War On Terrorism Irrational?

With the recent NSA revelations, a huge debate over surveillance (not video but other types) has emerged. The Atlantic has a detailed article titled, "The Irrationality of Giving Up This Much Liberty to Fight Terror"

The recurring theme is "it is not rational to give up massive amounts of privacy and liberty to stay marginally safer from a threat that, however scary, endangers the average American far less than his or her daily commute."

Given that we work in this industry, it would be interesting to hear people's perspective on this. Worth it? Not worth it? Why? Why not?

This is why history should be taught in schools. This is why english and literature should be studied by kids. Because if you can't understand the meaning of "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety", then it's an era of hopelessness.

This is also why statistics should be taught in school, and not just in college. People live in fear of remote risks (being murdered by a criminal or killed by a terrorist) but don't worry about more common risky behavior (smoking or not wearing a seat belt in cars). Knowing the relative risks won't completely eliminate worrying about the wrong thing, but it might help keep things in perspective.

People live in fear of remote risks (being murdered by a criminal or killed by a terrorist) but don't worry about more common risky behavior (smoking or not wearing a seat belt in cars). Knowing the relative risks won't completely eliminate worrying about the wrong thing, but it might help keep things in perspective.


Oh, and just to pick a (off-topic) nit here... something that's be driving me nuts especially for the last 12 years:

"The Irrationality of Giving Up This Much Liberty to Fight Terror"


[ter-er] Show IPA

1. intense, sharp, overmastering fear: to be frantic with terror.
2. an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety; quality of causing terror: to be a terror to evildoers.
3. any period of frightful violence or bloodshed likened to the Reign of Terror in France.
4. violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion; terrorism.
5. Informal. a person or thing that is especially annoying or unpleasant.


[ter-uh-riz-uhm] Show IPA
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
The media loves to shorten "real" words into buzzwords, but "terrorism" and "terror" ARE NOT interchangeable. Terrorism is almost universally a BadThing<tm>. Terror... not so much.

SMBC made a nice comic about that

What Luis said +1...

Despite the massive amounts of social network and e-mail data mining and telephone metadata that the PRISM system was allegedly collecting, it does not appear it was all that efffective in Boston. Not worth it...

With the preponderance of social media, we probably have nobody to blame but ourselves for lack of privacy today. C-net has an interesting article the subject.

As to my opinions on the matter, two thoughts come to mind:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." - 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H.L. Mencken

That Mencken quote really rings true to me. If you look at the numbers, there have been just over 4000 deaths due to terrorism since 9/11, including those killed on 9/11. This number includes all the "quasi-terror" events, such as school shootings and large scale killings that were most likely gang related. Over twice that number were killed in bicycle accidents in the same time period. If we're really trying to save lives, should't we be banning your kid's Schwinn?

Like all government shenanigans, this one is bound to fail. Eventually, you run out of hobgoblins, and you have to start creating them. An uncreative administration will begin to look internally. "Look at those evil Jews, they're the bad guys." "Quick, everyone kill the Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian!" "Have you seen what those Tutsies are up to?" "Those homeschoolers are really scary." "Watch out for that conservative suburbanite with the scary black gun." "Have you heard about those people who think they should be allowed to keep more of what they earn?" You get idea....

That being said, I'm sure glad the supre-competent TSA is there to protect us. Nothing makes me feel safer than some slack-jaw yelling at me to stand in line, don't joke, get irradiated, strip down half naked, and to have my papers ready.

I think the academic arguement is indeed very important, but in many cases is different than the reality of PRISM. It seems the real effectiveness of PRISM is grossly overstated, due to fear. (However, I understand that precedent is what is often being argued here.) It reminds me of those 'anonymous' clips that decry the vast network of facial recognition cameras that can track your every move.

In general, I believe 'Privacy' is an illusion in the 'digital age'. As long as I keep feeding information into free social networks that somebody else owns, using free webmail, and download free (cloud based) apps to my phone, I can't really expect my information is mine, can I?

Maybe we should collectively start reading those EULAs...

I jumped in the car last eveing and a KNPR statement from the PHEW fondation? (don't know the real spelling. It stinks no matter the spelling) about most believe it is OK to give up those freedoms for the protecion it affords. Or some such gibberish. My first thought "Who are the most". No one asked me!

If your thinking why do I listen to a NPR station? Well I only get radio in the car. AND one of a few out in this neck of the woods. Secondly when in face to face discussions I can say "You musty listen to.... "The new 'Brown shirts'. Their baseball bats are michrophones. Of one commentator I'ver heard said. Teri (or terry or) Gross..... IS.

Secondly it IS good to know what the other side is thinking. No matter the dislike.

It isn't that we should expect privacy anymore. We should be demanding it.

In the IE debate some one mentioned Google tracking.. Heck, They all call home when using their aps. Best I can do is set up a firewall that has the ability to deny out going. And pare down minimal use of cloud services

Reading the EULAs. Good point. But one ends up with no aps if they are. Especially for the smart phones.

TSA,s ? Yeppers alters the meaning of "Fear of flying".

IMO, the whole US fascination with their "War On Cause-of-the-Week" is irrational.

I think people don't realise how valuable privacy is untill they face the darker sides of it.

Identity theft is uaualy one of those clear wake-up calls where they realise they've been way too open with their private information and suddenly realise that it's called 'private' for a reason.
And identity theft continue's to increase. I once saw an episode on TV where a lad had 3 appartments on his name in which weed was cultivated. He never heard of the appartments nor ever been there. It was for the fact that on the contracts the signatures didn't match and 1 had a spelling error of his name that he was aquitted.

If you ask me, the USA has the wrong credo for ages now. It's not 'The land of the free', but rather, 'The land of the scared'. As Hal pointed out, it's been one hobgobling after the other. Russia, 'Commies', Irak, Iran, Al Quida and the list goes on.
The strong patriotic feeling that lives in the US is being twisted and abused in order for the gouverment AND large companies to gain more rights and reduce that of the citicens.

Sure it provides us work, but is it ligit? I tend to disagree.

I've been meaning to chime in on this one for a while. Is it worth it, overall I feel like its not. Billions of dollars of spending on security and eroding civil liberties. We're treating the symptoms without are barely addressing the causes of the disease.

As for TSA, isn't this what the American public wanted after 9/11? Then they got it and didn't want it anymore? I appreciate that last year TSA kept 821 guns out of carry-ons (691 of them loaded). That is a measureable outcome. At least TSA is stopping something in contrast to the FBI who is literally orchestrating terror plots to stay relevant. You can measure their arrests for terror plots (75 or so) but then when you realize the whole plot was a bunch of informants supplying some dopey, impressionable guys with fake weapons and fake explosives it's not really that impressive. The NSA may release the number of plots where PRISM has been used, but I already predict, it's not going to be worth the amount of data they were collecting and not worth such broad spying.

Can the U.S. afford to drop security to pre-9/11 levels? I think that would be risky. But can some of this stuff go away now? Yeah I think so.

When it comes to topics such as the 'War on...', I always find it first necessary to talk about numbers.

  • TSA budget is about $8 billion in 2012.
  • NIP and MIP (National and Military Intelligence Programs, respectively) budgets at $53 billion and $27 billion in 2010.
  • Dept. of Homeland Security budget at $60.8 billion annually.

Between all these different departments created to 'protect' our civil liberties, we're talking about $140 billion a year spent. Regardless of what you think about it, do you really believe that anything will possibly change when we're talking about 10x more money than the projected $15 billion on surveillance globally in 2013?

As with everything else, security is really just a guise to create a new market, accessible by the few who can afford to lobby and the few who have the network connections into the top brass at each of these agencies that farm out the business to contractors.

So yes, is it irrational? Sure. Does it matter? Nope. Because fear is an economic driver, and we need to keep driving the econonmy any way we possibly can. The goal is to ensure the dollar is the strongest currency and financial instrument- because if it isn't, then the national debt is in serious trouble, since there will be no will across the world to continue to invest in the dollar.

Terrorism is a method not to 'create fear', but to create an asynchronous war. The 9/11 attack was funded by approximately $400,000 to $500,000 in funds from Al Queda. The total 'cost' of the attack is calculated to be $15 trillion, when factoring in debt, markets, capital, budgets, reconstruction, etc.

That's asynchronous. That's a factor of 30,000,000:1 in financial damage.

Can we even afford the war on terror? No. Is it worth it? No. Can we stop it now that it drives a signficant portion of the US economy? No.

Terrorism works because of how we respond to it.

^^^ That's a very lucid post. +1

Thumbs up.