This piece is opinion based on observation.
Since 9/11 a significant and accelerating number of legislative acts have been passed through Congress and signed into law by both Presidents Bush and Obama that have massively eroded the legal basis for the individual liberty of American citizens.
The distance between the spirit and letter of the Bill of Rights and such legislation as The Homeland Security Act, The USA Patriot Act, the NDAA of 2012, The Trespass Bill, The National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order, and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (to name but a few) is so enormous that we are confident that, could they be transported into the present, the founders of the nation and the framers of the Constitution would find it impossible to comprehend an America so mired in the legislation of an Orwellian, totalitarian state. Even more bewildering to those who risked all to found a Nation that held individual liberty above all else would be the complacency of the American public as the legal dismantling of the Constitution goes on in plain sight all around them.
And that’s just the recent legislative side of the Constitutional destruction. There is also more than enough for the American people to fear from government agencies operating beneath the legal radar such as sophisticated and widespread (i.e. total) spying on US citizens by the NSA.
The basis of the political argument that it is necessary to curtail, restrict, trample on, and otherwise obliterate the protections of individual liberty guaranteed to United States citizens by the Constitution is that the loss of individual liberty is necessary in order to safeguard the US population against terrorist acts.
Leaving aside for the moment the very real issue of suffering in its many forms, let us stipulate that the worst thing that can happen to a person is to die. Also leaving aside unanswerable questions about the afterlife, from the point of view of the experience of mortals, when you’re dead you’re dead. Thus it is obvious why we do everything we can to avoid death for as long as we can.
If death is the worst thing that can happen to a person, and given the finality of death, what is the real difference between dying in a terrorist bombing and dying in a traffic accident? One could argue all kinds of hypotheticals about the relative suffering involved in the one way to die vs. the other. Both are violent and unexpected and in either case, death could be relatively quick or more prolonged. For the sake of argument, let us say that they are, on average, roughly equivalent in terms of the experienced negativity for the victim.
Now let’s look at some numbers. On September 11, 2001, the worst terrorist act in US history (by far) took the lives of 2,977 victims. Between 1970 and 2007 there were a total of 3,292 American deaths ascribed to terrorist incidents (including 9/11). In 2010, a total of 15 Americans lost their lives to terrorism, although all of those deaths happened outside of the US.
Traffic fatalities in the United States for 2010 — at a 61-year low — were 32,885. For the single year 2010, there were approximately ten times as many deaths from automobile accidents as there were from terrorist incidents during the thirty-seven year period from 1970 – 2007. For the year 2010, almost 2,200 Americans died in an auto accident for every one that died at the hands of terrorists. Said another way, in 2010 death by automobile accident was 2,200 times more likely to happen to the average American and automobile fatalities were a 2,200 times bigger problem than terrorist fatalities. For 2010, deaths by terrorism per day: 0.04; deaths by auto accident per day: 90.1.
We could also go on for some time about other ways to die that are far more prevalent than death by terrorism in America. As an American you are far more likely to die from medical malpractice, being attacked by an animal, falling down the stairs, in an industrial accident, of complications related to smoking cigarettes, of complications related to obesity, and even somewhat more likely to die in a non-terrorist airline crash than a terrorist event; air travel being the statistically safest form of travel.
But let’s simply focus on the relative difference in the US political response to death by automobile accident vs. death by terrorist incident. Under the banner of protecting American citizens from terrorism over the past decade, the US Government has destroyed the Bill of Rights (as detailed above) and launched two wars that have cost trillions of dollars and killed (at this writing) 6,432 American soldiers along with estimates of over 100,000 on the low side to well over a million on the high side Iraqi and Afghanistani civilians.
Leaving aside the effectiveness of slaughtering foreign civilians as a means of deterring terrorism (what do you think your response would be toward a foreign government who killed your sister?), to date in its military response to 9/11, the US Government is responsible for the deaths of more than twice as many US military personnel as the number of casualties of 9/11.
In 2010, 32,885 American deaths by automobile accident and 15 American deaths by terrorism. So where is the war on auto accidents?
Given that Americans are over two thousand times more likely to die by going to the grocery store in their car than by an act of terrorism, and given that death is the worst thing that can happen to you and that death is death, why are US politicians not proposing laws to ban automobiles? With the popular freak-out that occurred when the US government merely imposed a national speed limit of 55 mph for auto travel (which resulted in a dramatic decrease in highway fatalities), how are we to reconcile the utter docility with which Americans are currently greeting the fact that the Government now has legal grounds to lock up any citizen they deem a threat without judicial oversight, without trial, and without legal representation for the accused?
On the whole, Americans don’t think twice about the safety of getting in their car. And the vast majority of Americans would participate at the drop of a hat in a nation-wide revolt if ever threatened with the loss of the freedom to get in their car and go where they please, when they please. Given the comparative loss of life statistics between auto accidents and terrorist incidents, America’s fear of terrorism is massively irrational and delusional. And that fear is being both strategically exacerbated and ruthlessly leveraged by the US Government for the purpose of increasing government power and the financial interests of elected officials at the expense of the Constitutionally guaranteed liberty of US Citizens.
Life itself comes with no guarantees except this one: we are all going to die. There is no real question about that. Everyone who has ever lived has died. The question is rather how we want to live until the moment we kiss this realm of experience goodbye once and for all.
We don’t know about you, but our preference is to look at the risks head on and make our own decisions about how we live. Just as we’d rather take the chance of getting in the car and going where we want, when we want, knowing full well that any ride might be our last, we’d likewise rather have the freedom to get on a plane without suffering gestapo security procedures, or make a phone call without wondering whether big brother is listening in, even if that meant (though we are confident that it would not) that the likelihood of death by terrorism were to increase by a couple thousand times — say, up to the level of dying in an auto accident.