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The Danger of Our Fickle Up and Down Fear of Terrorism
We over-worry about terrorism when the latest attack makes news, and grow complacent when the headlines fade, and both our excessive and insufficient fears create risks all by themselves.
Oh how fickle are our fears. We over-worry about terrorism when the smoke is in the air and the ambulance sirens scream. And we under-fear when no one is bleeding and the headlines have moved from the most recent attack back to the normal noise of the day. As a recent encounter with security at Heathrow Airport, before the Brussels bombings, demonstrated…
Something seemed unusual. The security lines were long, moving slowly. The queue at the end of the conveyor belt waiting for our bags was barely moving. Each backpack or briefcase or handbag was being opened, and security officers were pulling out cosmetics, toiletries, toothpaste, deodorants, visually inspecting anything that might contain a liquid, gel, or paste, and wiping them down with swabs that were then inserted into a chemical sniffer looking for explosives. It was a giant hassle that seemed like over-the-top precaution, what critics derisively call "security theater."
An elderly woman in a wheel chair sat with a look of resignation while officials took off her purple tweed coat to inspect it and swabbed each container in her purse. Another woman behind us in line wasn’t as patient, complaining loudly that things were moving so slowly. We were frustrated too. My wife was carrying 15 or 20 containers of various things – "beauty secrets," she calls them – and each one was getting a close inspection.
After several minutes a security guard told us some items would have to be taken to another location for even closer examination, and trotted off. Her supervisor respectfully explained, “We’re sorry but the initial test detected chemicals associated with explosives.” This is getting ridiculous, we thought. Us? Terrorists? We waited. The people behind us waited. The line grew, as did the griping and grumbling.
The first officer returned and whispered to the supervisor, who told us “I’m sorry, but at this point we can either confiscate these items and you can proceed to your flight or if you want to try and keep these materials we can escort you to the police for a further investigation.” We were incredulous! My wife made the only reasonable choice, to say goodbye to more than $200 worth of treasured beauty secrets, so we could go find someplace to sit down and grab a cup of coffee and Facebook all our friends with the over-the-top security bull____ we just experienced.
And now they are counting the bodies in Brussels, and the on again/off again fear of terrorist bombs is on again, and what seemed like annoyingly excessive security a few days ago now seems reassuringly thorough. When the threat of terrorism (or any threat) is real…tangible…our fear goes up, and often exceeds the actual danger. The research on risk perception psychology explains why. It’s called the Availability Heuristic. Basically the more aware of a threat we are the more space it occupies on our risk radar screen, and the more emotional weight it carries.
And as our fear goes up, in the name of safety our willingness to accept excessive security procedures and more invasive government surveillance goes up and we more readily surrender civil liberties. The social psychology literature finds that as our fear goes up, our fear of others goes up too, and we more readily vilify whole groups of people for the acts of a few. To give ourselves a sense of control against a danger that is so unpredictable, we change how we live our lives, how we travel and where to. We close our borders. Our readiness to unquestioningly support political leaders and demagogues who promise us protection goes up. Our clear-headed thinking gives way to the potentially dangerous passions of precaution and self protection.
Then, after a few days or weeks, when the most recent attack has faded from the front pages and awareness goes down, our fear fades off our risk radar screens. But we get no more clear-headed. We grow dangerously complacent; our lack of awareness does mean lack of threat. We grow impatient with those long lines and uncomfortable pat downs at airports. We resist surveillance of our emails and texts and phone calls, which help prevent these attacks in the first place. We blithely call for peace and comity and coexistence, and naively lose vigilance against angry terrorists deaf to such intellectually pleasant pieties. We drop our guard, which is dangerous against a threat that is still very real.
We have been riding the see-saw of our fear of terrorism up and down, for decades, sometimes worrying more than we need to, sometimes worrying less than we should, and putting ourselves at risk with both excessive fear and complacency. We can no more protect ourselves from this risk than from terrorism itself. The nature of risk perception is inherently subjective, a matter of feelings more than merely an objective analysis of the facts. But we can at least recognize this danger, and try to learn from some of the mistakes we’ve made in responding to terrorism in the past, to try and minimize the risk of our own risk perception, as much as we are trying to keep ourselves safe from bullets and bombs.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.