Threats, Trade-offs, and a Tinderbox

Pratap Bhanu Mehta at the Financial Times compares American perceptions of threat and the liberty-security balance, which leads me to contemplate an unpleasant state of affairs coming our way. Mehta says:

How do societies draw the line on what constitutes an acceptable trade-off? The American debate is peculiar because the standards seem perversely different in different contexts. By all accounts, gun violence kills upwards of 20,000 people a year in the US – yet the trade-off between security and the right to bear arms seems doggedly to ignore considerations that would make society safe.

This is because we have a gun lobby that has taken an already machismo- and paranoia-prone constituency and convinced it that these guns are not a safety problem, but a safety solution. This is, of course, so they will buy more and more guns and make the manufacturers, represented by that lobby, richer. Simple.

Meanwhile, most Americans aren’t interested in the whole PRISM-spying thing. To Mehta, this constitutes consent from our society for the whole enterprise. Mostly true I think. He says:

[M]any would argue – though this is debatable – that casualties from terrorist violence have been limited because a full measure of methods have been used against it. But even if we accept these arguments at face value, is there something more going on? Why would a society so willing to ignore security in one domain embrace it so uncompromisingly in another? Is it merely because an exaggerated threat of the foreigner makes it easier to immobilise other considerations?

You have to understand exactly who the American people feel threatened by. Yes, they feel threatened by “terrorists,” but many also feel threatened by each other and their own government. Think of it; here we have a situation where most Americans don’t know or care about the NSA situation, largely because they fear terrorism.

But how’s this for a tinderbox: for those who are upset about the NSA, they have new reason to fear the government. These folks also overlap, I’d presume, very much with those who the gun lobby has convinced are under threat by, who else, the government–and minorities. And OMG! Both the government and minorities come together in the form of Obama!

Stock your bunkers, folks. Things might get uglier before the apathetic urbanite and mainstream Americans have any idea what’s going on.

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