As he often does, Gene Healy hits a home run in his Washington Examiner column. More and more hilarious stories of bumbling, incompetent terrorists are coming out. Gene shares some of the better ones and asks, “You ever get the feeling that some of these guys aren’t the sharpest scimitars in the shed?”
This leads to a conclusion reached by far too few:
We’ve given al Qaeda power over us they don’t deserve. When we recognize that they’re often inept and clownish, we weaken their ability to sow terror. For the sake of our liberty and security, it’s prudent and patriotic to allow an occasional smirk to cross your stiff upper lip.
He’s right. Terrorists win when we overreact. And overreact we have. From airport security theater to the 854,000-employee post-9/11 homeland security aparatus, Americans have willingly handed al Qaeda a bigger, longer-lasting victory than they could ever have hoped for.
So claims a must-read article at The Atlantic (hat tip to Radley Balko):
They blow each other up by mistake. They bungle even simple schemes. They get intimate with cows and donkeys. Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?
Remember: terrorism thrives on over-reaction. Not only are terrorists rare, they are often incompetent. Lightning strikes kill 20 times as many Americans. One day homeland security policies should reflect that.
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.
Posted in Publications, Security Theater
Tagged bias, black swan, cognitive bias, fear, heuristic, irrational, irrational fear, lightning, nassim nicholas taleb, security, Security Theater, taleb, terror, terrorism, terrorist, terrorists