Frank Babb

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Why Are We Emoting About a Few Intercepted Phone Calls? (Part 2)

In my last post about the cyber warfare waged by hackers of businesses such as Target to steal our credit card information and our own National Security Agency’s surveillance programs to collect our telephone calls, email messages, and internet activity, I discussed briefly how governments use our emotion fear to accomplish their objectives. Shortly thereafter I discovered Professor Peter Ludlow’s article “Fifty Shades of Fear” in the New York Times. Professor Ludlow, Northwestern University, elaborates on how governments, including our own, use the human emotion fear to justify their intrusions into the constitutional and human rights and control of their constituents. I urge you to have a look at the article.

Some of his points are:

  • Philosopher Bertrand Russell’s World War II observation: “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 fears.”
  • Thomas Hobbes in “The Leviathan” (1651)  says that fear effectively “motivates the creation of a social contract in which citizens cede their freedoms to the sovereign” in exchange for a promise of safety.
  • In proposing the need for the U. S. A. Patriot Act (currently a subject of public and congressional critique) President Bush said the 8/11 terrorists (itself a frightening word) are not like us: “They hate our freedoms….” In seeking to expand the Act, President Obama said at the National Defense University: “we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States.”
  • The Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen says in his book A Philosophy of Fear that the state: “has to convince the people that certain things should be feared rather than others, since the people will not [without government prompting] fear what the [government wants them to fear] from the point of view of the state.”
  • Even Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, the military contractor we relied on in the Iraq war, expressed concern that the security state has gone too far: “America is way too quick to trade freedom for the illusion of security.”
  • Our sense of fear can be manipulated by government to make us fear the lesser danger. After 9/11, people irrationally came to fear air travel, increasing their travel in automobiles, a more dangerous means of travel.
  • Almost 3,000 persons, including the 19 hijackers, died in the 9/11 attack. It was a tragic event that gripped the hearts and minds of  all Americans and many other people around the world, including Muslims. Deaths other than by natural means are common events in the U. S. In 2012 the following numbers of persons were killed in: automobile accidents–34,000, workers on jobs–4,400, and occupational diseases–50,000. The U. S. spends more than $7 billion/year on the Transportation Security Administration as a result of 9/11  and less than $600/million on occupational safety and health administration. Every death is sad no matter how it occurs, but the foregoing figures illustrate how fear influences our decision making.
  • Professor Ludlow observes: “Obama’s drone wars also arise from Hobbesian assumptions about society–that the sovereign, enlisted to impose order, is above the law. The sovereign is free to do whatever is in his power to impose order.”
  •  To again quote Bertrand Russell: “to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” And in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: “the only things we have to fear is fear itself.”

In this and my earlier post we’ve touched on the scope of cyber war and attacks, both civilian and governmental, and how our government has manipulated us through fear to rationalize the NSA surveillance and data harvesting programs. In the next post I intend to discuss the potential effect of these programs on our lives and the constitutional issues at stake. I hope to respond to the comment many make in discussions about these issues: “I have nothing to hide. Why should I be concerned about the personal and private information the government has about me?”

One Response to Why Are We Emoting About a Few Intercepted Phone Calls? (Part 2)

  • patty doerr says:

    I agree with you Frank and have been so surprised at how many of my friends feed into that irrational fear. Appreciated your perspectives! P

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I'm Frank Babb, author, traveler, and adventurer. I look forward to connecting with you!

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