Saturday, August 12, 2006

ZeFrank on London liquid explosive terror plot

The Brits caught some douchebags who were going to blow up some planes.

Now, the way I see it, you can't have terrorism without terror. The strategy of terrorism is to use isolated acts of violence to instill fear and confusion into the population at large. A small number of people can incapacitate a society by leveraging our inability to understand risk.

Airline industry stocks plummetted today, while the industry braced for a rash of cancellations. This, despite the fact that even with the risk of airplane bombings it's still more dangerous to drive your car. Or smoke cigarettes.

As long as a small group of people can inflict mass panic across a large population, the tactic itself will remain viable. One way to deal a blow to the effectiveness of terrorism is to deal with the terror itself.

London's police deputy commissioner Paul Stevenson said that the plot was "intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale." No, it is imaginable: between three and ten flights out of thousands would have resulted in the terrible loss of human life.

Bush today said this country is safer today than it was prior to 9/11. Personally, I don't think he knows. Whether we like it or not, terrorist attacks on Americans are now part of the global reality. They will continue to happen. Many places around the globe have had to deal with a similar reality for years. India, Ireland, England, Spain, Russia, to name a few. In many cases, these societies have pulled together and not allowed isolated acts of violence to tear at their fiber. Like disease and the forces of nature, it's a risk that we have to rationally come to terms with. The government's responsibility is to make sure that fear and terror are not disproportionate to the reality of the situation.

Today the President said, "This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom to hurt our nation." Generalized statements like this which instill nebulous fear without specific information are exactly in line with the goals of terrorism.
Video here. (Hat tip to James Redekop on the SKEPTIC mailing list.)

Along similar lines is John Mueller of Ohio State University's "A False Sense of Insecurity? How does the risk of terrorism measure up against everyday dangers?" (PDF), published in the Cato Institute's Regulation, Fall 2004.

The additional security measures, which are creating long queues of people waiting to go through security checkpoints, are actually creating greater risks of terrorism--against those people waiting to get through the checkpoints. But that risk pales in comparison to every day risks which we accept (or allow others to accept) as a matter of course: falling off ladders, driving in automobiles, eating fast food, smoking. If a terrorist act on the scale of 9/11 occurred every month in the United States, it would only begin to approach the number of Americans killed every year in automobile accidents, and would still be far short of the number who die as a result of smoking.

Responsive actions like unreasonable and inefficient security screening measures increase rather than decrease the costs of terrorism.


outofcontext said...

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Just think how much more popular and useful our President would have been by calming us all down and giving us perspective. But it's not just him, nobody with any national platform has come close. It almost seems like politicians are as insecure and afraid as the rest of us.
I live in the heartland, a place where fear and distance make strange bedfellows. I guess it is easier to fear the sensational and exotic danger than to come to terms with the real social and economic insecurities in our everyday lives.
It reminds me a little of a Bill Hicks monologue about CNN in which he complains that news channels show war, destruction, famine, and pestilence 24 hours a day, yet you stick your head out the window and...(the sound of crickets).

Einzige said...

Well, you have to keep the underlying incentives in mind. What good does it do the president if we're not all fearing for our lives? Without such fear, do you think it likely that we'd put up with the shit he and the rest of the incompetent assholes in his administration have been doing the past 5 years?

My cynical side suspects that Bush loves terror almost as much as the terrorists.