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People don't react to terrorism because they're afraid of being blown up personally. They do it because they're afraid of the precedent that might be set by not responding.

It's statistically unlikely that you'll be the victim of gang violence, but does that mean it's irrational prosecute and punish gang members? No, because the activity threatens social stability vastly out of proportion with the probability of any given person being victim to it. In general, we punish crimes not because it's likely that we'll be the victims of one, but because if we don't the problem might grow out of hand and undermine civil order.


Really now. I don't need to go much beyond the evening news to know that people spend a lot of time being afraid of things that aren't likely to happen. (What don't you know about your toothbrush that could kill you? Probably very little.)

Your model of humanity is one that's much more rational and thoughtful than what I've come to expect from my neighbors. Nobody is scared of a decline in social stability; they're scared of getting shot or robbed or blown up. Usually by people who look different than they do.

Listen to Obama's speech on the issue. It's targeted to calm the average American. Listen to the word he uses to characterize the administration's response: justice. What does "justice" mean in this context? It means nothing other than the government's response to activity that threatens social stability and psychologically remedy the injuries created by actions that upset social stability.

What does the War in Iraq or having to remove one's shoes before boarding an aircraft have to do with justice?

I don't think anyone is making the argument that there should be no justice. Prosecuting the criminals who commit murder for the purpose of terrorism is clearly a "no reasonable person could disagree" sort of a thing.

But the question remains, how is justice won? In theory we could impose martial law and suspend elections, or permanently shut all the roads and trains and prohibit gatherings of more than five people in the same place, or nuke the entire middle east. Perhaps doing those things could bring justice to more terrorists.

Well before we reach that point, we come to a line we should not cross. We come to a choice that will cost us more of our humanity than it gains us in justice. And whipping the public into a frenzy is how popular support for crossing the line we should not cross is manufactured.

All that is really irrelevant to my point, whixh is that the nature of the word "justice" shows that people are concerned about social order, not just the individual likelihood of being killed. One can argue about the extent to which any given response helps maintain order.

That's why people care about "justice" for murderers even though more people are killed by auto accidents. Murder upsets the social order. A car accident doesn't.

This might explain the political response to terrorism, but I'm not sure it applies to the individual.

Fear of setting a bad precedent which could lead to the undermining of civil order seems to be a more complex feeling than that of being the victim of an attack. It's been my experience that the most common fears of an individual are related to sudden/unexpected pain and/or death, not concern for the social good.

And if people are truly concerned over the long term social effects of a threat, why does this not also apply to large percentages of the population routinely dying of preventable causes? Surely this is just as relevant to the well-being of society.

Because people aren't just worried about death. They're worried about social order. Yes, not just governments but individuals worry about social order. It is a luxury of growing up in the west that allows people to say stuff like only governments worry about social order. Highway accidents don't have the potential to undermine social order the way terrorism does.

I think it's more that they fear random death: crazy snipers on rooftops, bombs at the park. They don't fear things that they (mistakenly) think they have a lot more control over.

heart disease: "But I eat healthily ... usually" traffic accidents: "I'm a good driver! I won't get in an accident."

It's a combination of poor risk assessment and Dunning-Kruger mischaracterization's of one's skills. I'm sure there's more to it than that.

That does not explain why people stopped flying after 9/11.

People are terrible at estimating risk.

I flew less after 9/11 because it made rational sense to do so.

Before I could turn up at the airport 10 minutes before my plane took off and go the the gate and check in.

After 9/11 I was in a queue for ages and had to arrive really early. So it was quicker to just drive.

Also deadlier.

Do you have statistics showing that it's more deadly to fly post-9/11 than it was before? Are more airliners crashing now?

Parent is probably referring to the fact that it is safer to fly than drive a car, statistically speaking.[0]

[0] - http://reason.com/archives/2006/08/11/dont-be-terrorized

That is indeed what I was referring to. Deaths due to traffic accidents increased measurably in the months after 9/11 as more people opted to drive instead of flying.

"People don't react to terrorism because they're afraid of being blown up personally."

I would disagree. My experience is that people view dying in a terrorist act as an especially horrific way to die and hence especially scary. I have had this specific conversation with people where they say it would be much worse to die in a terrorist attack than to die in a car accident.

To me it doesn't make sense. They both kill you but a lot of people see it differently.

> They do it because they're afraid of the precedent that might be set by not responding

What precedent? Isn't the whole purpose of terrorism to provoke a response -- to force a change?

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