Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why are some deaths more significant than other deaths?

Why are terrorism deaths considered by American citizens to be so more significant than any other death? We let people die preventable deaths every single day and rarely say boo. But let two people die in a terror attack and suddenly we're shutting down airports and calling for civil liberties to be rolled back. Why?

The answer, I suppose, is that terrorism frightens people and once frightened they are willing to put up with indignities or restrictions on their liberties to make the  fear will go away.  And of course there are craven officials who will take advantage of the situation, and use your fear to augment their power, while other officials will go along with it just to hide their weaknesses.

But let's think about this logically:

People are murdered every day. People die preventable deaths everyday. But only when those deaths are the result of terrorism do we take drastic measures such as rolling back civil liberties. Only when those deaths are the result of terrorism do we gnash our national teeth and act as if a great gash has been ripped in the country's side. Only when those deaths are the result of terrorism do we allocate millions of dollars to ensure nothing remotely like it ever happens again.

People die preventable deaths on the highways every day and no one blinks. There's no national conversation about the things we can and must do to prevent those deaths. No one is asked to suffer TSA style indignities or to pay an extra tax  to prevent more of those deaths. Instead, we cheerfully accept 40,000 domestic highways deaths per year as the price we're willing to pay in exchange for the conveniences offered by the automobile.

But I assure you that if those highway deaths were caused by terrorists we'd see some action. The people who now accept 40,000+ highway deaths wouldn't accept a single one one of  those deaths were they the result of terrorism. Why? In Boston people were forced to put up with closed airports and suspended cell phone service because two people died. You can bet every single public event forever will be handled differently and any one who attends them will be affected. But if two people die on the highway, or because their doctor sucks, or because they can't afford preventive care, what happens? Nothing.

So I don't blame frightened people for demanding changes, and I don't blame frightened people for putting up with inconveniences  But I do blame public officials for assigning disproportionate significance to one kind of death over every kind of death and for spending our money preventing one kind of death at the expense of preventing every other kind of death. 

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