History / Ideology / Politics

Freedom or Security?

File:Boston Marathon explosions by Aaron Tang.jpg

From my European perspective, it looks like Americans have become quite mad. It is definitely a bad thing if some people put bombs in the public and kill and hurt people that way, but the reaction is exaggerated and, as I will try to point out below, dangerous.

Let us first put things into perspective:

  • The chance for the average American to be killed by obesity, caused by fast food and sweetened drinks, is by far higher than the risk to be killed in a terrorist attack. So where is the war on fast food producers and soda companies? Search the web for the statistics.
  • The chance of the average American to be killed by tobacco smoke (as a smoker or by passive exposure) is by far higher than the risk to be killed in a terrorist attack. So where is the war on tobacco companies?
  • The chance of the average American to be killed by a preventable disease because he does not have a health insurance and is poor is by far higher than the risk to be killed in a terrorist attack. So where is the war on poverty?

Terrorism is actually a very MARGINAL problem! It makes big news but it is a small problem, coming very low in the list of actual causes of premature death or lost healthy years or damage to things, both in the USA and in the world. The amount of attention and money spent on it is absolutely disproportionate.

If you look at it on a global scale, terrorism is also a small problem, a side show. Every day, more people die of malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, diarrhea, malnutrition and some other diseases (each) than die from terrorism in a whole year. It is like you have several air plane crashes every day, it is like having several September 11 attacks every day. These people don’t make news; they die away from media attention in the poor regions of the world. If the money spent on the war on terrorism had been spent on helping them instead, most of them would still be alive. Since September 11, millions of children worldwide have died from preventable causes, because they are poor and nobody helps them. Where are the news headlines and the minutes of silence for them?

Yes, what we have seen in Boston recently is disturbing. And what disturbs me most there is not what the bombers did but the way the authorities, the media and the people reacted. What we have seen there is the next step in the gradual erosion of civil rights. The bombers should have been treated as simple criminals. Instead, they serve as an excuse to create a state of emergency and destroy the checks and balances of the legal system.

Freedom and security cannot be achieved at the same time. If you opt for security, you opt for being observed and controlled all the time; you opt for your civil rights and freedoms to be reduced. The purpose seems good: to prevent terrible crimes.

The problem here is that what constitutes crime is a matter of definition. If your freedom is reduced and a technical infrastructure erected to make sure crimes can no longer be committed, somebody can cease power and use this infrastructure as a tool to stabilize his power. They will redefine what crime is: crime will then be defined as belonging to the opposition. Think of the Gulag, think of concentration camps.

I am a German, I live in Germany. 70 years ago, we had a very brutal dictatorship here. In their system, it was a death worthy “crime” to be a Jew. He who is in power defines what constitutes a crime. Had the government had the control technology of today, not a single person would have escaped.

Erecting security makes democracy unstable. It can then easily flip into a state of tyranny and it will be extremely hard to come back to freedom and democracy. Once the system has flipped into a dictatorship, security for the citizens will be gone; security will be redefined to mean the security of the ruling people.

He who is in power defines what constitutes a crime. Make sure you stay in power. A society in which the meaning of “crime” is defined by the citizens and in which democracy is stable must be a society with freedom. If you want freedom, you must tolerate some insecurity. So relax! Form a strong civil rights movement again and ask your journalists for critical, investigative journalism instead of patriotic “hurray propaganda”.

There is a joke from Russia, from the time of Stalin, when you constantly faced the danger of being arrested and deported to the Gulag: In the night, suddenly, people hear a banging at the door. Everybody thinks it is the Cheka, the secret police, to arrest them. Nobody wants to open the door. Finally, when the banging does not stop, an old man goes to the door and opens it. After a short while, he comes back, looking relieved, and says: “it is nothing, comrades, only the house is burning”.

That is the kind of security you get in a dictatorship!

First you trade freedom for security, and then security is gone as well. So keep cool and opt for freedom instead.

(Picture from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boston_Marathon_explosions_by_Aaron_Tang.jpg=

7 thoughts on “Freedom or Security?

  1. I think you will find that President Obama has upheld the checks and balances of the American Legal System.

    In defense of the American reaction to the bombing. It is democratic. There is a saying, or perhaps a view, that Americans do not solve a problem, they overwhelm it. You have to give credit where credit is due. The media, well, that is a whole different story. Sadly, we are all in the 24 hour news cycle.

    Perhaps, the bigger question, and one that President Obama is asking, is why two young men, found it in themselves to harm and spread fear.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more on this. The overreaction was baffling, and the media coverage was astonishingly bad. If you didn’t know any better you’d think Americans love to live in fear. I know that’s not the case, but hell they have to put a lid on the News Orgs.

  3. It’s been a long time since I read something that made this much sense. Terrorism will never be a major problem because unless equipped with nuclear or germ warfare, they can only ever kill a certain number of people. 330 odd million Americans survived the Boston bombings which while a tragedy for those involved has no real impact on anyone outside the city unless the government there makes it have an impact.

    As you say so many people die from disease, poverty, junk food let alone the thousands upon thousands by gun crime.

    I just couldn’t imagine a European government shutting down an entire city for one man on the run with a very limited “military” capability. I remember going to Uni in London in the mid 90’s and apart from bombs going off regularly, there was a period where train stations were targeted on an almost weekly basis. From what I recall, life just continued as before and I remember once even being told off by a tutor for being 5 minutes late as 2 bombs had gone off just 2 streets away from campus in the hour I was coming to Uni and on the actual route.

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