Monday, June 20, 2005

The Polio Fallacy (written by Thomas Sowell)

June 17, 2005

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."

Have you?

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3 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

America has done a pretty good job of protecting us against further terrorists attacks so far, but there is still a very clear and present danger in the lack of border and illegal immigration enforcement.
We need to take immediate steps to protect our borders and we need to "profile" at airports and at the borders. There are very few measures in place at this time to prevent terrorists from entering our country at will. We are, because of this, in imminent danger of experiencing another, possibly worse, attack on the innocent men, women, and children of our country. I say implement the Patriot act with expediency. I, for one, will accomodate some invasion of privacy to ensure my safety, and that of my friends and family.

Monday, June 20, 2005 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

On the other hand, our government, both Republicans and Democrats, but mostly Democrats, have a tendency to go overboard and overreact to whatever situations make the news. I call it "typical government overkill". However, in this case, I think it is the most prudent thing.

Monday, June 20, 2005 7:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Nickolas Orsborn said...

it was pretty awesome.

Sunday, December 25, 2005 7:40:00 AM  

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