Links and Comments: Terrorists and Threats

Cartoon by Mark Fiore: Thank You. Love, ISIS.

Why? A piece by Nicholas Kristof in today’s NY Times explains. It’s called Overreacting to Terrorism? online and “Terrorists, Tubs and Snakes” in the print paper.

The basic problem is this: The human brain evolved so that we systematically misjudge risks and how to respond to them.

We over-estimate the danger of rare, unusual threats, while we ignore common, everyday threats that we learn to live with. Terrorists vs. car crashes. And disregard potential threats so long-range we think they won’t happen in our lifetimes.

This has been long-recognized; e.g. in the 1999 book by Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear, subtitled “Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things…”

Just another example of how human “common sense” — a result of millions of years of evolution in relatively stable, predictable environments — goes haywire in the modern world, with so many new experiences and unfamiliar forces.

The result is our current political climate, with the Republicans, the conservatives, playing off instinctive fears of terrorist threats, highlighted and drummed up by the media (if it bleeds, it leads). The Republican hysteria about terrorists is playing into their hands; to the extent we curtail ordinary human rights and cower in fear, the terrorists have won.

Kristof again:

On the same day as the attacks, a paper by James E. Hansen and other climate experts was released arguing that carbon emissions are transforming our world far more quickly than expected, in ways that may inundate coastal cities and cause storms more horrendous than any in modern history. The response? A yawn.

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