Russell Madden
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It Mattered
Russell Madden
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Hardcover, $34.95
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Russell Madden


The National Commission on Terrorism hopes to make you safer by taking away more of your freedom.

Appointed by those liberty-loving folks in Congress, the Commission believes that no one should object to granting the FBI even more latitude in wiretapping "suspected terrorists"; that for our own protection we should keep close tabs on the academic majors of foreign students who have the temerity to switch to such fields as physics; that it is no problem -- regardless of any posse comitatus laws -- to involve the military to an even greater degree in domestic law enforcement (shades of my "Cops and Robbers" essay in Laissez Faire City Times); and, that in order to sell these and other affronts to our rights, it is proper for them to engage in a massive public relations campaign to convince us our lives are in mortal danger.

No, no. They did not actually recommend the later. That's merely Standard Operating Procedure. Sugarcoat the poison; simmer the frog to boiling; practice incrementalism; frighten us to death: however you might like to characterize this most recent expansion of the government's protection racket, the end result is the same:

"We had to burn the village in order to save it."

I doubt anyone is particularly enthralled by the possibility of being attacked, hurt, and maybe killed in a terrorist attack. I also doubt anyone is especially eager to drown in a swimming pool. Yet you are approximately twenty times more likely to perish in a bathtub or pool than from any action perpetrated by a terrorist.

Objective assessment of relative risks is, of course, irrelevant these days when the State seeks to impose new restrictions on its citizens.

Politicians seem to relish each new crisis inflicted upon us. Whether it is a shooting in a fast food restaurant or a plane crashing mysteriously into the ocean, too many of our stalwart leaders can barely contain themselves as they scramble over their peers and the dead bodies of the tragedy's victims to clamor and declaim before the only-too-willing cameras of the media. "Massive danger! Run for your lives! But we can save you! New laws! More taxes! More inconvenience! Less freedom for you! More power for us!"

The litany is as frightening as it is tediously familiar.

When TWA Flight 800 plunged, burning, into the Atlantic, the politicians rushed to impose more "security measures" at our airports. What had once been a relatively painless procedure degenerated into a time-wasting and personally insulting intrusion into our travel. Fearing the crash signaled the start of new terrorist actions, the State seized on the national alarm to tighten down the screws. Photo ID's, pointless questions, random searches, and baseless suspicions eat up extra minutes of the day.

The cost of such rules has been estimated to run anywhere from five to eleven billion dollars per year. According to one estimate, this works out to roughly $135 million per life saved...if the deaths from sabotage could be reduced to zero.

Considering the fact that the government's final assessment attributed Flight 800's end to physical causes (igniting fuel vapors), the State's rush to limit our actions burns as an even more appalling example of nonsense. Such chains added to our already substantial burden are rarely if ever removed even when the original justifications are proven to be in error.

Some proponents of these kinds of draconian measures and the new ones recommended by the Commission might argue that the cost is justified if we can reduce or eliminate the loss of human lives.

But everything we do in life carries attendant risks. Questing for a risk-free existence is fruitless, irrational, and even dangerous in and of itself. Money squandered in countering minuscule dangers would be better spent addressing real concerns threatening our safety on a larger scale or more immediate timeframe. We could, for example, reduce traffic deaths to zero by banning all motorized vehicles...but we would simultaneously condemn millions to starvation and poverty when goods and services became unavailable as needed.

Appeals to emotion, of course, are easier to make than rational arguments backed by logic, investigation and discovery of facts, and the application of moral principles and pragmatic solutions to the very real problems facing us on a daily basis.

How to deal with terrorists? For those emanating from other countries, the best strategy is one of creative disengagement. To appeal to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, we should avoid entangling treaties with other nations. Trade -- not meddling -- creates customers, not enemies. Grudges grow when our government imposes its will on the citizens and leaders of other countries. Self-righteously bullying those with whom we disagree will not cow anyone committed to living his life according to his own choices.

Leading by example will do more to convince others to follow the path of peace than destroying a society's infrastructure. Rendering a populace homeless, blasting them into poverty and misery will hardly garner us friends.

As for domestic terrorists, we can turn to Northern Ireland for an example of what not to do. Internecine combat blossoms when and where individuals believe their rights, their property, and their way of life are unsafe from encroachment by others, whether via the actions of common criminals or those of elected politicians and appointed bureaucrats. Attempting to render frightened people defenseless by disarming them will not solve the issue of perceived or actual oppression.

The religious wars that prompted many of the original American colonists to flee Europe for America provide another prime illustration of this point. The genius of Thomas Jefferson and others in recognizing the misery and hatred attendant on the creation of a state-sponsored religion shows us the path out of the swamp.

Laissez faire. Leave us alone! That's all most people ask.

Let us make our own decisions, no matter how silly or stupid those may seem to outsiders. Let us live our own lives and you can live yours. Are you so wise and knowledgeable that you can determine what's best for us even though you know nothing about us? Let us succeed or fail, be happy or sad, loved or unloved on our own.

The strict observance of property rights. Scrupulous enforcement of all other rights guaranteed in our Constitution. Never initiating violence against the innocent. Respecting the moral autonomy of each citizen.

Remove the burrs, slice away the slights, sooth the irritations that fester and inflame the conscience and souls of the less powerful in our culture. Acknowledge their personal boundaries, don't intrude, give them no reason to hate and thirst for revenge.

If our politicians adhered to that narrow road, "terrorism" would cease being a buzzword for overweening statists to wield like a whip against the innocent.

As I pointed out in my essay, "Crime: Public and Private," (published in Full Context and available on my website), we have far less to fear from ordinary criminals than we do from transgressions committed by the State. According to R. J. Rummel in Death by Government, the total number of innocent people killed by various States in the past hundred years is nearly 170 million.

My Webster's dictionary defines "terrorism" as intimidation and subjugation, "especially as a political weapon or policy." To "terrorize" is "to appall; to frighten; to coerce, maintain inducing terror." To feel "terror" is to experience "intense fear."

Who better fulfills the requirements specified in these definitions? The crook slinking down the alley? Or those dignified looking citizens strutting through the halls of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court?

The fact that most people would probably name the thief, robber, and murderer shows how well the State has spun the propaganda portraying itself as the savior of the downtrodden, the righter of wrongs, and the source of all that is good and bountiful in society.

Oh, a government properly delimited is most definitely a positive good. But few States have ever approached the ideal outlined above.

Consider the Internal Revenue Service and the feelings stirred within you at the prospect of dealing with those faceless minions when you receive an audit notice.

Perhaps ponder how you react when a judge permits a baseless lawsuit to progress against you from some sue-happy citizen hoping to win in the legal lottery that is an example of today's legal plunder.

How do you respond when going through a "safety check" conducted by your local police? When faced with: sanctions for not complying with a zoning regulation or a requirement of the American Disabilities Act; a sheriff determining whether you will or will not be permitted to buy, own, or carry a firearm; an inspection by OSHA critiquing your manufacturing procedures; a visit from the BATF to check the paperwork on the guns you own; a representative of the DEA objecting to your use of marijuana as part of your medical treatment; a state social worker threatening to take away your children; a board that may -- or may not -- grant you a license to work or to run your own business; a bureaucrat from the EEOC questioning your hiring decisions; an agent of the EPA poking into your property for signs of "endangered" species; a frowning member of the FDA deciding if you will have access to a potentially lifesaving drug or procedure; a SWAT team breaking down your door because of a tip from an "anonymous" source; a team from the INS snooping into your background to see if you "deserve" to work in this country; or a member of your local draft board holding your future in the palm of his hand?

Terrorism -- true terrorism -- seeps into your bones, permeates your life, strangles you in its tentacles.

Terrorists -- true terrorists -- are those who shackle us for their convenience, rob us to provide for their comfort, strip away our freedoms in order to augment their illicit control over our lives...all while proclaiming to do so "for your own good."

Ask yourself: who most delights in intimidating us; coercing us; subjugating us; and frightening us in order to maintain their power? Whose behavior is most appalling in its arrogance and most destructive to your liberty, dignity, and safety?

The answer is plain to see.


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