Tag Archives: irrational

How to Stand up to Terrorists

Fear of terrorism is literally irrational. You are 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning than fall victim to a terrorist attack. 200 times more Americans are killed by car wrecks than by terrorists. Yet people seem to be at least 200 times more scared of terrorists than of cars. This makes no logical sense.

In an article in the new issue of the CEI Planet (on page 7), I make the case that this is due to black swan bias, an inborn cognitive bias in the human brain that makes us pay undue attention to rare, catastrophic events and ignore everyday dangers.

Terrorism thrives on black swan bias. Terrorists are so few in number that fear is their only weapon. Every time people submit to new security theater measures, every time we trade away our freedom for the illusion of security, the terrorists win. The way to fight back is to not be scared. Fortunately, the facts give us plenty of reasons to drop our irrational fears.

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Regulation of the Day 124: Kissing Your Girlfriend Good-Bye

How do we know the terrorists are winning? When a man kissing his girlfriend good-bye at Newark Liberty International Airport results in the evacuation of an entire terminal, 200 delayed or canceled flights, and re-screening for thousands of passengers.

There is a word for this: overreaction. If this how the government reacts to a threat that is 20 times scarcer than being struck by lightning, we are doing something wrong.

Yes, the criminal kisser was wrong to sneak under a security rope to get one last peck from his girlfriend. But closing down an entire terminal at a major airport for six hours is overdoing it. Just take a look at the offender.

His name is Haisong Jiang. He is 28 years old and very much in love. He emigrated to the U.S. from China in 2004, and met his girlfriend at Rutgers University. She recently moved to California, though they remain together. Mr. Jiang is still in the New York area, pursuing a biology Ph.D. When he receives his degree later this year, he plans to move to California to be with her. He is clearly not a terrorist.

Mr. Jiang’s forbidden kiss was recorded by surveillance cameras. It was clear that he was sneaking a kiss, not a bomb. Even so, a five-day manhunt ensued. Mr. Jiang was arrested and tried. Fortunately, his sentence is a light one: “a $500 fine and $158 in costs and fees,” plus 100 hours of community service.

I was a bit worried that he would have been shipped to Guantanamo Bay, frankly. Hopefully retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, the new head of the TSA, will take steps to make airport security more rational and less driven by fear.

This Is How Terrorists Win

Fear is a terrorist’s only effective weapon. There are so few of them, and their attacks are so rare, that fear is all they have. Yet they win victory after victory. People and governments have an irrational tendency to over-react to rare but conspicuous threats. Here’s our latest loss:

[Washington, DC] Metro Transit Police will hold a “major anti-terrorism show of force” Tuesday during rush hour at one of the agency’s “busiest Metrorail station,” according to a media advisory released by the agency…

Metro said about 50 officers from several Metro Transit Police units will participate in the exercise, including anti-terrorism and K-9 explosives detection teams, bomb technicians, mobile and foot patrols.

As a daily user of the DC Metro, here’s hoping this security theater production happens as far away from my commute as possible.