08 August 2006

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

One of the tensions that emerges from time to time in this blog is that between openness and security. In the current climate of the so-called "war on terror", openness is typically characterised as dangerous, irresponsible even, because it gives succour to "them".

Terrorism is not to be trivialised, but it's a question of keeping things in perspective. Magnifying the threat unreasonably and acting disproportionately simply hands victory to those who wish to terrorise. This seems pretty obvious to me, but if you want a rigorously-argued version, you could hardly do better than this one, by John Mueller.

Here's a sample, on the issue of perspective:

[I]t would seem to be reasonable for those in charge of our safety to inform the public about how many airliners would have to crash before flying becomes as dangerous as driving the same distance in an automobile. It turns out that someone has made that calculation: University of Michigan transportation researchers Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan, in an article last year in American Scientist, wrote that they determined there would have to be one set of September 11 crashes a month for the risks to balance out. More generally, they calculate that an American’s chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the September 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America’s safest roads — rural interstate highways — one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles.

(Via Boing Boing.)


Anonymous said...

We are being swamped by a climate of fear.p

Anonymous said...


You're one of the few who understands the vital importance of freedom. Without freedom, security is meaningless if not illusory.

Your title is the key. People respond to fear by seeking security, and we never realize what we're giving up in return (or even if we're getting any security in the bargain -- usually not).

Putting things in reasonable perspective is a great way to lose the fear and see things more clearly.

I really enjoy the breadth of topics you cover here from an open perspective. Keep on fighting the good fight!


Glyn Moody said...

Thanks - I'll do my best.