Michael Huemer and Terrorism

In 2012, philosophy professor Michael Huemer, who kinda looks like Moldbug, did a TedX talk about irrationality in politics:

The audience was probably thinking “this guy looks and sounds pretty smart…he must be correct,” but within two minutes into the talk, there is an error in his logic regarding the war on terror.

He shows a chart of only 3,000 or so total death due to terrorism (most of them from 911), with the implication being the war on terror is a waste of money because of how few terrorism-related deaths there are relative to, say, homicides. Be he fails to mention all the foiled attacks. Had all the planned post-911 terrorism attacks been successful, the total terrorism death count would be higher. Support after 911 for homeland security is maybe a one of handful examples of the public being rational, because had nothing been done, such apathy would have sent a message that America is vulnerable to terrorism, so even though there have been very terrorism incidents since 911, it’s only because of the counter-terrorism intelligence research going on in the background that is stopping terrorism before it happens.

So why does the US government spend so much effort trying to thwart terrorism, when homicides claim many more lives and are more common? There are many reasons, all of which Huemer ignores:

As shown by 911 and the Oklahoma City bombing, a single act of terrorist can claim hundreds or thousands of lives. The economic and social impact of terrorism is logarithmic, not linear. Just as 6.0 earthquake is not merely 20% more powerful than a 5.0 earthquake (it’s actually 10x more), a terrorist incident that claims 50 lives is not merely 50 times as bad as a single homicide, but much worse. The DC sniper attacks of 2002, for example, which over a three-week period only claimed 10 lives, almost paralyzed the local economy in fear. This is because terrorism, unlike homicide, is an act against the general pubic, not private individuals. When there is an news of a homicide, the public rationalizes it as maybe attributable to a domestic dispute or gang violence due to a botched drug deal, neither of which are random and public in the same way terrorism is.