It's Not That Bad After All

Column by Paul Bonneau.

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I was talking to a friend who was worried and depressed about NDAA and “rendition” and that sort of thing. She had been reading a lot on (or maybe even It struck me that this normally-happy woman was actually worried, as if she feared imminent arrest.
Imagine you own the most reliable car in the world; say, some model of Toyota. You get on the Internet to find a forum for enthusiasts of that car. What do you find? Pages and pages of people having problems with it! If you didn’t know better, you’d naturally conclude your car is about to fall apart the next time you drive it.
I don’t know what the official term for this phenomenon is, but I call it “sampling error.” You are taking a sampling of opinions of that car not randomly from the entire pool of Toyota owners, but only from those who have posted on that forum, a self-selected bunch who were motivated to post because they experienced problems with the car, even though they might be a tiny fraction of owners.
It’s not just our opinion of our car, but our entire worldview, that seems to be influenced heavily by sampling error. After all, how many Americans are stuck in Gitmo?
NDAA and the like are not passed to stick a significant fraction of Americans in a cage and throw away the key (a clear impossibility). One might as well lose sleep over the likelihood of being struck by lightning! No, the real reason for its passage was to control us, via fear. It depends on the worldview rattling around in our heads for its effect. It depends on Alex Jones to work!
I tried to calm my friend when she told me she was worried about these things. I told her to look at the big picture. In how many countries was it possible to regularly, in open forums and with no effort to conceal our identities, ridicule the supreme leader? In how many countries do people own battle rifles and sniper rifles and cases of military ammo? In how many countries have ordinary people taken on the most powerful interests in state governments, and won? (I’m referring to homeschooling.) How many people in other countries get to go out and kill the King’s deer every year? How hard is it to purchase and use marijuana?
I was reading reviews of cool gadgets that had recently been invented, a couple days ago. They have a category for military gadgets, which include things like drones. I know a lot of people worked up about drones these days. But who, really, should fear this technology? It is not only in the hands of the military, but also in the hands of the people. Those drone pilots won’t be spending their entire life in the military. Those soldiers who service drones won’t either. Seems to me, the fear should run the other way. If anything, the rulers can no longer depend on perfect separation from the people they are parasites on. Those who drone others, will themselves be droned.
This is not to say, of course, that there is no threat out there worth worrying about. The Fiscal Cliff does look pretty real, and it would affect everyone, perhaps even killing many. It certainly makes sense to prepare for it. But as another friend pointed out, maybe our fate will be more like the decline of the Roman Empire, which took centuries. I don’t think so, but that also is possible.
Even though it sometimes (e.g., hiking in the mountains during bad weather) makes sense to take precautions, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to always be worrying about being struck by lightning. Let’s get control of our fears and recognize the sampling error we are subject to. It’s not quite as bad out there as it seems. Go out and buy another case of ammo, that’s the trick.
NDAA does not seem to be having much success in getting people to hunker down and shut up, by the way--assuming that is its true aim. We’re all still writing...

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