1: Thousands of people die in car accidents every year. Why do we treat these deaths any differently from the way we treat deaths due to terrorism?
2: Well, they are and they aren’t different. Deaths due to car accidents are tragic for the families of the victims and the victims, and I don’t want to minimize that. But terrorism involves moral choices on the part of particular agents, and that seems to make a difference. We’ve accepted a certain number of deaths by traffic accident as a part of modern life, but not deaths by terrorism (nor should we). With a car accident, the thought is: If not for this twist of fate or error of judgement, so and so would be alive today. With a terrorist attack, the thought is: If not for this deliberate act of evil, so and so would be alive. And that makes a difference: the latter kind of death strikes us differently because it’s pointless (in the sense that there’s no good point to it). Just think: Would you rather hear that a relative had died in a car crash or been murdered? A horrible choice, but of course you’d chose the latter. Not to mention the fact that the level of traffic accidents shifts a bit from year to year, but it would be very unusual to have any big, unpleasant surprises in the overall level of fatalities. Not so with terrorist attacks, which remind us that the next could be much, much worse. Mourning these deaths plays a double role: We mourn the loss, which would be tragic whether it resulted from terrorism or a traffic accident. But we also lament the fact that the victims would be alive had it not been for some deliberate, hateful act, and we remind ourselves that it could happen again, and in much larger numbers.
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2: Oh, for pity’s sake, they’re mourning Menezes by the thousands. It’s just one guy. Why such a fuss over one person, when so many others, including victims of terrorism, have died too?
1: Well, as you’ve just pointed out, we don’t just look at the numbers when we call attention to victims. In this case, we have what appears to be a badly thought out policy or a decent policy very badly applied, that led to the death of an innocent man. And the policy, whether good or bad, was never publicly debated, even though anyone formulating it and instructing others of it would have to know the futility of trying to keep it a secret after an incident- and even though this is precisely the sort of policy that ought to be the subject of public debate. There is the very real fear that without some changes it is more likely than otherwise to happen again to another innocent person. Mourning in this case plays a double role: We mourn the victim, whose death would have been tragic however it came about. But we also remind ourselves that the death may well have been preventable, that it may well have been the result of policy failures, that it might happen to other innocents in the future, and that that is unacceptable to us.
Howls of outrage (3)