Thursday, March 23, 2006

The World is a Dangerous Place

Worried about your physical safety, terrorism, your family, violent crime, identity theft, toxins in the air and water? How worried should you be? Well, your perceptions are whatever they are...

My point with this post is to introduce the idea that our belief about the dangerous world we live in is just an idea. Maybe the idea is based on good evidence, and maybe not! It hardly matters whether the evidence is really that good, since our behaviors tend to be based on perceptions and emotional reactions. Ditto our social policies and laws. The political process adds an additional element of fighting over values. A prime example: Privacy versus security.

The Patriot Act makes some libreals and libertarians very uncomfortable. It tends to make the "law-and-order" conservatives and hawkish Republicans happy because we have to secure the nation against terrorist attacks. Opponents just worry that government agencies know what innocent citizens are doing online or checking out of the local library. (How much of that information the government really collects is a totally different subject. What we care about in this little discussion is perceptions and not what cold, hard facts may show.)

We have a clash of values, with one side valuing security more highly and one side privacy of law abiding citizens.

This perception that the world is a dangerous place does have consequences, costs, and beefits. Likewise the belief in a safe world has consequences, costs, and benfits. I'll say more in my next post.


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