Skip to comments.Thomas Sowell: The polio fallacy
Posted on 06/16/2005 2:05:30 AM PDT by The Raven
The disappearance of an American teenager in Aruba has been more than a tragedy for her and for her family. It is the latest of many tragedies to strike trusting people who have long been sheltered from dangers and who have acted as if there were no dangers.
Not only individuals but whole nations have lost their sense of danger after having been protected from those dangers.
After the devastating disease of polio was finally conquered by vaccines, back in the 1960s, the number of people afflicted declined almost to the vanishing point. Some people then began to see no need to take the vaccine, since apparently no one was getting polio any more, so who was there to catch it from?
The result was a needless resurgence of crippling and death from this terrible disease.
The kind of thinking involved in the polio fallacy has appeared in many other contexts. When some public disorder gets underway and a massive arrival of police on the scene brings everything under control immediately, many in the media and in politics deplore such "over-reaction" on the part of the police to a minor disturbance.
It never occurs to such people that it was precisely the arrival of huge numbers of cops on the scene that brought the disturbance to a screeching halt without having to use force.
During the Cold War, Communist expansionism around the world somehow never struck Western Europe, which was protected by the American nuclear umbrella -- and which often accused the United States of unnecessary militarism. American military power was like the polio vaccine that was considered unnecessary.
The latest version of the polio fallacy is the demonizing of the Patriot Act. Some people are yelling louder than ever that they have been silenced, that we have had our freedom destroyed, all as a result of the Patriot Act.
Let us go back to square one, to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which were the reason for passage of the Patriot Act.
Do you remember how long every major public event -- the World Series, Christmas celebrations, the Super Bowl -- was a time of fear of a new terrorist attack? Do you remember all the advice to stock up on medicines or food, so that we could ride out any new terrorist onslaught?
Do you remember all the places that terrorists were expected to strike? The different colors of national alerts being announced regularly?
Now, after years have passed without any of these feared disasters actually happening, the eroding of a sense of danger has led many to repeat the polio fallacy and act as if the dangers from which we have been protected did not exist -- and that the enhanced protection is therefore unnecessary.
The many crackdowns on domestic terrorists under the Patriot Act, as well as the ability to intercept and disrupt their communications under the powers of that Act, receive little or no credit for the fact that there has been no repetition of anything like 9/11.
The man principally responsible for law enforcement crackdowns on terrorists in the United States during this dangerous period -- Attorney General John Ashcroft -- not only received no gratitude for our safety, the complacency to which that safety led allowed many to indulge themselves in the luxury of vilifying Ashcroft at every turn.
Like the police who arrive in large numbers to quell disturbances and are then accused of "over-reacting," the Patriot Act has been depicted as an over-reaction to terrorist activity. Indeed, the very word "terrorist" has been banned in much of the politically correct media.
The Patriot Act is no closer to perfection than anything else human. It has costs, as every benefit has had costs, hard as it is for many among the intelligentsia to accept anything less than "win-win" situations.
"I have a real problem with fascism," as one lady in a trendy California bookstore said fiercely, when discussing the Patriot Act.
She was aghast when I replied, "I hadn't noticed any fascism."
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
So what happens when a socialist Dim gets in office in the comming decades? It's all a slippery slope and you never see the damage done by incrementalism until it's too late. Did income taxes decline or go away after they were introduced back 70-80 years ago?
True enough. If you watch the Sensebrenner-chaired PA hearing called by the Dems last Friday, though, the results of incrementalism are painfully obvious: immigration lawyers moaning and groaning about the rights of illegals; Zogby lecturing Congress on our "image" in the Arab world; wholesale slandering of the military in its handling of Islamic murderers; condemnation of profiling Muslims; and, of course, laments about the rights of vaguely anonymous librarians across the country.
It's incrementalism all right -- little by little, 9/11, and all the Muslim bloodbaths before and since, have been forgotten.
Exhibit-A of the polio fallacy.
My brother once asked an airport rep the purpose of those seemingly silly questions. He was told that the purpose was not to elicit useful information, but to preclude any alibi in the event dangerous items were found by other means. In other words, if you were found to have weapons, explosives, whatever, you couldn't defend yourself by saying, "Gee, I left my bags alone for a while, someone else must have put them there." The series of questions is designed to eliminate potential excuses, not provoke a confession.
IMO, better the so called fascists at the airport than the crazies on the road.
This is a stupid question totally unlikely to elicit useful information.
This question was asked well before September 11th or the Patriot Act.
Take off your shoes, please."
Cut me a break--if you don't have adequate technology to figure out what is in my shoes without hassling me then go back to the drawing board until you do.
If you have not metal in your shoes you can walk right through and I have a number of times. The problem is often shoes that you would never think have metal do indeed have metal in them. The intent of having you take your shoes off and place them in the x-ray machine is so they do not have to hassle with a complete search.
"Empty your pockets into this tray."
Same as above.
Same as above as well.
"Cigarette lighters are prohibited in checked bags or carry on bags or your pockets."
This is an incredibly stupid and useless policy. I suppose if someone brought a few thousand on board it might be relevant.
Most lighters have always been prohibitted but if dening you the opportunity to bring a cigarette lighter on an aircraft is fascism to you, you obviously have no idea what hell was really released by such awful regimes. It sounds to me that you have been babied and protected so long by this great nation that you have no idea how evil the world can be and that there really are people who want to kill you and me. I suppose it would be okay to try and stop them as long as we don't inconvince you or prevent you from holding on to your Bic lighter.
The Patriot act is not incremental. Nor were the even more stringent limits on freedom put on us during WWII. But they were removed after the war. The key here is to have to have the act come up for vote every five years, and not make it permanent.
dening = denying
prohibitted = prohibited
inconvince = inconvenience
This is why you should type slowly.
BTTT - America's greatest living intellectual!
I concur. Believe it, or not, most of the hassle the general public goes through at the airport is designed to make you "feel" secure. Look at the outrage spewed over the fact that 19 terrorists could commandeer 4 planes using box cutters they carried on with them. Everyone was screaming, "How could you let these people on with box cutters?!?" So now it is the FAA's fault that this happened. In typical knee-jerk fashion, the pendulum has swung and you can carry next to nothing on a flight with you. Why is this idiot surprised?
You do not have to bow to authority and can wear you shoes and keep change in your pockets when you walk through the metal detector. But don't whine when the detector goes off and you have to have a more thorough pat down.
Again, your inconvenience does not equate to fascism. If you believe the government has over stepped its duties and responsibilities, I would agree. If you believe the role of government is limited and should remain so I would agree. But if you believe your government smells of fascism because of the security checkpoints at a airport you have no clue what fascism is.
The ability to "snoop" your library/book store records was in place long before the current iteration of the Patriot Act. After the OKC bombing in 1995 the clinton justice department claimed that they needed a better way to monitor what the evil right wing militias were up to. They claimed that Tim McVey built his bomb using info gleaned from books at his local library. Thus a law was passed allowing snooping of your reading habits. The Dems certainly were not complaining then. Nor was the ACLU. Curious...
This is a stupid question totally unlikely to elicit useful information. When I was in college, I had a friend from India. He flew home to India on British Airways (stopover in London) for Christmas in the same year that the Pan Am flight exploded over Lockerbie. A few weeks after Lockerbie, he flew to London, was there for a few days visiting friends, then went to Heathrow to fly BA back to the USA. The woman in front of him was wearing a veil and the usual mideastern robe thing. They asked if anyone had packed her bags. This woman, not being the brightest bulb in the pack, said that she had not packed her bags, that was the job of her servants, and she hoped they packed the right things for her trip, but she really didn't know exactly what they packed.
Well, British Airways took her and her bags into a little room so they could see exactly what those servants might have packed...
If you want to see facism, I'd say look at taxes, but lefties love taxes. It's for the chi'dren.
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