Friday, August 11, 2006

The only thing we have to fear...

The Cato Institute says something I actually completely agree with.

Anyway, I've got no argument with this: "Terrorists can be defeated simply by not becoming terrified."

Here's a link to the paper (pdf).


Frantz Fanon, the 20th century revolutionary, contended that “the aim of terrorism is to terrify.” If that is so, terrorists can be defeated simply by not becoming terrified — that is, anything that enhances fear effectively gives in to them.
The shock and tragedy of September 11 does demand a focused and dedicated program to confront international terrorism and to attempt to prevent a repeat.

But it seems sensible to suggest that part of this reaction should include an effort by politicians, officials, and the media to inform the public reasonably and realistically about the terrorist context instead of playing into the hands of terrorists by frightening the public.

What is needed, as one statistician suggests, is some sort of convincing, coherent, informed, and nuanced answer to a central question: “How worried should I be?” Instead, the message the nation has received so far is, as a Homeland Security official put (or caricatured) it, “Be scared; be very, very scared — but go on with your lives.” Such messages have led many people to develop what Leif Wenar of the University of Sheffield has aptly labeled “a false sense of insecurity.”
Tip o' the hat to Bruce Schneier for pointing me to the paper.

PS on the Cato Institute - Normally I sympathize with the libertarian perspective, but Cato puts a bit more faith in the ability of the free market to optimize social outcomes than I can muster. And I don't think libertarian philosophy has a good answer to the tragedy of the commons problem, either.


  1. Right! As has been said many times before, the "war on terror" makes no sense; terror is an emotion, and attacking an emotion or defending againstan emotion is best left to cognitive-behavioral therapy. In the parlance of CBT, we challenge a possibly irrational emotion (say, "terror") with rational thoughts. "The city where I live has never been a target for terrorrism. The city where I live is not an icon of american expansionism. Most people bring harmless beverages onto planes. Most people wear harmless shoes on planes."
    The "homeland security" efforts, the boots-on-the-ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reactionary travel policies, the color=fear scale, reinforce the (questionably rational) fear of "terrorism." It actually would be pretty rational to infer a real risk of danger from huge efforts by the government to "protect" us -- if we stipulate that "the government" will behave rationally. Which, sadly, it does not.

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