Last night, I held on to a typographical error, half in jest, half in desperation, in reaction to the results of a new poll about Americans’ feelings about terrorism and security. This morning, my reaction has shifted to plain disgust at the state of mind that has come to predominate in the United States of America.
Asked whether they believe that the government has “not gone far enough to protect the country” or has “gone too far in restricting civil liberties”, there was a severe increase, between the end of last year and the beginning of this year, in Americans’ preference for additional security to the detriment of support for civil liberties.
What happened in the meantime? Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lit his underpants on fire and burned himself. That’s all.
Years have gone by since any serious attempt at any terrorist attack within the United States. Then, the best Al Quaeda can do is to recruit just one teenager who proves to be completely incompetent. Abdulmutallab couldn’t figure out how to ignite the explosives he had been given. He only hurt himself. He was easily subdued. He was a complete failure.
Yet, after this one display of terrorist ineptitude, a majority Americans appear to be begging for the government to trash our nation’s freedoms in order to provide a greater feeling of security. Why?
One reason for this quick shift, after a thoroughly failed effort at violence by an incompetent adolescent, is that corporate news media have been describing the event as if a successful terrorist attack actually did take place. No bombing actually took place, yet Abdulmutallab is commonly described as the “Christmas Day Bomber”. His blunder is described as the “Christmas Day bombing”, suggesting that there was a bombing after all.
With repeated assertions like this, Americans still know, on a rational level, that no actual violence took place. They realize, intellectually, that after years of no terrorist attacks in the United States, this one little effort at such at an attack completely fizzled. So, if they were think logically, Americans would realize that they aren’t under a serious threat of terrorist attack at all.
The descriptions by corporate news outlets of an actual bombing by an actual bombing, however, sail past Americans’ rational understandings of the world around them, and echo loudly within the deep caverns of our instincts. Americans leave logic behind, instead choosing to indulge in an emotional reaction, feeling as if they themselves are under attack.
It’s not the news media that holds the ultimate responsibility for the surge in support for the sacrifice of liberty to a Homeland security state. The American people themselves ought to have more intelligence than to so easily accept the portrayal of Abdulmutallab’s folly as an actual bombing. If they have fallen victim to inflated, emotional messages of panic from news outlets, then it’s because they have chosen to allow their abilities of rational thought to atrophy from disuse.
Reasonable Americans can do the simple calculation that, even if Abdulmutallab was at all competent enough to carry through with his attack, he could only have killed a tiny percentage of Americans: Something like six hundred-thousandths of one percent of our population. They could see that it would be absurd, even in the instance of such a successful attack, for the surviving 99.9999994 percent of us to sacrifice the integrity of the Constitution that has kept our nation free for nearly two and a half centuries.
The USA is indeed under grave threat, but the threat doesn’t come from a few bumbling religious extremists. The true threat comes from the abandonment of disciplined thinking. If we Americans can’t bring our addiction to the thrill of terror under control, our liberty may well die at our own hands, as we slouch into a collective identity of paranoid delusion.