[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Scaring Us Senseless
christian.rauh at uconn.edu
Mon Jul 25 14:00:52 UTC 2005
What is a "false flag"?
shovland at mindspring.com wrote:
> I think the bombings in London were "false flag" operations.
> Turkey and Egypt as well, and some incidents in Iraq.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Premise Checker <checker at panix.com>
> Sent: Jul 24, 2005 5:04 PM
> To: paleopsych at paleopsych.org
> Subject: [Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Scaring Us Senseless
> Scaring Us Senseless
> By NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB
> I WAS visiting London last Thursday when a second wave of attacks hit
> the city, just two weeks after the traumatic events of July 7. It is
> hard to avoid feeling vulnerable to this invisible enemy who does not
> play by known or explicit rules. Of course, that is precisely the
> anxiety that terrorists seek to produce. But its opposite -
> complacency - is not an option.
> The truth is that neither human beings nor modern societies are wired
> to respond rationally to terrorism. Vigilance is easy to muster
> immediately after an event, but it tends to wane quickly, as the
> attack vanishes from public discourse. We err twice, first by
> overreacting right after the disaster, while we are still in shock,
> and later by under-reacting, when the memory fades and we become so
> relaxed as to be vulnerable to further attacks.
> Terrorism exploits three glitches in human nature, all related to the
> management and perception of unusual events. The first and key among
> these has been observed over the last two decades by neurobiologists
> and behavioral scientists, who have debunked a great fallacy that has
> marred Western thinking since Aristotle and most acutely since the
> That is to say that as much as we think of ourselves as rational
> animals, risk avoidance is not governed by reason, cognition or
> intellect. Rather, it comes chiefly from our emotional system.
> Patients with brain lesions that prevent them from registering
> feelings even when their cognitive and analytical capacities are
> intact are incapable of effectively getting out of harm's way. It is
> largely our emotional toolkit, and not what is called "reason," that
> governs our capacity for self-preservation.
> Second, this emotional system can be an extremely naïve statistician,
> because it was built for a primitive environment with simple dangers.
> That might work for you the next time you run into a snake or a tiger.
> But because the emotional system is impressionable and prefers
> shallow, social and anecdotal information to abstract data, it hinders
> our ability to cope with the more sophisticated risks that afflict
> modern life.
> For example, the death of an acquaintance in a motorcycle accident
> would be more likely to deter you from riding a motorcycle than would
> a dispassionate, and undoubtedly far more representative, statistical
> analysis of motorcycles' dangers. You might avoid Central Park on the
> basis of a single comment at a cocktail party, rather than bothering
> to read the freely available crime statistics that provide a more
> realistic view of the odds that you will be victimized.
> This primacy of the emotions can distort our decision-making.
> Travelers at airports irrationally tend to agree to pay more for
> terrorism insurance than they would for general insurance, which
> includes terrorism coverage. No doubt the word "terrorism" can be
> specific enough to evoke an emotional reaction, while the general
> insurance offer wouldn't awaken the travelers' anxieties in the same
> In the modern age, the news media have the power to amplify such
> emotional distortions, particularly with their use of images that go
> directly to the emotional brain.
> Consider this: Osama bin Laden continued killing Americans and Western
> Europeans in the aftermath of Sept. 11, though indirectly. How? A
> large number of travelers chose to drive rather than fly, and this
> caused a corresponding rise in casualties from automobile accidents
> (any time we drive more than 20 miles, our risk of death exceeds that
> of flying).
> Yet these automobile accidents were not news stories - they are a mere
> number. We have pictures of those killed by bombs, not those killed on
> the road. As Stalin supposedly said, "One death is a tragedy; a
> million is a statistic."
> Our emotional system responds to the concrete and proximate. Based on
> anecdotal information, it reacts quickly to remote risks, then rapidly
> forgets. And so the televised images from bombings in London cause the
> people of Cleveland to be on heightened alert - but as soon as there
> is a new tragedy, that vigilance is forgotten.
> The third human flaw, related to the second, has to do with how we act
> on our perceptions, and what sorts of behavior we choose to reward. We
> are moved by sensational images of heroes who leap into action as
> calamity unfolds before them. But the long, pedestrian slog of
> prevention is thankless. That is because prevention is nameless and
> abstract, while a hero's actions are grounded in an easy-to-understand
> How can we act on our knowledge of these human flaws in order to make
> our society safer?
> The audiovisual media, with their ability to push the public's
> emotional hot buttons, need to play a more responsible role. Of course
> it is the news media's job to inform the public about the risk and the
> incidence of terrorism, but they should try to do so without helping
> terrorists achieve their objective, which is to terrify.
> Television images, in all their vividness and specificity, have an
> extraordinary power to do just that, and to persuade the viewer that a
> distant risk is clear and present, while a pressing but underreported
> one is nothing to worry about.
> Like pharmaceutical companies, the news media should study the side
> effects of their product, one of which is the distortion of the
> viewer's mental risk map. Because of the way the brain is built,
> images and striking narratives may well be necessary to get our
> attention. But just as it takes a diamond to cut a diamond, the news
> industry should find ways to use images and stories to bring us closer
> to the statistical truth.
> Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who teaches risk management at the University
> of Massachusetts at Amherst, is the author of "Fooled by Randomness:
> The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and the Markets."
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~ I G N O R A N C E ~
The trouble with ignorance is precisely that
if a person lacks virtue and knowledge,
he's perfectly satisfied with the way he is.
If a person isn't aware of a lack,
he can not desire the thing
which he isn't aware of lacking.
Symposium (204a), Plato
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