27.1.06

There is nothing to fear, but fear itself

All the politicians of all political parties (except the usual crowd of contrarian wingnuts) claim that it's a problem. Then it must be a problem. Right? Wrong. Case in point: Terrorism.

From all the media hype and all the scared-looking politicians on your evening news, you might get the idea that terrorism is the biggest threat to civilisation since Attila the Hun. That assertion, however, dies instantly upon contact with reality.

For the reality is that terrorists murder roughly 150 westerners every year (give or take maybe 50).* Even including 9/11 only ups the average number of Westerners murdered by terrorists pr. year over the last ten years to something like 450, and massively increases the standard deviation. 450. Maximum. Out of a population of 760 million.

So, on a normal year, the risk that I am murdered by some madhat Ayatollah-wanna-be is less than one in 5 million. I'll take those odds. OK, including 9/11 ups the odds to around one in 2 million. I'll still take those odds.

By way of contrast, simply cleaning up the diesel engines in the car fleet of the US alone would prevent somewhere around 12000 deaths pr year (that's a 9/11 every three months), and if we take a wider perspective lack of clean water kills roundabout 2 million people every year (that's a 9/11 every 12 hours).

And however you look at it, one simple fact is cast in iron: Terrorism has never destroyed a civilisation and will never destroy a civilisation. But excessive response to terrorism has and will.

*I have excluded 9/11 because it's obviously an aberration. There have been no equally massive attacks before or since.

I've also discounted the casualties from Operation Iraqi Screwup, because they are partially the result of being present in a peacekeeping role in a country that's rapidly undergoing a meltdown into civil war and partially the result of culpable neglect and criminal stupidity on part of the Bush regime.

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