I’m going to do something completely different today and endorse this post by Matthew Yglesias. Yglesias points out that a) there are just so many different ways to carry out a terrorist attack, that we’re better off trying to catch people and then taking our chances letting people on planes with their water bottles and so on. b) Since a large part of the point of terrorist attacks is to induce panic and (energy-sapping) hypervigilance, we’re probably better off trying to, you know, avoid panicking and getting hypervigilant.
Yglesias points out how easy it is to carry out terrorist attacks on places other than airplanes. Again, I agree, and I confess that I’m a bit mystified that terrorist groups are apparently still wasting their time with planes. For my part, what I always expected was a car bomb or three in Manhattan. That would induce far more terror and chaos than an airplane bomb, and I find it nothing short of astonishing that no one has tried it yet. It’s certainly what I would plan if I were an evil terrorist type. There are only a few possible explanations for the fact that this hasn’t happened yet:
i) AQ masterminds are really stupid.
ii) AQ planners are caught up in the idea that the attack has to be really spectacular to be worth it. This is inhibiting them, since effective but more modest terrorist attacks are felt to be a threat to their brand of mega-terror. Graduate students struggling to complete a dissertation may recognize the perfectionism-leading-to-failure trap here.
iii) AQ lacks the capability to do such a thing.
iv) The U.S. government has been marvelously effective at stopping all such attacks behind the scenes, but has been too modest to say anything about it.
v) Actually, an attack exactly as I described it is about to happen, and this suspiciously prescient blog post will be used against me later in a court of law.
I’ve got my money on iii. In the meantime, I’ve just decided that it’s better to accept a certain amount of risk in life. Of course I want the authorities to spend a lot of energy trying to stop attacks, and to generally pursue policies that minimize the risk, all other things considered. But, just as I’m willing to leave my apartment once in a while in spite of the elevated risk to my person (I could be hit by a car! I could get a sunburn! I might get mugged!), I would rather live a more normal life at slightly higher risk, than a marginally safer (if that), but paranoid and highly inconvenienced existence.
The same line of reasoning is part of my position against torture, and other immoral counterterrorist measures. I don’t think torture is effective, but even if it were effective, I would rather accept a slightly higher risk of dying in a terrorist attack than allowing the torture of people who might well be innocent – which is what, in practice, allowing a policy, or quasi-policy, of torture inevitably leads to. I suspect that people who disagree with me about this are cowards.
Howls of outrage (6)