Friday, July 08, 2005

Give up nothing, for you will get nothing in return

Security is an illusion.

How can free societies protect their citizens from terrorists? They can't. They never have been able to, and they never will be. Whatever freedoms you surrender on the altar of security are lost, likely forever, and you will receive nothing in return for that loss except the sense of having 'done something'.

Want some more good news? Our government's spies won't ever be able to gather and analyze enough information to prevent more than a fraction of the bad acts of our enemies. All the squawking about 'intelligence failures' after each successful attack is completely useless. As are nearly all of the 'fixes' proposed or enacted to prevent these 'failures'.

So why aren't we all dead already? Simple - the overwhelming majority of people in the world don't want to kill anyone. And the tiny minority of people who do are marginalized and under far more threat from us than we are from them. Want to reduce the threat from them even more? Reduce their numbers, marginalize them further, and increase our efforts to defeat them utterly. Understand - we're never going to win, if we define win as achieving perfect safety. But we absolutely can diminish the ability of our enemies to strike at us. And we must.

It's instructive to consider why most of us feel safe leaving the house while wearing a nice watch, for example. We all know that muggers exist. But we also know that the vast majority of people out there are not muggers, and that mugging is a crime that will, in theory at least, be prosecuted. The police will respond. Arrests will be made. Verdicts will be reached, and sentences imposed. Justice will be done. Not every time, and not perfectly, but where possible. The mugger will be condemned for his crime. Our neighbors will side with us. Our family will support us. We know all this, but we also know that in spite of it all, there are still muggings, assaults, murders, all over a nice watch or a pair of shoes or an iPod. We know we aren't perfectly safe. But we still wear the watch.

Expecting our government to prevent every terroristic attack, or our spies to know about every planned attack before it's carried out, is no more reasonable than expecting our government to prevent every mugging. There has never been a government in the history of the world that has managed that. Even in prisons, crimes occur. We can't buy safety by turning our world into prisons of our own making, and ourselves into prisoners.

Give up nothing. If you are ever safer than you are right now, it won't be because you gave up some liberties in exchange for that safety. All you can buy with those lost freedoms are illusions of safety. Don't settle for illusions.


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