This information is from the Mayo Clinic:

Agoraphobia often results in having a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather and in locations that are not familiar. You may feel that you need a companion, such as a family member or friend, to go with you to public places. The fear can be so overwhelming that you may feel you can’t leave your home.

To be clear, agoraphobics do have some reason to fear leaving their homes. Each year, thousands of Americans are killed in traffic accidents and thousands more are murdered. Life is dangerous. But taken to extremes, agoraphobia can lead to a highly limited existence, where sufferers miss out on much of what makes life worth living.

I sometimes wonder if the US is becoming irrationally fearful of the outside world. Consider a recent story from Bloomberg, which describes the outrage occasioned by a proposal by a Chinese company to build a routine corn milling plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota:

The city this year abandoned a project that, just two years earlier, it had aggressively sought as an economic bonanza:  a $700 million corn mill that would have risen from rich farmland on the outskirts of the community. The mill faced a groundswell of opposition, especially regarding its owner: a Chinese company,  Fufeng Group.

Locals were concerned that the plant might be used to spy on the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is located 12 miles to the west.  This raises some interesting questions:

1. What sort of spying is likely to occur?  Why would a corn mill make this spying easier?

2. Aren’t Chinese nationals pretty much free to travel anywhere in the US, even if the plant is not approved?  Couldn’t they spy just as well from a random hotel in Grand Forks?

3. Perhaps the plant would allow for the installation of some massive spying equipment, which a lone spy could not bring within 12 miles of the base.  But in that case wouldn’t the hundreds of American working at the plant notice this spying operation?

Perhaps readers with more knowledge of spying than I have can help me understand how stopping this plant prevents China from spying on our air force bases. 

Many Chinese critics insist that, “We don’t hate the Chinese people, we simply object to the Chinese government.”  I worry that the line is becoming increasingly blurred.  

Fufeng is not a SOE, it’s a private company based on Hong Kong, with lots of American investors.  Some critics respond that even private Chinese companies are suspect, as the Chinese government can force them to turn over information.  That’s probably true, just as the US government forces our companies to turn over private information about Americans.

But taken to its logical extreme, that level of suspicion makes all 1.4 billion Chinese citizens suspect.  Here’s Bloomberg:

Local opposition focused at first on concerns such as pollution, subsidies and land use, but soon shifted to the mill’s ownership. 

“Larger and louder than all of the other concerns was a fear of Communist China,” said Katie Dachtler, the only member of the city council to initially vote against the project, who has since left office. “And we can’t talk about the Chinese without them being ‘communists.'”

People in Grand Forks who opposed the project from the start say their political leaders should have seen the trouble coming.

“You come here because you can get away with stuff,” said Frank Matejcek, a farmer who lives just outside the city.

It almost seems like Chinese people are being pre-judged to be security risks, without any specific information pointing in that direction.  And doesn’t the term “prejudice” originally derive from “pre-judgment”.  I’m having real trouble distinguishing between anti-Chinese prejudice and a worldview that the Chinese government is evil and all Chinese people are potential agents of that government.  Can someone help me out?  Isn’t this the mentality that led to the Japanese-American internment camps in 1942?  (Of course the earlier event was far worse.)

As the following map shows, Grand Forks was not originally viewed as a sensitive area:

So then why not move the plant to an area hundreds of miles from any sensitive military bases, like Sioux Falls, South Dakota?  Here’s Bloomberg:

Bob Scott, the mayor of Sioux City, Iowa, another city Fufeng considered, said in an interview that there’s no longer any interest. “Following that, up in North Dakota, they’re going to have a very, very difficult time getting a community,” he said.

Once anti-Chinese hysteria reaches this fever pitch level, there’s no longer any safe place in America.

It’s not that the risk of Chinese spying is non-existent.  As we saw in the recent balloon case, China does spy on the US.  Indeed as far as I know, all great powers spy on their rivals.  Rather, I wonder whether the actual risks involved justify the recent level of concern.  In April, there were headline stories about how outrageous it was not to shoot the Chinese balloon down immediately.  Two months later, the media quietly reports that the balloon was not even transmitting data:

The findings support a conclusion that the craft was intended for spying, and not for weather monitoring as China had claimed, the report said.

But the balloon did not seem to send data from its eight-day passage over Alaska, Canada and some other contiguous US states back to China, WSJ said.

But not one American in a hundred will read that follow-up story.  They’ve made up their minds.

The irony here is that we think that our increasing nationalism will make us safer.  In fact, the rise in nationalism in the US and China makes war ever more likely.