Rule Five Irrational Fear Friday

A recent piece I stumbled across, combined with the fire-hose stream of news out of the Middle East, has me thinking about fear, the nature of fear, and the fear that the Hamas assholes kicking up their heels in Gaza and Israel, or someone like them, might hurt or kill us or those we love.  I don’t think it’s an irrational fear completely; I don’t waste a lot of brain run-time worrying about it myself, as I doubt any fundamentalist Islamic shitbirds are going to go poking around in the rural Alaska woods looking for trouble and, even if they did, they wouldn’t last long against a bunch of heavily armed Alaskans.

But some folks worry more.  And turns out that it might be a rational fear (or, at least, not completely irrational), statistics aside.

In the U.S., about one in three people are worried about being the victim of a terrorist attack. In Europe, terrorism consistently makes it onto lists of people’s biggest concerns, and it was Europeans’ #1 concern in 2016 and 2017. Even if people aren’t in “terror,” they are anxious about it, and their behaviors have adapted to this anxiety. Most people believe life has permanently changed since 9/11. For Israelis, life may have permanently changed following the events of October 7, 2023.

How justified is this fear of terrorism? One line of argument is that it’s not justified at all.

It claims there are bigger and far more dangerous threats to our everyday lives. For example, in Europe, you are 50 times more likely to die in a bike accident, 85 times more likely to die in a heat wave, and over 4,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than die from an act of terrorism. According to this line of reasoning, our fear of terrorism is engineered by a sensationalist media and psychological biases. A sober risk assessment shows us that fear of terrorism is irrational.

But, according to a new paper by philosopher Eran Fish, the fear of terrorism is not unreasonable at all. There are perfectly justifiable reasons for why we should fear terrorists more than car crashes.

Here are those three reasons, abridged a little so as not to blow up the post; do go to the article linked above and read it all.

The first line of Fish’s argument stems from the idea that we are justified in fearing things that have an element of danger that is random and non-discriminate.

Terrorism can be that (it can also be directed against specific military or, more often, political targets) but it can also be purely random; like Hamas targeting various Israeli kibbutzim for no reason other than they were within paraglider range of Gaza.

Fish’s second line of argument is that terrorism is an intentional act that can be prevented. Car crashes are accidents. While heart disease and cancer make up more than 50% of all deaths worldwide (which is far, far more than the deaths caused by terrorism), these aren’t entirely preventable. Someday, you’re going to die of something — might as well be cancer. Natural deaths are a natural part of life.

But terror attacks aren’t.  They can be prevented – mostly by killing terrorists – but the tactic will probably never go away completely.  Islamist nutbars aren’t the first people to use terror as a tactic, and they won’t be the last.

Fish’s third line of argument is that it is reasonable to fear insecurity, particularly when the people you put in charge of protecting you (namely, the government) fail to do so.

That’s certainly a fair point – if you are one of those people who relies on government to keep you safe.  In America, we have a different way to maintain our own security.  Remember when I said I wasn’t too concerned about Islamist nutbars trying to shoot up our Alaskan woods?  Because these people are essentially cowards, and won’t go anywhere where they may feel threatened themselves.

But it’s still, even so, a fair point.  One of the few legitimate roles of government is to keep other people from hurting us or taking our stuff.  Terrorists operate in those thin areas where government, for one reason or another, is unwilling, unable or simply unprepared to provide that protection.  That, whether it be in Israel or Chicago, is unsettling to lots of people, and no, that’s not an irrational viewpoint.

Especially in these ever-more-uncertain times.  Buy ammo, folks. And get out of the cities.