,” Flynn says, “there is almost an over­ar­ching focus on reducing risk and bringing risk down to zero,” the idea that this could be done “if you brought enough sci­ence and enough resources and you applied enough muscle.” Since 9/​11, that policy has meant spending vast sums to go after ter­ror­ists out there, but per­haps we aren’t safer.

“Why do we have all this money to go after man-​​made ter­rorist attacks, and then we let our bridges fall down?” Flynn wonders.

He advo­cates a dif­ferent approach. We should make Amer­ican society more robust so that it can absorb shocks and carry on. Part of that shift includes reori­enting people’s atti­tudes so that they are more willing to deal with these uncer­tain­ties. The gen­er­a­tion before World War II accepted risk as a matter of life, he says. “They had less ambi­tion or hubris to believe that you would con­tain all of these things,” he says, “and a mea­sure of char­acter was how you would deal with adver­sity, how you over­came it.”