El Gringoqueño

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Proper Perspective

The debate between terrorism and security theater has been built up on logical fallacy after logical fallacy. The victim? The truth, lost long ago, buried it was under the rubble of stupidity. I’ll start with the, "there are a million things worse or more dangerous than terrorism" line. It begins like this:

You have more chance of dying in a car crash than you do of a terrorist attack. Cue smug look. Oh how right you are little snarky fella. Why didn’t I think of that? Gosh, the terrorists would have to blow up ten World Trade centers for us to feel as safe as we do in our cars. Man, I feel stupid for being afraid.

Let me illustrate my sarcastic point with some details from my personal experience. Laura and I lived in the Basque Country of Spain for two years. While we were there, ETA was active. There was a car bomb that went off near our apartment. We witnessed riots, riot gear, marches, murders and political assassinations. It all sounds dire, but in fact, I felt "safer" in the Basque Country than I have felt ever in my life. "Crime" was virtually non-existent. Robberies, home invasions, car-jackings? Nobody had ever heard of such a thing. And apart from the targeted violence against agents of the Spanish state, life was extremely tranquil.

By contrast, I had a much better chance of being mugged, murdered, or car-jacked in New York, DC, or St. Louis.

The question now is, where would I rather live?

Me personally? I would rather live somewhere else besides the Basque Country. Yeah, you heard that right. The Basque Country’s ETA problem makes me madder than random violent crime… even a lot of it.

It’s not a mechanism of risk per se. My net risk of dying through crime or accident is much higher in the US than the Basque Country, but net risk of dying isn’t the main metric that I go by.

Your net risk of dying is much higher driving a car than going your office in the World Trade Center. Why did the country go crazy after 9-11? Why have we taken such extreme measures when surely the raw logical dispassionate numbers of the situation relegate it to a minor event?

I think it has to do with intent. I’d much rather be mugged randomly than targeted politically. If I were to live permanently in the Basque Country, I would have a political opinion. It would be my right to have an opinion and discuss it as I see fit with those whom I consider my friends. If I should run for political office, I would expect that if my opinion differed from those in the extreme that we would be able to discuss our differences like reasonable people. If your violence exists for the purposes of political coercion then it is deadlier than physical harm. If your violence is targeted at someone for the purposes of silencing them for what they say or think, then you are more deadly than a random car accident. There is malevolent intent far beyond the death of the individual involved.

The terrorist hopes to spread his influence far above his real capability as an individual. The terrorist’s target isn’t you. His target is the freedom of ideas in an open society.

That is why it is dangerous, more dangerous than a traffic accident. In a world where the worse possible thing you can lose is your life, then I guess they are more or less equivalent. But in a world where we value justice and liberty higher than individual life, that terrorist is a whole lot more dangerous than your car.

5 Comments

  1. Cars also have a tendency to not blow themselves up randomly in the market place.

    Oh, and I don’t think they are logical fallacies. *Cue smug look*.
    I think you are criticizing the premises that lead to this conclusion. But are you taking the premises of your authorities into account? You can largely locate them by following the trail of money/power.

    I found this video Why We Fight by professor Chalmers Johnson to be quick and informative. Of course you must take it with a grain of salt.
    I haven’t researched it, but given the loose definition of terrorism that we operate with today I think the American government would be the largest terrorist in the world had it not been for the fact that it’s a sovereign state. And NATO? Sheesh.

    But all of the above is history and politics.
    What about people alive today in cities like Baghdad, Kabul, Khartoum etc. etc.?
    What struck me most during my short stay in Darfur was how deeply the small communities, like villages, were impacted by territorial/fanatical violence. I was given several accounts from those who dealt with security about flat out gutting of small children. You can’t call it politics and history will soon forget about it.
    It was just madness. Fanaticism is what I fear.

  2. Yeah, so we agree. Fanaticism is way more dangerous even if it doesn’t kill as many people as malaria, hunger, or random acts of the environment.

    All I’m really saying is that the logical fallacy is that #dead in X random event is not the same as #dead in targeted political violence. Your net risk of dying is the not the end all be all in the soup of decision making. I think 3000 killed by targeted terrorist violence is not less than 40,000+ killed each year in car accidents in the US. How does it compare? Is it worse, or marginally better? I don’t exactly know how to quantify it. But I don’t think that the raw numbers of dead folks tell the story.

    Darfur obviously is targeted terrorist violence AND in large numbers, which makes me wonder why the “war on terror” isn’t being waged there. *shrug*. But what would you say if more people died of malaria and mal-nutrition in Darfur than violence? Would you then conclude that worst thing happening there at the moment is the unfortunate accident of famine and disease?

    Violence and terror are problems vastly greater than the absolute numbers of dead would indicate.

    Iraq is just a major fuck up on all accounts. I don’t even know where to begin. I keep going back to, “we just should have never gone there.” Our problem in America is that we are basically a good-natured but powerful and ignorant people. We just don’t travel enough, know enough about the world, or care.

    Look how fucked up Latin America is. It was our fault, because we ignorantly supported “our friends” who just happened to be the sons-of-bitches who butchered “terrorists” and “communists” who, in the end, were just poor, indigenous and disenfranchised. Ditto for Vietnam.

    Maybe someday we’ll learn. Perhaps THIS generation is the one that will usher America into the adult world where we all work together rather than throw tantrums.

  3. There’s oil in Sudan.

    Food for thought.
    For a $5 mosquito tent you can save one person for 20 years from Malaria. This may seem like a bad investment for some, but if you consider the effect of a lowered child mortality rate, e.g the birth of less children, countries just might be able to get themselves back on the feet again. And to cover the entire African continent would be a lot less than a war in Iraq.

    In Europe the United States is often thought of as a toddler with a gun.
    I “recently” read through world history and by analogy there is no way we learn from the past. You are the Roman empire of today (and Western Europe too) with all that it entails. As a power in world politics you don’t need to understand the world, you can just impose your own world-view. Which is exactly what USA is doing, and what Al Quaida is trying to do.

    But is there another way to see this than the implicit moral debate we’ve raised now? What if we are just another species in an environment of many species doing what species do? The competition is fiercest among individuals of the same group.
    Sorry, I’m reading Darwin at the moment and nature becomes a standard measure:)

  4. On the “qualified terrible” deaths it should be as simple as people who would otherwise have been alive had it not been for the conflict in casu. [Of course you can’t _know_ that, but you can assume it.]

    We all die in the end; but there is a difference between dying peacefully with loved ones around you and being gunned down aged 12 in front of your school because you’re wearing a traditional robe.

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    But of course, I would first have to consider whether moral should be taken out of nature or not. Thinking of it, I don’t think it should. It’s just the gods and religious parts I can’t fit in, if not in an epistemological sense.

    [you can just mash these comments into one]

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