Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why I do not worry about terrorism

I do not worry about terrorism for four reasons.

First, as I explained in last Ethical Musings' post, "Responding to the Paris attacks," terrorists have never prevailed against a democratic government. Terrorism poses no real threat to the United States or other democratic nations as long as we hold fast to our cherished political values of freedom, respect for others, and self-determination. Terrorist attacks are likely to occur, a relative handful of people will become casualties (about 479 in the Paris attacks, counting killed and wounded, which is a tragic but negligible percent of France's 66 million residents).

Second, I personally can do almost nothing to avoid being injured or killed in a terrorist attack. However, I also am confident that democratic governments take every reasonable step to avoid future terrorist attacks. In fact, my concern is just the opposite. Governments take not only every reasonable step but also many steps that are unreasonable. Unreasonable steps include measures that (1) are not cost-effective (e.g., the cost of armed air marshals flying on US commercial airliners far exceeds any potential benefit), (2) fail (government tests repeatedly show the multi-billion dollar Transportation Security Administration's passenger screening is ineffectual), or (3) tacitly cede victory to terrorists (e.g., invasive government data collection and mining that destroys personal privacy and freedom). Political leaders and government officials are now so afraid of the public blaming them for any terror attack that occurs that governments seek to implement both every reasonable and unreasonable measure to avoid a future terrorist attack. Unfortunately, terrorists have too many targets from which to choose to make the goal of preventing all future attacks feasible.

Third, terrorists kill very few people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ten leading causes of death in the United States in 2013 were:
  1. Heart disease: 611,105
  2. Cancer: 584,881
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  4. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  6. Alzheimer's disease: 84,767
  7. Diabetes: 75,578
  8. Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  10. Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149
War ranked as the #112 cause of death; terrorism did not even make the list. Although I cannot do much to prevent dying in some of these ways, I choose to focus my energy and efforts on taking measures to achieve realistic goals. I exercise regularly, eat and drink in moderation, use sunscreen, do not smoke, have an annual flu shot, try to maintain mental health, etc. These measures do more to improve my quality and of life and longevity than anything that I can do to prevent becoming a casualty in a terrorist attack. Furthermore, since I do not live in fear of heart disease, cancer, and other leading causes of death, realizing that I will inevitably die, I see absolutely no reason to live in fear of the statistically insignificant threat that terrorists pose.

Fourth, and in view of the foregoing, I recognize that the media finds reporting about terrorism exciting and rewarding. A never-ending, 24/7 news cycle, generates an insatiable demand for new stories. The stories that captivate the most public attention are immediate, dramatic, and filled with pathos. Reporting about terror attacks fits those specifications. I, for one, believe that effective, just counterterrorism depends upon not allowing the mass media to dictate my political priorities, personal values, or emotional responses to terrorism, terror attacks, or terrorists.


Dotun Olagoke said...

Fr. George----Great explanation of how to put things into perspective especially when crisis hits----Thanks

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with your view.

I don't literally worry about terrorism, or violent crime. But while I don't worry about them, they do influence a few of my minor behaviors.

I don't think Jesus worried about his security. But he appears to have practiced some low cost, pragmatic security measures at times (selective avoidance, traveling in a group). Some of his disciples apparently had a sword or two, I assume as a deterrent to banditry.

Anonymous said...

I belatedly read this in the post about "Responding to the Paris Attacks".

"A courageous community attacked by terrorists can defeat terrorism by prudentially taking proven, cost-effective defensive measures."

That is what I was getting at above.

George Clifford said...

Thanks for the clarification.