- May 9, 2010
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This is why we need to change the way we talk about the actual risks of terrorism, instead of letting the government control us through fear, we need to control our fear and deal with the dangers based on a cold, and rational, assesment of risk.
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, writing as World War II was drawing to a close in Europe, observed that neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear. Russells point was that irrational fear can propel us into counterproductive activities, ranging from unjust wars and the inhumane treatment of others to more mundane cases like our failure to seize opportunities to improve our everyday lives.It is hard to dispute Russells claim. We all know that fear can impair our judgment. We have passed up opportunities in our personal lives and we have also seen groups and nations do great harm and unravel because of their irrational fears. The 20th century was littered with wars and ethnic cleansings that were propelled in large measure by fear of a neighboring state or political or ethnic group. Given this obvious truth, one might suppose that modern democratic states, with the lessons of history at hand, would seek to minimize fear or at least minimize its effect on deliberative decision-making in both foreign and domestic policy.But today the opposite is frequently true. Even democracies founded in the principles of liberty and the common good often take the path of more authoritarian states. They dont work to minimize fear, but use it to exert control over the populace and serve the governments principle aim: consolidating power.Philosophers have long noted the utility of fear to the state. Machiavelli notoriously argued that a good leader should induce fear in the populace in order to control the rabble.