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How much of a tragedy was 9-11 relative to all modern human suffering?
Posted: 01 December 2008 12:17 PM   [ Ignore ]
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25,000 people die daily from starvation, 3,000 people die from malaria each day. That’s 28,000 deaths a day that could be prevented that is nine preventable 9-11’s every day.

I remeber thinking that 9-11 was a shocking event but also thinking it was a drop in the bucket. So what makes 9-11 worth spending a trillion dollars on?

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Posted: 01 December 2008 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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So what makes 9-11 worth spending a trillion dollars on?

‘Cause it happened to “us!” I remember at the time thinking it was ridiculous that people who had nothing personal to do with the attacks could claim with a straight face to have experienced a transformative trauma because of them. Evil, suffering, death are ubiquitous inevitabilities of life, and Americans are luckier than most in being able to ignore that fact most of the time since we live realtively comfortable, healthy lives on the whole. If 9/11 was a wakeup call that America is unpopular in some parts of the world, it’s only because we were sleeping.

Now, I don’t think raw numbes totally define the scope of a tragedy, but I agree that the 9/11 attacks were not a radical exception to the nature of human history, except in so far as such things rarely happen here and to “us.” But it is also natural for people to pay more attention to local tragedies than distant ones, so I don’t know that we can really blame people for their reactions, apart from being a bit exasperated by their naivete. Now, the way the media and the Bush administration exploited what happened, is another matter…..

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Posted: 01 December 2008 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Well yes, the whole point about terrorism is that it causes terror, which is an outsized emotional response. Perhaps the world would be better off if we focused more on things that cause more deaths each year than terrorism. But any politician, or anyone trying to make social change of any sort, who loses sight of human emotion will fail. Perhaps our deepest emotional responses revolve around feelings of personal safety and security. So long as people do not feel safe, little else will interest them except trying to change that fact. Terrorism works by making people feel unsafe.

Fortunately there are some charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation which can afford to focus their efforts more rationally on the issues that kill and injure the most people; but I don’t think that any democratic process is likely to be particularly efficient at allocating funds in that way. The democratic process is likely to be driven by people’s emotions rather than any overarching cold-blooded rationality about the statistics. (And anyhow a terrorist with a single WMD could overturn those statistics in a single minute).

Of course, that’s no reason not to raise the subject and debate it.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 02:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Even in terms of throwing a trillion dollars at cancer or heart disease etc. we would have most likely got a better result. I think it has to do with it being perpetrated by other people, it is almost like people don’t think they will be the one to die of a disease.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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danlhinz - 01 December 2008 02:17 PM

Even in terms of throwing a trillion dollars at cancer or heart disease etc. we would have most likely got a better result. I think it has to do with it being perpetrated by other people, it is almost like people don’t think they will be the one to die of a disease.

Well, to be fair, the US government does throw a lot of money at disease through the NIH; it’s a pretty well funded organization, and I believe accounts for most of governmental science funding.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 01 December 2008 02:27 PM
danlhinz - 01 December 2008 02:17 PM

Even in terms of throwing a trillion dollars at cancer or heart disease etc. we would have most likely got a better result. I think it has to do with it being perpetrated by other people, it is almost like people don’t think they will be the one to die of a disease.

Well, to be fair, the US government does throw a lot of money at disease through the NIH; it’s a pretty well funded organization, and I believe accounts for most of governmental science funding.

The actual total is 30 billion annually and it has remained flat since 2004 so it is actually getting funding cuts if you include inflation. NIH funding

In comparison the Iraq war has received 200 billion annually or enough to sextuple the NIH funding heres a graph to put things in perspective.

0117-biz-webLEONHARDT.gif

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Posted: 01 December 2008 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Oh, sure, we can always hope and agitate for more ... but IIRC the NIH is well funded compared to other science initiatives in the US and abroad. Clearly, you won’t get any argument from me that the Iraq war is a poor use of money.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 05:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The fact that Americans were massacred is central to the response. The Srebrenica Massacre had 8,000 victims. The Rwandan Genocide killed nearly a million people. The Darfur massacres have claimed far more than 3,000 lives. And of course, American military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has directly—not indirectly, directly—killed far more than 3,000 Iraqis. But their lives don’t count as much as American lives.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 11:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Malaria has no political aim, nor does starvation except perhaps in the way Stalin did it in Ukraine.

The politics of the movement behind the act justify the expense.  The trillion bucks isn’t the cost of 9-11.  It is the cost of standing up for a way of life (freedom) against those with a completely different vision for the world.  See the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the treatment of uncooperative Iraqis by AQI to receive a glimpse of a possible future.  It is the cost of saving potentially countless lives such as those that were lost in Mumbai recently.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 12:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Bryan - 01 December 2008 11:40 PM

Malaria has no political aim, nor does starvation except perhaps in the way Stalin did it in Ukraine.

The politics of the movement behind the act justify the expense.  The trillion bucks isn’t the cost of 9-11.  It is the cost of standing up for a way of life (freedom) against those with a completely different vision for the world.  See the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the treatment of uncooperative Iraqis by AQI to receive a glimpse of a possible future.  It is the cost of saving potentially countless lives such as those that were lost in Mumbai recently.

They posed no real threat to our freedom they only pose the threat of further innocents being killed, just like starvation, and malaria. We are not talking about an advanced military super power threatening us, we are talking about a network of fundamentalists with limited resources carrying out cowardly attacks on soft targets. You can turn Iraq and Afghanistan into democracies and the fundamentalists will just be living in a democracy planning ways to kill innocent people.

If we are going to invade every country that is not a democracy it’s a long list but they are all a threat to freedom, and my freedom is just as important as anyone else no matter where they are born.

Going back to it being a greater tragedy though, many people cried and said it changed their life etc. How can people be so callous as to ignore all the other world suffering but be so moved by those 3,000?

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Posted: 02 December 2008 04:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I don’t think you can compare deaths like this.  The fact is, malaria and starvation are a bit boring.  Planes going ‘boom’ and skyscrapers collapsing are much more entertaining.

Its the grim truth.  Nobody really cares about starving children, but they do care when something different happens.  Lots of people slow down to see a road traffic accident, none of them however will visit the cancer ward to watch people die daily.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 06:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Who spent 1 trillion dollars on 9-11?  It is not clear to me.

Money has been spent on different wars, which have a limited link to 9-11?  How is Iraq linked to 9-11?

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Posted: 02 December 2008 09:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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How can people be so callous as to ignore all the other world suffering but be so moved by those 3,000?

It is my belief that the people who make such a big deal about 9/11 are not primarily concerned over the deaths, but instead are motivated primarily by wounded pride. These nincompoops see geopolitical interaction as a big football game between The Good Guys (us) and anybody who’s not on our side (them). They toss in lots of noble talk about protecting the lives of innocents, liberty, patriotism, etc, but this is all a smokescreen. They’re mad because The Bad Guys scored a touchdown against us and now they want to score a lot of touchdowns against The Bad Guys. This explains the real motivation for invading Afghanistan and Iraq: the dimwits wanted to score some touchdowns. Torture? Just another way of scoring points. It’s not just that we get to wreak personal revenge, it’s that The Bad Guys know that we’re torturing their people, and that constitutes another touchdown in the sick minds of these folks.

What’s really disturbing is that they will never appreciate the realities. No matter how Iraq comes out, they’ll call it a victory because we scored a touchdown. And if The Bad Guys manage to score another touchdown, no matter how inconsequential, these maniacs will scream for blood.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Who spent 1 trillion dollars on 9-11?  It is not clear to me.

It adds up to much more than a trillion dollars, but only if you include the indirect responses to 9/11. I believe that the direct damage done on 9/11 added up to something between $100 billion and $200 billion, but that’s off the top of my head. The biggest cost are the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. They already have cost us $700 billion in direct outlays. However, they also impose liabilities upon us in terms of things like military pensions and health care for injured service people. These additional costs are difficult to nail down, but the estimates are all in the order of a trillion dollars. Then there are the costs of increased security. Additional security at airports slows down travel, costing business travelers time and money. These costs are, again, difficult to estimate but the best guess I’ve seen is something like $20 billion per year.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Er, as a New Yorker let me just step up here and say that the deaths on 9/11 were criminal tragedies. There are other tragedies on earth, some substantially larger, and other problems. But in highlighting those differences let us not minimize the losses here either. It’s like someone losing their job and being told that in Mumbai hundreds of people were just shot to death. Yes, the dead in Mumbai are another tragedy, but realizing that shouldn’t minimize one’s own job loss, nor be used to suggest that one’s own anger and sadness are somehow unwarranted.

Agreed, of course, that there are plenty of “nincompoops” who are misusing the 9/11 tragedy for their own nefarious ends, or who make the tragedy something of a sick hobby.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Yes, certainly there are plenty of people whom 9/11 hit hard, and I can understand whatever their feelings may be: anger, sorrow, a desire for revenge, forgiveness—that’s entirely human and genuine. What I’m criticizing are the people whose experience of 9/11 was limited to news stories and who have politicized this tragedy.

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