Monday, December 28, 2009

"The reaction to the Christmas Day attack should be exactly what it would have been if Abdulmutallab's device had not malfunctioned."

The above statement is the title of a blog post by one of the many terrorism-alarmists who have been overreacting for several days now to the Nigerian passenger who attempted to detonate a device on a plane over Michigan. (As everyone knows by now, either because his detonator didn't work properly or because passengers subdued him, his attempt failed.)

I think this is a very silly statement, but it is silly in an interesting way. As our government rushes to make travel on an American plane even more unpleasant and degrading than it already is, we really should think about how rational people react to risk and danger.

The idea expressed in this statement is that Obama should have cut his Hawaiian vacation short and come home to "reassure" the nation, just as if this bumbling fanatic actually had blown up a plane and taken three hundred innocent people with him. Probably there are a lot of folks who would also apply the same idea to TSA policy: we should change the system in just the way we would if the attempt had been a deadly success.

I think as a general rule we should act as if what happened is what actually did happen, and not what might have happened. Avoid alarmism, that cowardly tendency to treat a might be as an is.

The attempted crime should of course be taken into consideration. But we should also take into consideration the fact that alert and courageous passengers and crew foiled the attempt. In addition, we should take into consideration that the device seems to have been poorly designed. While we are at it, we should also take into consideration the fact that the government, the same government that would be glad to take more freedom away from us if we get into a tizzy about this, failed to prevent the attempt, despite having been warned about Abdulmutallab.

Maybe the urge to treat a might be as an is comes from the vague notion (expressed in the above-linked blog post) that "it's just luck" that this loon didn't blow the plane up. We shouldn't bank on luck. Therefore, disasters that are averted by pure luck should be treated as if they had actually happened.

Well, as Nietzsche says, victors don't believe in luck. I don't think things happen because of "luck" at all. They happen because of things like the alertness of responsible individuals, or the ineptitude of a would-be murderer. They happen because of things that are real and actually occur.

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