Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Soulless Statistician

Business Insider derides Americans' fear of terrorism:

"I once asked a guy at [the National Institutes of Health] how much we should spend on preventing a disease that kills 6 per year, and he looked at me like I was crazy," John Mueller, a foreign policy expert at the Ohio State University and co-author of the book "Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism", told Business Insider in an email.

It has become a commonplace to argue against any critique of immigration or the refugee racket by ranking the risk of dying in a terror attack against other causes of death, from traffic accidents to street crime to shark attacks. Of course the threat to the individual is slight in a nation of  over 300 million without Muslim communities of the proportional size, poverty and radicalism of such as Europe's Muslim communities. Though, come to think of it, you could probably show similar disparities between terror and other causes of death in Europe--does that mean Europe doesn't have a terrorism problem? The point of terror is to terrorize, not to win by attrition.

All deaths are not equal. The death due to terrorism exists in a sort of causal chain of effort; each is a brick in a wall the enemy is trying to build. Each death advances a cause. The ocean isn't conspiring against us, and if we're flooded it's either Nature's indifference or God's wrath--and the statisticians will probably snark at us for fearing these as well. Every death encourages our enemy and sustains his effort at the same time it demoralizes and terrorizes us.

A total of three people were killed in the Boston Marathon Bombing. Does that mean it should rank lower among our concerns than a plane crash killing dozens? Does that make the moral culpability of the terrorists less than that of a madman run amok? Are these murders of no different quality than that committed by a 70-IQ street criminal acting on a whim? Was the expense and disruption of the city-wide lock-down to find the surviving Tsarnaev brother a massive waste of resources that could have been better spent on improved crosswalks or AIDS education? Aside from his likelihood to kill again (which statistics might show to be low) what was the purpose of bringing him to justice? What is justice, if a death by falling drunk into a well is no more tragic than a boy mangled by a terrorist's bomb?

We all know we're taking our chances driving. We all know we'll eventually get sick and die. We know there's a certain risk to swimming in the ocean. But these are not outrages. They are not perpetuated upon us by people advancing a cause (something we seem to have forgotten how to do ourselves); they do not exist in a web of purpose. If we eliminate both morality and our communal point of view--our identity, as Americans--then the statisticians are right, and the State's only role here is to limit total deaths by proper allocation of resources. Is it?

It is our right to defend ourselves. Americans murdered by an enemy, however small and ineffectual he may be--and I find it entirely plausible that this is true--are our responsibility beyond the mere optimization of life outcomes.

Our own ethnic masochism and the ethnic hostility of some among us, operating under the veil of moral universalism (which would be unsustainable even if it didn't translate in practice into a bias for the Other against our own) has robbed us of the right to speak of (and even the ability to think) of ourselves as a coherent us. The victim of terrorism is one of us murdered by one of them. 

But the real thing is we don't have a terrorism problem; we have a Muslim problem. Most of us who are most enthusiastic about rolling back the refugee program don't want growing Muslim communities in our country because we know it will contribute to our destruction in other ways, by dividing us further into a nightmare of competing ethnic groups, by introducing values anathema to our own, by making us dumber overall, by making us boring and incapable of acting as a nation, even in our own defense. But we don't get to talk about that, so we have to focus on what is merely the worst aspect of a growing Muslim population in the West. That worst aspect speaks volumes for how bad the rest of it is--for all the horror of Bataclan and tragedy of the Eiffel Tower's walling-France's bigger problem, that to which it may succumb, is its festering Muslim-dominated banlieues. 
We're bigger and there's a great deal more ruin in our nation. We endure the tiny minority that would behead us at the first chance for the benefit of the mass of unenlightened, boring, bigoted Muslims we have now.

But as to terrorism and President Trump's so-called "Muslim Ban", there is another misconception here in the crude cost-effect analysis above. As a means of preventing terrorist attacks, it doesn't represent a sledgehammer of a solution applied to a fly of a problem. It's part of a broader effort that is largely the reason the numbers of terrorist kills in the US are so low in the first place:

It's worth pointing out that the US government's multi-billion-dollar-per-year homeland security efforts to thwart terrorism, certainly since 9/11, have ostensibly reduced American deaths and kept the odds low.

However, it's hard to say — the DHS does not publicly release data about the number of terror attack attempts per day and lives saved as a result of its efforts. The same is also true of counter-terrorist military operations. 

 But assume for a moment that one 9/11-like event killed 3,000 Americans per year, and indefinitely. While this would drastically raise the lifetime odds of death by a foreign terrorist, the typical American is still far more likely to die walking out the door, getting into a car, jumping into a pool, or simply standing up. 

 Mueller and his colleague Mark G. Stewart explored the costs and benefits of fighting terrorism for the Cato Institute in a September 2014 study. That report states:
 "[T]he United States spends about $100 billion per year seeking to deter, disrupt, or protect against domestic terrorism. If each saved life is valued at $14 million, it would be necessary for the counterterrorism measures to prevent or protect against between 6,000 and 7,000 terrorism deaths in the country each year, or twice that if the lower figure of $7 million for a saved life is applied."
Assuming the 2010 terrorist attack plot on Times Square was successful (the car bomb didn't go off), Mueller told Business Insider, hitting that measure would require four such attacks per day on US soil. 

As has been suggested," Mueller and Stewart wrote in their study, "terrorists scarcely seem to be numerous, competent, and dedicated enough to carry out such a task."

That last part may very well be true.

What's missing from all this is the concept of evil. I don't want to live in a world where a woman tortured to death in a nightclub in Paris is no more worth our notice than a man dying of a heart attack because after "standing up" (unfortunate choice of phrase for an argument that demands you lay down).

 Universalism first destroys the concept of "us", then it destroys us.

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