Forget 9/11

Opening my Sunday comics this morning I see half are not-funny 9/11 memorials. Half of media commentary also seems on 9/11, and is largely uninformative.

In the decade since 9/11 over half a billion people have died worldwide. A great many choices could have delayed such deaths, including personal choices to smoke less or exercise more, and collective choices like allowing more immigration. And cryonics might have saved most of them.

Yet, to show solidarity with these three thousand victims, we have pissed away three trillion dollars ($1 billion per victim), and trashed long-standing legal principles. And now we’ll waste a day remembering them, instead of thinking seriously about how to save billions of others. I would rather we just forgot 9/11.

Do I sound insensitive? If so, good — 9/11 deaths were less than one part in a hundred thousand of deaths since then, and don’t deserve to be sensed much more than that fraction. If your feelings say otherwise, that just shows how full fricking far your mind has gone.

Added: Similar views here.

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  • http://danieltarmac.blogspot.com Henry

    I completely agree (echoing these sentiments here).

    Approximately 100 billion humans have ever died throughout history, which means about 270 million people have ever died on September 11. Many deaths were surely similarly tragic, if not notable enough as a single event to be news or encyclopedia worthy. Even if you want to focus on notable events, have a look at Wikipedia’s September 11 page. There were a number of major battles that each killed thousands of people, but who cares about standard war deaths?

    • a@b.com

      In an honor based society the reaction to a insult must be visible revenge and overkill.
      That is why the excessive response here makes sense.

      • Oscar Cunningham

        But, not this particular excessive response.

  • Steve M

    It deserves to be remembered as the beginning of the beginning of the hot war with Islam, perhaps.

  • http://sophistpundit.blogspot.com Adam

    ” If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.” -Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

    Human nature is to attach greater significance to things that are close to us and have evoked personal feelings, rather than basing it on magnitude alone.

    And there is nothing wrong with that. Your moralizing is no better than the ridiculous moralizing that has gone on in the past ten years in reaction to 9/11. Everyone has their story to tell; yours involves looking down on the natural human reaction to a dramatic event. That is all.

    • Nectane

      Your comment was fine until you said “And nothing is wrong with that”.

      The WHOLE POINT of this post was to show how irrational the reaction to 9/11 was; you pointed out the issue yourself with quote and summary. The point being made, that instead of geting worked up about 9/11 and wasting time, effort and money on reacting to that, we should instead working to try and make the world a better place and prevent avoidable death.

      When you say that “nothing is wrong” with the 9/11 reaction, you are saying that “nothing is wrong” with wasting precious resources on choosing to succumb to ‘human nature’, allowing countless people around the world to die needlessly.

      There is PLENTY wrong with that, and the sooner you realise that trying to justify irrationality by saying it’s ‘human nature’ just isn’t good enough. The poster makes a valid point and you should listen to him, or perhaps come up with an objection that isn’t stupid.

  • Gerin

    Being sensitive towards another’s loss is a true sign of compassion. Caring when others die is true love. Spending a whole day doing nothing because of bad things that happened over ten years ago is a waste and does not show compassion nor love for those who suffered. The american government attacked itself in an attempt to gain power over it’s people. The facts are there, people disregard them as conspiracy theories, but lets face it, there would never be a conspiracy theory if government didn’t exist. They’ve lied to us every day since their conception, and will continue to lie to us. The people who died on 9/11/2001 know the truth, and look down upon us all with pity and anger as we do nothing in their fallen names except stand around and listen to the former mayor quote a song, and watch paul simon play one.

    • Doug S.

      Go away.

    • Francis Haart

      we need votes (in particular, downvotes) for the comments, like LessWrong.

  • CarsonH

    This nauseatingly mawkish 9/11 memorial stuff seems mostly a media & government propaganda creation… endlessly stoked for political & commercial purposes.

    One would require a very sparse knowledge of U.S and world history to view the original 9/11 event as some apocalyptic or life-changing occurrence. But the government mandated American public education system has quite successfully filtered accurate historical knowledge from the general citizenry.

    Contemporary Americans have led such sheltered & pampered live that they lack any appreciation of true war, suffering, mass death and calamity… as experienced by most humans since humans existed.

    American politicians & the dominant media have instilled more phony fear/terror/despair in the population than any foreign aggressors.

    And it continues today, especially. It’s also a bit surprising how many people seem to genuinely enjoy wallowing in negative emotions.

    Yours is the only sober view of this 9/11 circus that I’ve seen in a very long time.

  • http://politicsandprosperity.wordpress.com/ Thomas

    Defense against terrorists, not solidarity with victims, explains the “pissing away” of three trillion dollars. But you are not in a position to say that it was “pissed away,” unless you happen to know, with some certainty, just how much or how little physical and economic security was bought with the three trillion dollars. I detect a bias on your part against defense spending. Or do you believe that the U.S. wouldn’t have been attacked if only (insert your favorite gripe against U.S. foreign policy here)?

    What does the fact that half a billion persons have died since 9/11 have to do with the deaths of the three thousand victims of 9/11? If your spouse was murdered, I suppose you’d say “Oh well, people die every day.” Same thing, right?

    Were long-standing legal principles trashed? Maybe. But the ACLU is hardly an unbiased judge of such things. Try this for some balance: http://originalismblog.typepad.com/the-originalism-blog/2011/09/comment-on-911.html.

    Finally, I second Adam’s comment that you are looking down on a natural human reaction to what was seen (quite properly) as a dramatic event. Actually, “dramatic” is an understatement. It was a concerted act of barbarism, not the everyday occurrence that you liken it to.

    • EphemeralNight

      If your spouse was murdered, I suppose you’d say “Oh well, people die every day.” Same thing, right?

      I think you have rather neatly dodged the point.

      Imagine, after your spouse was murdered, you discovered that all of your children had a fatal disease, and you don’t have unlimited resources, so you have to choose between paying for a funeral for your spouse, or paying to have your children treated.

      Would you choose to spend all your money honoring the loss of your spouse as grandly as possible then weaponizing your house against future murderers, while your children slipped quietly into oblivion? Because that’s what our society did in the aftermath of 9/11.

      The victim’s of 9/11 may have died more dramatically, but the far-greater number of people who’ve died quietly since then are just as dead, and deserve no less mourning or outrage.

      • a@b.com

        The proper framework to understand this is to look at honour based societies.

        To preserve Honour it would be perfectly common to let your children die while you pursue revenge.

        The event was an Insult to National Honour and any sacrifice no matter how cruel must be made to pursue Vengeance.

        Honour is more precious than life. This is what rational philosophers do not understand – but is common thinking in some cultures.

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  • Doug

    If only one 1/100 the social capital spent on 9/11 remembrance was spent on organ markets… I would expect more than 100x as many lives would have been saved compared to any anti-terrorist measures implemented because of 9/11.

    • http://blog.jim.com James A Donald

      > If only one 1/100 the social capital spent on 9/11 remembrance was spent on organ markets

      We would by now be ruled by Muslims.

      • Rob

        Because of the gigantic, well-armed, unified, single-party, not factional or divided Muslim state that is threatening the West?

        And as for the guy you’re responding to: it’s not about what it spent, it’s about what is earned. A vast amount of money is earned from what dates back, effectively, to the corruption and unification under duress of the Arab peninsula by us Brits and the French. If we hadn’t have earned so much off of their backs by repeatedly fucking them and installing corrupt dictators, they wouldn’t have such a gripe against us. It’s not about the American Way of Life, it’s about American foreign policy. No more than the eventual declaration of war against Nazi Germany was about a way of life; it was a response to direct threat.

        Hypothetically, to take your own idea about us being ruled by Muslims: if it was a choice between a factionalized and chaotic Muslim landscape in which a few nutcases are bred and who then go on to commit a 9/11 – between that and an all-out war with Islam: which would you choose?

        It’s like the Doug Stanhope joke: “Imagine if, when we had that whole election hoopla with Bush and Kerry, the President of Tunisia’d have come in and said “alright, I’m gonna work this out for you, you sit there and you sit there…” – we’d have said, who the fuck is this guy? Quick, blow shit up in his country! Get him out of here!”

  • Dennis N

    The american government attacked itself in an attempt to gain power over it’s people.

    Is this 9/11 Truther crap?

    • billswift

      From the rest of the comment, it probably is. On the other hand, that is a pretty good description of the USA-PATRIOT Act and a lot of other government actions since.

  • wophugus

    Insensitivity will not stop people from being affected by some tragedies more than others. I suspect it won’t do much to get them to adopt a more utilitarian view of policy making either, since they’ll probably tune you out around the point you start yelling at them for feeling sad. You catch more flies with sugar. Or, in this case, you convince people our policies are stupid by showing them, both analytially and anecdotally, that our polices are stupid, not by yelling at them for not being vulcans. Unless you are Surak.

    • Michael Wengler

      You catch more flies with sugar.

      Actually, I’m pretty sure you catch flies with shit and rotting meat. Maybe the U.S. government is on to something.

  • GudEnuf

    Thank you, Robin Hanson, for using your blog to increase global utility in most cost-effective way. The starving orphans of Sudan appreciate your cutting edge analysis of signaling, law school, and pick up artists.

    • http://www.gwern.net/Notes gwern

      Pointing to hypocrisy or engaging in _tu quoque_ are not refutations.

    • billswift

      If everyone in the Sudan, everyone on the continent of Africa for that matter, dropped dead tomorrow, there would be little effect on the rest of the world.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        No. You are wrong. Humanity would lose about 90% of its genetic diversity.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15508000

        That diversity likely includes many genes of high value, trapped in stunted phenotypes by poverty, malnutrition, bad governance, exploitation, colonialism and disease.

        I do not fear trying to help my fellow humans reach their potential.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    This might be the angriest OB post I’ve read. That’s a good strategy to increase the impact of the unusually toned post.

    • Tyrrell McAllister

      This might be the angriest OB post I’ve read.

      It’s certainly the first time I’ve ever seen him drop the F-bomb (“fricking”).

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  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    I agree with the conclusion (that our response was extraordinarily excessive) if not the argument (that the underlying problem is that our emotional reactions were not based on some strict universalist utilitarian calculation).

    Based on this and the last post, Hanson’s gripe appears to be that humans are human, rather than somewhat dim robotic calculating machines. This doesn’t seem like a solvable problem. If a magic button was pressed and we all became universalist utilitarians overnight, we wouldn’t be us anymore. So much for utility; our real selves would be dead.

    • Albert

      people don’t become less “human” by being efficient utility-maximizers.

      utility is still subjective and idiosyncratic depending to each individual, it’s just that by overcoming biases people can get more of the SAME STUFF that they’ve always wanted. So if you value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then by becoming a utility-maximizer you get more of all of these.

      And if becoming a ‘robotic calculating machine’ will get more of everything that I currently value (not changing my values), then why fight it?
      What is the essence of “human-ness” anyway? Our biases lol?

      • Cyan

        The problem is reifying utility at all — to steal a phrase (sorry ciphergoth), treating the is-brain as the should-brain plus a diff. By and large, people can’t become efficient utility-maximizers simply because their preferences aren’t consistent enough to be described by a function that can be maximized.

  • Gwendolynda

    Well, the only TRUE way of staying non-bias is to read, listen, understand, and empathise with ALL points of view…a very difficult and truly remarkable platform to attain. Have you ever known ANYONE with that skill?

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    I think what Robin is saying is that the response to 9/11 didn’t do any of the things that the “leaders” who pushed those responses said those responses were going to do.

    What those responses did do was piss away $3 Trillion (and counting), kill a bunch of US soldiers, and squander the “good will” of the rest of the world while committing great evils; the killing of many Iraqi civilians, the strengthening of al Qaeda and the bankrupting of the US economy.

    The soldiers who died and were maimed in Iraq didn’t die for nothing, they died for something worse than nothing. They died in the commission of an evil act. An evil act that was designed to enrich the war profiteers, Halliburton and others in the military industrial complex and to puff up the ego of GWB.

    Doug’s comment about organ transplants is somewhat apt, but how many lives were actually “saved” by the post 9/11 responses? I think it was close to zero, and may have even been negative, that is the 9/11 response cost more lives than it “saved”.

    I appreciate that it is a shitty feeling to think that a loved one may have died for nothing, and it is an even worse feeling to think that a loved one may have died for something worse then nothing, to further something evil. But those who are unwilling to face the past are doomed to repeat it.

    It is also a shitty feeling to know that one’s tax dollars have been wasted doing nothing, but it is an even worse feeling to know that one’s tax dollars have been wasted doing evil.

    The only way to prevent that is eternal vigilance, and not let demagogue “leaders” lie to themselves and others and express 100% certainty about things it is clear they can’t be certain of. Any time they do express 100% certainty, it is clear they are lying. Maybe to themselves and us, maybe just to us.

    • http://blog.jim.com James A Donald

      The intent of our response to 9/11 was to do good to Muslims, so that they would love us.

      A more rational response, and more likely to succeed, would have been to do bad to them to make them fear us. Doing bad things to randomly selected mostly innocent Muslims would have been effective had sufficient random mostly innocent Muslims been affected.

      • Michael Wengler

        What you are saying is that terrorism is rational. I hope you are wrong and that it is a short-sighted or overly narrow view that terrorism is effective.

      • Francis Haart

        downvote

    • Rob

      “The soldiers who died and were maimed in Iraq didn’t die for nothing, they died for something worse than nothing. They died in the commission of an evil act. An evil act that was designed to enrich the war profiteers, Halliburton and others in the military industrial complex and to puff up the ego of GWB.”

      They didn’t die for nothing or for anything. They died because they were soldiers. It’s a personal tragedy. And while I am deeply skeptical of any sort of naturalistic-fallacy justification of a particularly bad world, can you not see that ultimately all actions have to be undertaken within the scope of a set of limits? – it would appear your ideal response to 9/11 would have been for Bush to undergo psychoanalysis, for capitalism and business practices to have been reformed, and for all soldiers to be invincible and educated beyond any reasonable standard.

      And the “evil act” wasn’t designed at all. It was a reaction to an attack that should have been seen coming considering the history of the West (not just America, England and France and a bunch of other countries are just as damningly complicit)’s involvement in Arabia and the East.

      The problem isn’t that someone did something wrong; the problem is simply that the world wasn’t ideal, and as such can’t be made overnight to be ideal in the present. We’re ultimately still dealing with mistakes that were made hundreds if not thousands of years ago.

  • Anonymous

    In the decade since 9/11 over half a billion people have died worldwide. A great many choices could have delayed such deaths

    In all fairness, delaying deaths isn’t the most important metric. I’d rather die younger and life happier overall. This is also why I’m against cryonics. No more wasting energy on dead people when you could use it to make living ones happier.

  • Robert Ayers

    A co-worker used to have a little sign in her office:

    Most people know how to remain silent. Few people know when.

  • dzot

    Well, to extend an idea I heard somehwere…
    could it be that remembering 9/11 is not really about remembering 9/11? [Insert potential signalling theory here.]

    Also,
    “And now we’ll waste a day remembering them, instead of thinking seriously about how to save billions of others.”
    Not mutually exclusive.

  • http://blog.jim.com James A Donald

    The lesson of 9/11 is that there are evil men who want to kill us and will stop at nothing to do so.

    The current plan for dealing with this problem, exemplified by affirmative actioning Major Hasan to a job far beyond his abilities at Fort Hood, is that if we are really really nice to them, Islam will happily join all the other cultures as one more thread in the glorious multicultural tapestry.

    • Rob

      “The lesson of 9/11 is that there are evil men who want to kill us and will stop at nothing to do so.”

      I literally don’t believe that you think that simplistically. I’ve never met you – the only thing I have to associate with you is a picture of a cartoon rooster – and still the baseline level of respect I have for another human being makes it impossible for me to believe that someone who is clever enough to type, and type well, honestly thinks that there are Evil Men, and that every act which seems bad must be the product of a monster utterly devoid of conscience.

      • http://blog.jim.com James A Donald

        Duh! Of course there are evil men.

        That the very worst of them sincerely believe in their own goodness does not make them less evil.

      • Alistair Morley

        Of course there are Evil Men, Men who, by our ethics, act repeatedly and wilfully in evil ways.

        The fact that they do “right” by their own warped morality, or that not every bad act is attributable to them is irrelevant. They exist and must be opposed by the just. Which is us, (for the avoidance of doubt), however imperfect we may be in turn.

        Denial of the existence of evil and the onus to confront it, may be comforting, and is a very human technique for dealing with fear. It can, in the hands of some, be rationalised as sophistication. But it is ultimately folly and moral cowardice not to recognise them.

    • Konkvistador

      Well actually that may happen. Birthrates in the Middle East are dropping like a rock and Western pop culture remains as toxic, impious and difficult to resist as ever.

      PC sentiments may shield them from coordinated criticism, but orthodox Islam is dying a death of a thousand cuts where Muslims aren’t having lots of kids.

      But I’ll be honest at this point. I’d actually hope some culture in the world today will prove immune to the homogenising Western consumerist memeplex. Genetic resistance to the toxicity, I’m much more ambivalent about, I guess it depends on what kind of adaptations are used to get it.

      • http://blog.jim.com James A Donald

        > Well actually that may happen. Birthrates in the Middle East are dropping like a rock and Western pop culture remains as toxic, impious and difficult to resist as ever

        .

        The Gaza strip has a fertility rate of 5.19 children born per woman.

        Birthrates in Iran are dropping like a rock. The Palestinian, Egyptian, and Saudi Arabian birthrate is, however, doing OK. The birthrate rate among irreligious Palestinians, Egyptians, etc is dropping like a rock, but that makes the problem worse, not better

        Upper class Muslims in the US have normal family sizes, but you don’t seem to see many Muslim cougars or cat ladies, so their fertility rate has to be high. Lower class Muslims in the US tend to have large families, and few, seemingly no, cougars or cat ladies.

        Women who believe in Islam get married and have babies.

  • Ely

    It feels much more like propaganda today than anything else.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    It’s very useful to have heroes, and the 9/11 victims are rather uncontroversial. Unfortunately, our culture celebrates those who suffer injustice nowadays, because creators and doers are so much more morally ambiguous. Suffering stoically is admirable, but I don’t find it really ennobling.

  • http://singularitynotes.com/ James D. Miller

    What happened on Flight 93 is worth remembering.

    http://jonathanlast.com/2011/09/09/911-and-flight-93/

  • rationalities researcher

    Have you got enough tanks, missiles and jet figthers to defend your revised utilitarian rationality? Hahaha. 🙂

  • http://hopefullyanonymous.blogspot.com Hopefully Anonymous

    It’s hard to defend pissing away the $3 trillion dollars, except unless a case can be made that it was the cheapest heckler buyout possible.

    As for the changing of longstanding legal principles, I get the nod to Burke and Oakshotte, but was the change for the better? I’m open to that possibility, since I see privacy protections as possibly their own kind of expensive concession to hecklers. I’d at least like to be exposed to best of breed analysis of that from multiple angles.

  • Rob

    “And now we’ll waste a day remembering them, instead of thinking seriously about how to save billions of others. I would rather we just forgot 9/11.”

    I’m pretty jaded and cynical, and phrased another way I’d find this article fairly reasonable, but that is a hideous thing to say. Putting emotion aside: you’re advocating plowing ahead with progresses as opposed to pensive, silent remembrance of the past. Surely it’s progress without reference to the warnings of the past that got us here in the first place?

    Emotion having returned: the idea that remembering loved ones, or the fallen – even if you’re the most cynical, hardened bastard in the world, or anti-war (and who isn’t?), or just not that nationalistic – is somehow a “waste” is baffling to me. Utterly baffling. History, the past, is what makes us human; our humanity is always in the past.

  • rapscallion

    “Do I sound insensitive? If so, good — 9/11 deaths were less than one part in a hundred thousand of deaths since then”

    And the deaths of one’s parents are even less than that, relative to the whole human race, so people shouldn’t get all weepy and sentimental when Ma and Pa pass on.

    • Michael Wengler

      And the deaths of one’s parents are even less than that, relative to the whole human race, so people shouldn’t get all weepy and sentimental when Ma and Pa pass on.

      Well, 300 million peopleshouldn’t get all weepy and sentimental ten years after my parents pass away.

  • Robert Koslover

    Yes Robin, you do sound insensitive. And that, I think, is because in regard to this particular post, on this particular day, you are indeed being insensitive. I could also argue that your reasoning here is seriously flawed, but I think I’ll leave the making of that argument to the others commenting here, as they seem to be doing (more or less) well enough. I’m also hoping you will offer very different thoughts next year on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11/01 Islamist terrorist attack on America, once you’ve had another year to ponder the matter.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    James Donald, if your aim was to prove yourself an idiot, congratulations: you’ve succeeded. Doug referred to “remembrance”, which is distinguishable from defense, and even then he was proposing a 1% shift. As others noted, Muslims are just not that competent (simply not letting them into the country doesn’t require that much money and 9/11 had little effect on that). And there are countless other countries which haven’t spent that money are not ruled by Muslims. You even said “by now” just to make it obvious how completely falsified your claim is! And the response to 9/11 was not “be nice to Muslims”, it was a host of incompetent measures most notably including regime change. And I am someone who has advocated threatening to nuke Mecca/Medina to deter terrorist attacks, as well as murdering the family members of terrorists. I don’t insult you because you are a bad person, but an ignorant one and wilfully so at that.

    daedalus2u, we haven’t yet gotten much benefit from that genetic diversity and humanity has survived severe bottlenecks before. We’ve got a pretty large population now, enough to produce lots of mutations. And the primary cost of war is not defense contractors (an arms race that never goes “hot” is ideal for them, lots of cash on tech that never gets tested). The cost comes from boots on the ground. One of the people to get this is Michael Neumann of Counterpunch with “Victory and Recruitment”.

    mtraven, part of the singularity involves future beings who “wouldn’t be us”. Arguably industrial folks are not “us” to farmers, and likewise for them vs foragers, in their own particular ways.

    Hopefully Anonymous, I don’t give a damn for a “right to privacy” and hope the Transparent Society does away with it. The legal changes went well beyond that. Bush claimed the power to declare American citizens enemies and lock them up without trial. Obama has gone beyond that and declared the power to assassinate American citizens, again without any checks or legal processes. Financial institutions and others are forbidden from speaking about what the feds do, and this of course prevents many people from even challenging acts in court (and once there national security claims prevent evidence from coming to light). The Supreme Court ruled that people can’t give the Kurdistan Worker’s Party and Tamil Tigers (who are terrorists against Turkey and Sri Lanka rather than the U.S) legal advice on filing human rights complaints and negotiating with their respective governments. This at the same time that many public figures openly collaborate and support the Marxist-Islamist terrorist cult MeK (they are anti-Iran and a former proxy of Saddam which is why the feds haven’t done anything).

    • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

      I think Donald has to adjust his meds, whatever he’s on now isn’t working.

      part of the singularity involves future beings who “wouldn’t be us”. Arguably industrial folks are not “us” to farmers, and likewise for them vs foragers, in their own particular ways.

      All of the pre-singularity types you list have, I think, the property of caring more about kin or those socially close than those that are far away (I guess most pre-industrial types didn’t have much chance to have any knowledge of those at any great distance, but still). And if post-singularity folks are so unlike us, why should I care about them?

      Anyway, my point was really one I’ve made several times before and haven’t gotten a good answer to, which is, why should anyone care about some kind of global utility (as opposed to their own individual utility)? That seems to be Hanson’s implication, that the deaths of 3000 people close to us on the social graph count for epsilon because that is swamped by all the far-away deaths. Humans don’t work that way, and it isn’t clear to me why someone with Hanson’s libertarian leanings thinks that they should.

    • http://blog.jim.com James A Donald

      And there are countless other countries which haven’t spent that money are not ruled by Muslims.

      The area ruled by Muslims, and the number of people ruled by Muslims, and the number of people subject to Sharia law is expanding Even while national boundaries remain unchanged, what is contained within those boundaries gets changed. Consider, for example, the ivory coast, where the previous Christian majority was in large part expelled, expropriated, and in some cases, eaten. The Ivory coast is still on the map, its new government supposedly has continuity with its old government, its national boundaries are unchanged, but is new people lack continuity with its old people.

    • http://hopefullyanonymous.blogspot.com Hopefully Anonymous

      “The legal changes went well beyond that.”

      I read your laundry list of legal changes -that doesn’t go against my point that I don’t know if those changes reduced human welfare, if they improved it, or if it was just noise. I’d like good faith analysis on that -not heckling on grounds of repugnancy.

  • Robert Koslover

    Woah… I hadn’t followed your link before. It was to Al Jazeera! Are you kidding me? Now let’s see, can anyone here think of a reason why people who write for Al Jazeera just might want to encourage the West to forget about 9/11? Anyone? Hello?? Sigh.

    • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

      Don’t be a hick. Al Jazeera is not al Qaeda, and in fact it’s a valuable news source, especially for one interested in overcoming bias by getting some views that aren’t filtered through the American media machine. That was an opinion piece written by an American, here’s a quote for those too lazy to read it:

      The attacks of September 11, 2001 were in every sense abusive, horrific acts. And the saddest thing is that the victims of those suicidal monstrosities have been misused here ever since under the guise of pious remembrance. This country has become dependent on the dead of 9/11 – who have no way of defending themselves against how they have been used – as an all-purpose explanation for our own goodness and the horrors we’ve visited on others…

      I see why Hanson approves of it, and so do I.

  • bivalvet

    Might as well forget about the Holocaust too. In the bigger scheme of things, what were only 6M Jews?

    • Michael Wengler

      Might as well forget about the Holocaust too. In the bigger scheme of things, what were only 6M Jews?

      This a blog written by a rational economist. Numbers matter. 300 million “mourners” 10 years later is NOT the same as family members remembering. 3000 people killed in an attack is not the same as 6 million Jews and another 6 million assorted gypsys, homosexuals, and so on killed.

      E.Q. does not promote numeracy.

  • mjgeddes

    Excellent, excellent, Robin got angry and got >50 upvotes straight off the bat!

    It’s clear our current leaders and systems are too stupid and incompetent to be allowed to continue to exist, especially in this high-risk period of pending existential threats. It’s clear the current systems must be overthrown and replaced with transhumanist, revolutionary philosophies with all due haste!

    The whole hacker/burning man/social-democrat/libertarian/georgist/singularitarian ethos is simmering quite nicely now. We’ve seen hacker groups such as ‘anonymous’ actually do some geniune activism in world events – I’m referring to their hacking of autocratic governments during the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising. We just need some genuinely smart revolutionaries to pull the trigger and the whole thing can boil over to radical changes.

    Hackers arise! The time for revolution has come! it must be total revolution! There must be no more delays on the path to Singularity!

    The Hackers Maxims

  • nyc561

    Robin,

    This will, sadly, be the last time I read your blog. Have lost a lot of respect for you (and, by extension, the George Mason economics department), if this is the quality and substance of content considered appropriate and / or relevant re: current economic issues.

    Was the war in Iraq / Afghanistan costly? You bet.
    Do lots of people die for various, sometimes controllable reasons? Yep.
    Do frequent fliers like myself bear an enormous productivity drag every time we go through security checkpoints? Yep!

    Do any of these questions or answers have anything to do with the fact that, at “the end of the day”, the meaning of 9/11, and the reason we collectively pause to remember it, is that there is evil in the world, and that the world can only “progress” to the extent that individuals and groups can take a stance against said evil, in themselves and in said world around them?

    No. Not at all. And if you can’t see that tolerating the taking of innocent life, regardless of who’s right, who’s wrong, who was provoked, et. al, there is something fundamentally wrong with your own “fricking” far view of things: as in, what the hell difference does $3 trillion or calculated present economic value foregone make to anyone if the world goes up in flames?

    It’s not that you’re being insensitive. That’s really nothing new. It’s that you’re being insensitive, and also really, really stupid.

    Your blog has historically done a great job of exposing what I would call sources of evil in our world, and that is those aspects and tendencies of human nature we mostly ignore, as a society, e.g., “homo hypocritus”. But if you enter the camp of people cannot recognize the value of peace in a successful world, defined any possible way, you’ve lost touch with reality (though most of your readers should have known that already).

  • Wladimir

    I so agree. Of course I completely understand why the people in NY, or even the USA would want to remember it. Those close to the victims.

    On the other hand, even here in Europe there was no way in the media or TV to get around the 9/11 remembrances and how bad and how terrible it was. Why bother?

    We still suffer from 9/11 every day. It is used as excuse for senseless wars, legalized torture, and for restricting privacy and increasing surveillance everywhere. And with never-ending goverment macho retoric, civilization is going to the drain.

    “Go away” nicely sums up the general sentiment. Yes, it was terrible. Bad things happen to all of us sometimes. Now fricking move on.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Exactly. It was why in the former Soviet Union, the bad things that happened during WWII were brought up every day. It was a way to try and unify the people behind the bad leaders who were exploiting them.

      It is the same thing in North Korea.

      It is an attempt by the well-off to shame and guilt-trip the not well-off into not complaining about how bad their current economic circumstances are by trying to induce survivor syndrome.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivors_guilt#Survivor_syndrome

      Pius words, tearful and somber speeches are a lot cheaper and easier than unemployment benefits, single payer health care, infrastructure rebuilding programs, things that would actually help the living and make the country stronger. Better to piss the money away on boondoggles that enrich the war profiteers, the bankers, the political elite and then have the excuse that there is no money for the common man.

      • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        “Pius words, tearful and somber speeches are a lot cheaper and easier than unemployment benefits, single payer health care, infrastructure rebuilding programs, things that would actually help the living and make the country stronger. Better to piss the money away on boondoggles that enrich the war profiteers, the bankers, the political elite and then have the excuse that there is no money for the common man.”

        I think this is more antitechnocratic mismanagement than perfect conspiracy (single payer health cared is cheaper, according to many expert commenters) -although I do see a boorish looter element to the George W. Bush years.

  • Robert Speirs

    You, Mr. Hanson, are an idiot. You have no conception of mythos or national dignity. Good bye, sir.

    • http://priorprobability.com/ F.E. Guerra-Pujol (Enrique)

      You, Mr Speirs, are an idiot …

  • http://un-thought.blogspot.com/ Floccina

    We have about 15,000 murders each year in the USA why no down with murder day?

  • Matt Knowles

    Robin, you’re “fricking” out of your mind.

    To pretend that we should be more concerned with 1,000 cases where a farmer loses his arm while trying to fix his tractor in a freak accident than the single case where a farmer has his arm forcibly removed by a group of men is absolutely idiotic.

    What underlying bias is causing you to lash out this way? Have you even tried to see it?

  • richard silliker

    Bingo. However, not in those words. Connotative words are uncalled for. Perhaps a denotative posture would be more helpful for yourself and others as this may have given all of us hope for the future and what better way to honor our dead than to take pride in our collective responsibility to better the situation for the living.

  • in answer to your question

    you cannot reasonably expect this sort of brazen and demented contrarianism to induce readers in search of a new moral framework to think, ‘hrm, maybe i’ll give this utilitarianism thing a whirl and see where it takes me!’

  • Sigh

    From 1983 to 2005, about 3,600 Americans were killed by terrorists.

    About 453,000 were killed by drunk drivers.

    We’ve spent what, 2 trillion dollars in the war on terrorism? So have we also spent 200 trillion dollars preventing drunken driving?

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Sigh, drunken driving uses two activities that are regulated (driving license and minimum age for alcohol purchase) and taxed (gasoline taxes and alcohol taxes).

      Activities that kill people, but do so while contributing to tax revenues are doubleplusgood.

    • Francis Haart

      in fact, i read somewhere (i’ll look it up), that traffic fatalities spiked after 9/11, because everyone took to the roads for travel and (again, i’ll look it up) that since driving is more dangerous than flying. if both stats are true, then net travel deaths increased *after* 9/11. but there was no psa like “do fly, don’t drive”.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    mtraven, there are many features common to us. Over time some of them will change. I mentioned changes that have come with modernity, so now I’ll get more specific. Humans are not born with an instinct for written language. We have to deliberately instill that. In most cases we instinctively use what Daniel Kahneman calls “Type 1 thinking”, which comes the most naturally to us. But just as with writing we deliberately train to use “Type 2” thinking in certain situations. Use of that thinking style is often used to override cognitive biases that are parts of our normal thinking. Are we not human when we do so? I really don’t see why our far higher weighting of the 9/11 deaths compared to all the other ones that afflict us (including our responses to 9/11) has some special claim on preservation when we have altered ourselves repeatedly and repaed benefits. Hanson’s point (as I read it) wasn’t that they are “close to us on the social graph”. If you lost someone personally close, there’s no argument that you shouldn’t find that more important than those who don’t know (such as aliens outside your light-cone). But there are many people as close or closer to today’s mourners who died for other reasons that aren’t remembered, and our failure to appropriately weight those deaths can make it less likely that we prevent such deaths.

    James A. Donald, got any numbers on that expansion? I have heard what occurred in the Ivory Coast, it reportedly had one of the highest immigration rates in the world. Controlling immigration is all that’s necessary, and that doesn’t require spending the ridiculous sums that we have.

    Hopefully Anonymous, yes we’d need some criteria to evaluate whether the changes were actually good. Your Burke/Oakeshott mention indicates you have a weak presumption against change. I was making the point that it is not merely privacy but a host of legal changes that occurred, and we still don’t know the full impact.

    nyc561, Hanson was arguing that our response to 9/11 did not constitute “progress”. He didn’t give much indication, but I doubt his advice on our reaction should have been is “just tolerate it”.

    Matt Knowles, the comparison was not many injuries vs one death. It was a large number of deaths from various causes vs a smaller number caused by terrorists.

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  • Dave

    In other words” Cryonics yes,Nationhood no.”

    Your real target is the concept of nationhood. Your logic may be great but your plea is essentially reactive. It doesn’t get us anywhere. It is the typical leftish narrative, other than the wrinkle about cryonics.

    It was totally predictable that an attack on the United States, whether it be Pearl Harbor or 9-11 would result in a tremendous response. You did well to point out the negative economic effects of the response. Our response was what the public wanted. (The stupid fools?). It was intended to retaliated against the aggressors and increased security. What would you have done?

    The basic idea we hear from intellectuals is that we should do away with nations or at least do away with nationalism. This is ahistorical. Its starting point and end point is a perfectible world. The problem intellectuals have addressing aggression this is the same problem it has with criminals in civil society. If you rule out force, what are you to do with the bad guys other than apologize and withdraw? Since this is unpalatable to the public, miffed, and emotionally reactive, intellectuals proudly heap scorn upon the public.

    This is the reason for William Buckley’s famous statement preferring the telephone book to the university faculty as rulers.

    • Wonks Anonymous

      “The problem intellectuals have addressing aggression this is the same problem it has with criminals in civil society. If you rule out force, what are you to do with the bad guys other than apologize and withdraw?”
      Did you know torture has been endorsed by this blog?

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  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    Leftish?

    The question isn’t left or right, the question is effective or ineffective, fast or slow, cheap or expensive.

    The usual trade-off is good, fast, cheap; pick any two. What Bush gave us was bad, slow and expensive.

    The Iraq war (2003 to 2010) went on twice as long as the US involvement in WWII.

    The US cost of WWII ($288 Billion), adjusted to 2011 is $3.6 trillion.

    And you think Robin is being leftish for saying that was a crappy way to spend $3 trillion? What would we have if we had spent that on windmills? On solar power? On medical research? On paying down the deficit?

    There is an expression that intellectuals sometimes use.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhic_victory

    How has the US been made better off in any way by the Iraq war?

    I consider myself an intellectual, but I can’t figure out how the US has been made better off by the Iraq war. Perhaps someone who is smarter than I am could enlighten me?

    • Alistair Morley

      “How has the US been made better off in any way by the Iraq war? ”

      I’d argue that the last 10 years has seen the strategic situation in the ME and North Africa has been transformed for the better, both for the US and the inhabitents of the region. I’d argue this would not have happened without 9/11 and the US response.

      Expensive, but not grossly so. Compare it to WWII as % of GDP per year (rather than total real $, a misleading technique which could ultimately show us spending more on catfood than than beating Nazi’s…) and it looks quite reasonable.

    • Dave

      Whether the response to 9/11 was excessive or misguided will be debated. It will probably not be clear for many years if it was a fundamental error. Already,with Europe trying to out do Bush in kicking Qaddafi’s ass, the complexion of past events is changing.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    tggp, the question of who people care about and why is a deep one, one I’ve written about a lot (eg here) and could spend a lifetime studying. So I have no simple answers, but I can’t see what basis Hanson and others use to criticize the carings of others. If he doesn’t care about 9/11 victims, that’s OK with me, but where does he get off telling me what I should care about?

    As it happens, most people care about them because they perceive them as part of the same community — whether that is the US, or New Yorkers, or civilized people in general. In part community is created by such acts of caring. To actively not care is certainly an option, but you risk alienating yourself.

  • Alistair Morley

    Elementary mistake here? Surely the cost-benefit calculation is not on $1B per victim, but $-per-victim prevented or life improved? The efficiency of defence budgets is not enemy killed per $, after all, but the security and prosperity it guards, both now and in the future.

    The statistics for WWII; US$ expenditure per death at Pearl Harbour, look equally gross, but Hanson will surely not argue it was badly made?

    Now I appreciate its hard to evaluate non-events, and people may quibble about how much “real” security has been brought, but bon’t forget to include 25 million free Iraqi’s and the long-term effects of the Arab Spring on the benefits side of the ledger….

    • Phil Goetz

      “The statistics for WWII; US$ expenditure per death at Pearl Harbour, look equally gross, but Hanson will surely not argue it was badly made?”

      Japan wanted to no longer be hemmed in by European nations controlling every little island around Japan. We never tried to negotiate with them on this, either before or after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had no intention of invading the American mainland, and probably didn’t even want Hawaii. They probably just wanted to bring us to the negotiation table. They were aware before starting the war that they couldn’t defeat the US.

      The War in the Pacific was the US spending lots of lives and money to maintain control over islands whose only importance to us was to provide staging points for that very war.

      If the War in the Pacific benefitted the US, it was by giving us an excuse to stay out of the war in Europe until 1944.

  • Alistair Morley

    “The Boston Massacre killed only 5 persons. Since then we have spent $150M in this so-called “War of Indepedence”. That’s $50M per victim, or as the new-fangled science of economics tells us, will be $1.5B per victim in 2011 $.

    The events of that day don’t deserve to be sensed more than the small portion of human deaths they represent. The reaction to the massacre and pointless war has traduced the peace and prosperity of our land, set us against our countrymen and king, trampled our rights as free-born Englishmen, and prevented us from doing other things with our time.

    I would rather we just forgot the whole thing. ”

    ~ George Mason

  • Jeffrey Soreff

    I agree with Prof. Hanson here.
    What both of us can be reasonably confident of, is that 9/11 will
    fade into dim memory, just as Pearl Harbor and the Alamo
    did before them.

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  • MoQingbird

    O.M.G. My sympathies, Robin.

    This is the first time I’ve viewed the comments on one of your posts, as I usually read them in my RSS feed. What can I say? Given the standard of repartee above I have to ask, why do you bother writing for these people?

    The only reason I can think of is the comedy value of 99% of the comments

    : )))

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  • Phil Goetz

    As I noted in September 2001, in terms of body count, World War 2 was like having 8 “9/11” incidents per day, every day, for seven years.

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  • William

    Has $3 trillion really been spent? Read John Lotts analysis here.

  • Benjamin

    Those 3000 have special significance, not because they died, but rather because they were murdered. It is not simply the value of human life, but also the criminal act of murder – and the need for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. It is also the need to ensure the safety of those remaining 300,000,000 citizens, and the soverignty of their nation. When you total all these factors, that is $1000 per head. I think it may well be $3,000,000,000 well spent.

    • Junis

      Stupid you. 9/11 was done by Israel. Know you this, I bet you will agree with the author.

  • Kevin P

    this casts huge shadows on 9/11 http://youtu.be/4fvJ8nFa5Qk

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  • http://www.yepi2.co/ Yepi 2

    It is clear that we can not forget what has happened in that time. They stick in my mind too then. Now we can only overcome feeling depressed can not forget.

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