Thursday, November 19, 2015

Our Perception of Threats and How We Ultimately Prioritize Them

With another tragically successful attack by religious extremists in Paris we are again presented with how one type of threat can get emphasized to the near exclusion of others. In America alone, within a few days before and after, have there been deaths that, taken in total by event category, are equally as tragic. And by event categories we can include extreme weather. general traffic fatalities, gun violence of one form or another, preventable diseases (due to life style choices), as well as criminal negligence involved with the creation, and/or delivery, of essential items we work with, and around, in daily life (to name just a few).

What's interesting for me in all of this is how easily we can accept one type of threat as just a part of life, and yet become so worked up over another; irrespective of whether one or the other is either more likely, or kills more people overall, in a given time period. It illustrates how capricious our seeing something to be fearful of can be; as well as how easily manipulated that perception can be.

Objectively, for instance, one ought to be absolutely terrified of anything to do with automobiles of any type (talk about a terror weapon). Despite the fact that significant strides have been made in making autos safer, and people more aware of driving safely, we still kill thousands every year. We accept this, however, because we enjoy the freedom of mobility that our roads and autos provide us.

We also enjoy another freedom that isn't quite so tangible. This is the freedom to do, or say, as we please, within the limits of law and civil propriety. History has taught us that too much power in the state to monitor what its citizens do, or say, can have absolutely horrible consequences. Not only because it can create a passively fearful populace, but because change, whether it be prompted on the spur of outright injustice, or merely because of the arrogant indifference of the needs of the many by the power of the few, cannot occur without the governed feeling they can express and act in defiance of that power.

Conservatives often talk, in glowing terms and resonant imagery, no less, of how true patriots are willing to make ultimate sacrifices for the cause of freedom. This gets more than a little blurred, however, when they talk about the security of the state from outsiders, or the security of state secrets. To say that there is ample reason for these to have significant priority is not the same thing as saying that the governed should not always demand that their application be done with great care, and restraint. And most importantly, they should never circle the wagons reflexively when they are questioned on the how and why of these applications.

The bottom line here is that his will necessarily put us at risk. A free society, with the free flow of information so that the governed can make truly informed decisions, necessitates that those who govern keep as little as possible secret, and that they not lie directly to us other than for absolutely dire circumstances. Doing that, though, makes governing quite difficult, as should be obvious. And people may well die because of it. Not only that, but the leadership may well be blamed for it, whether deserved or not. But that too is part of the sacrifice that all of us ought to be prepared to accept if we truly want a free society.

And as far as our enemies are concerned we should be quite clear on one salient point. Reacting out of fear to what they do to us is to give them not only a victory, however small, but to cede to them the initiative in the greater struggle, which is in maintaining the better way of life. Fearfully surrender the freedoms which are essential to that and all you will accomplish is to make our society more like theirs.

Being safe is not only an illusion, it has become another product to be sold on now. As I have said before, living a full, and connected life, is anything but safe. You are going to die. Accept that. One way or another, at some time or another, you are going to die. The only real question is how well you will have lived until that moment. If we lived every moment as if it might be our last there wouldn't be anything anyone could do to us to take our collective freedoms away. Just being who we ought to be is, ultimately, our greatest weapon.

Paris Attacks: Here's What Keeps Intelligence Officials Up at Night