L. Neil Smith's
Number 239, September 21, 2003

Evil is as Evil Does

[Letters to the editor are welcome on any and all subjects. To ensure their acceptance, please try to keep them under 500 words. Sign your letter in the text body with your name and e-mail address as you wish them to appear.]

Letter from Lehr Duquesne

Re: Professional Paranoid, Part I, Professional Paranoid, Part II, Professional Paranoid, Part III.

Accept my thanks, please, for your presentation of William Stone III's keenly analytical series of security critiques I appreciate his efforts and wish him great fortune in both his professional and political endeavours.

If I may be permitted to crystallize his essays, to paraphrase his text, to summarize his arguments, and to illustrate the problem in general, I would say that the War on Terror, the Invasion of Afghanistan, the Invasion Iraq, and the rest of the Campaign to Re-elect the President is very much like AIDS Research.

There are indeed real dangers in the world, but there are still only finite resources to combat them. "AIDS activists" and neo-cons and other war boosters alike focus on dramatic events that, taken in context, are no more deadly than myriad other threats in life. Yes, real people have died, and real people are still in danger, and real problems will persist for generations yet to come, and sometimes real villains plot against us. AIDS and terrorism are both emotionally powerful threats, and promises to "do-something-anything" are welcomed by a public whipped into a frenzy by shrill commentators with access to effective megaphones. Because terrorist acts and dead celebrities play well to the television camera, the public will embrace the urgency of current atrocities and tragedies at the expense of more boring stories. Lupus still kills more people than AIDS. Heart disease still kills more women than breast cancer. Careless drivers still kill more people than suicide bombers, but somehow, we don't spend a hundred times as much money on traffic safety as we do invading a country with at best a tenuous connection to (pause and lower the voice, look mournfully into the camera and speak slowly...) "9/11".

The fervor often takes on an almost religious devotion. To question the urgency of AIDS research or to criticize the ongoing war effort is to court condemnation as some kind of monster, villain, or fool. We are an emotional and irrational people, alas, and we will ever seem to embrace popular solutions, however counter-productive, wasteful, or ineffective they may be. Just as not all detractors of the Invasion of Iraq are traitors, just as not all critics of the disproportionate levels of AIDS or breast cancer research compared to other diseases are homophobes and misogynists, not all supporters of present administration policy are evil fascists or gratuitous long distance mass murdering cowards. What they may be, indeed, are emotional, outraged, and righteous in their wrath. Nevertheless, they are wrong. Because resources are always finite, it is dangerous to over-react and to respond out of proportion to real threats. If we over-emphasize our defenses on one front, we must necessarily sacrifice our safety on others.

An appeal to reason, however, may be futile in the face of popular passion.

Lehr Duquesne
lehr@citizenduquesne.org lehr@citizenduquesne.org

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