The New Yorker, January 2, 2016: Thinking Rationally About Terror, by Lawrence M. Krauss
How people overestimate the risk of low-probability (but highly-publicized) dangers, like terrorism, and seldom worry about more mundane dangers, like gun violence and auto crashes.
As far as the U.S. is concerned, it has been pointed out already—by the President, in fact—that about thirty-three thousand people die each year from gunshot wounds. That’s about four hundred thousand people since 2001. By contrast, setting aside 9/11, and even including the San Bernardino shootings, only fifty-four deaths have occurred because of domestic acts of terrorism during that time. Even if you include 9/11, the total death toll from terrorism amounts to less than one per cent of the death toll from gun violence.
A cynical individual might wonder who benefits more from the terror induced by terrorism: the terrorists themselves or the politicians and governments who use the public reaction to acts of terror for political gain? Hermann Göring, interviewed during the Nuremberg Trials, said, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” We need to be vigilant against those who seek to manipulate us—whoever they are.
The difference is that terrorism is historical rare, and thus novel — and it thus triggers emotional responses far out of proportion to the actual risk. Republicans, the party of conservatives, who are more given to fear, of course, play up the danger to score political points.
Also involving politics, two examples of Republican politicians who seem unclear on the distinction between rule of law and theocracy.
Via The Morning Heresy:
Marco Rubio goes the Full Jesus in a new ad, in which he says, over a sweet and mellow piano underscore:
Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator and for all time, to accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. The struggle on a daily basis as a Christian is to remind ourselves of this. The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan, to those who much has been given much is expected and we will be asked to account for that. Were your treasures stored up on earth or in Heaven and to me I try to allow that to influence me in everything that I do.
This recalls an item from the David Silverman book I don’t think I mentioned: as he points out, “the US Constitution outranks everything, including religious texts”. He proposes an adaptation to official oaths, p52:
The current Presidential Oath of Office reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defends the Constitution of the United States.” Simply append “as the supreme law of the land” to the end. There! That is my kind of religious test — say yes to the supremacy of the Constitution as the law of the land or go become a preacher instead.
As it is, not just Rubio (and Santorum and Huckabee) but the vile Ted Cruz plays off the worst aspects of Christianity, not the best, as David Brooks explores in today’s paper: The Brutalism of Ted Cruz:
The best conservatism balances support for free markets with a Judeo-Christian spirit of charity, compassion and solidarity. Cruz replaces this spirit with Spartan belligerence. He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate. This Trump-Cruz conservatism looks more like tribal, blood and soil European conservatism than the pluralistic American kind.