A Philosopher's Blog

Exploiting Terror

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on December 23, 2016

Terrorism, like assassination, is violence with a political purpose. An assassination might also be intended to create terror, but the main objective is to eliminate a specific target. In contrast, terrorism is not aimed at elimination of a specific target; the goal is to create fear and almost any victims will suffice.

An individual terrorist might have any number of motives ranging from the ideological to the personal. Perhaps the terrorist sincerely believes that God loves the murder of innocents. Perhaps the terrorist was rejected by someone they were infatuated with and is lashing out in rage. While speculation into the motives of such people is certainly interesting and important, behind all true terrorism lies a political motivation—although the motivation might be on the part of those other than the person conducting the actual act.

While a terrorist attack can create fear on the local level by itself, terrorists need the media and social media to spread their terror on a large scale. The media is always happy to oblige and provide extensive coverage. While this coverage can be defended on the grounds that people have a right to know the facts, the coverage does have some important and (hopefully) unintended consequences.

One effect of extensive media coverage is to serve as an impact multiplier—the whole world is informed of the terrorist act and the group that claims credit gains terrorist credibility and status. This improves the influence of the group and enhances its ability to recruit—the group is essentially getting free advertising. Assuming that aiding terrorists is morally wrong, this coverage is morally problematic.

A second effect of the coverage is that it fuels the spotlight fallacy. This is a fallacy in which a person estimates the chances that something will happen based on how often they hear about it rather than based on how often it actually occurs. Terrorist attacks in the West are very rare and what Americans should really be worried about, based on statistics, is poor lifestyle choices that are encouraged and aided by industry. These include the use of tobacco, over consumption of alcohol, misuse of pain killers, eating unhealthy food and driving automobiles. Since terrorist attacks are covered relentlessly in the news and the leading causes of premature death are not, it is easy for people to overestimate the danger posed by terrorism. And underestimate what will probably kill them.

A third effect of coverage is that it can make people victims of the fallacy of misleading vividness. This fallacy occurs when a person overestimates the chances that something will occur based on how vivid or extreme the event is. While the media typically exercises some restraint in it coverage, the depiction is obviously scary to most and this can cause people to psychologically overestimate the threat.

Whether a person falls victim to the spotlight fallacy or misleading vividness, the end result is the same: the person overestimates the danger and is thus more afraid then they should be. This has beneficial effects for those who wish to exploit this fear.

Obviously enough, the terrorists aim to exploit the fear they create—they want people in the West to believe that they are in terrible danger and face an existential threat. Lacking the capacity to engage in actual war, they must make use of the strategy of terror. These two fallacies are critical weapons in their war and people who fall victim to them have allowed the terrorists to win.

One of the ironies of terrorism is that there are politicians in the West who exploit the fear created by terrorists and use it to influence people for their political ends. While they do not deploy the terrorists, they benefit from the attacks as much as the masters of the terrorists do.

Not surprisingly, they make use of some classic fallacies: appeal to fear and appeal to anger. An appeal to fear occurs when something that is supposed to create fear is offered in place of actual evidence. In the case of an appeal to anger, the same sort of thing is done, only with anger. This is not to say that something that might make a person afraid or angry cannot serve as actual evidence; it is that these fallacies offer no reasons to support the claim in question and only appeal to the emotions.

Interestingly, terrorists like ISIS and the Western political groups that exploit them have very similar objectives. Both want to present the fight as a clash of cultures, the West (and Christianity) against Islam. They both want this for similar reasons—to increase the number of their followers and to keep the conflict going so it can be exploited to fuel their political ambitions. If Muslims are accepted by the Western countries, then the terrorist groups lose influence and propaganda tools—and thus lose recruits. If Muslims accept the West, then the Western political groups exploiting fear of Islam also lose influence and propaganda tools—and thus lose recruits.

Both the terrorists and their Western exploiters want to encourage Westerners to be afraid of refugees coming from conflict areas in the Middle East. After all, if the West takes in refugees and treats them well, this is a loss of recruits and propaganda for the terrorists.  It is also a loss for those who try to build political power on fear and hatred of refugees.

If refugees have no way to escape conflict, they will be forced to be either victims or participants. Children who grow up without education, stability and opportunity will also be much easier to recruit into terrorist groups.  This is all in the interest of the terrorists; but also the Western political groups who want to exploit terrorism. After all, these groups are founded on identity politics and need a scary “them” to contrast with “us.”

This is not to say that the West should not be on guard against possible attacks or that the West should not vet refugees. My main point is that over reacting to terrorism only serves the ends of the wicked, be they actual terrorists or those in the West who would exploit this terror to gain power.


My Amazon Author Page

My Paizo Page

My DriveThru RPG Page

Follow Me on Twitter


15 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 23, 2016 at 8:29 am

    “In some ways she was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda. Once when he happened in some connexion to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’. This was an idea that had literally never occurred to him.” (1984)

  2. ronster12012 said, on December 23, 2016 at 9:31 am


    “If Muslims are accepted by the Western countries, then the terrorist groups lose influence and propaganda tools—and thus lose recruits. ”

    Er, no…..it doesn’t work that way. If the West accepts moslems(actually it is western so-called ‘governments’ inflicting them on their own people) it shows that we are weak and can be treated with contempt by moslems,
    as they see that our governments will side with them against us. That is what is happening in Europe now.

    The actual game being played by western political elites(globalist faction) is rather the divide and conquer game. A multicultural society is a fragmented society and in a fragmented society the parties can be played off against each other.
    Also, nearly all multicultural societies require heavy restrictions on freedom of speech, again see Europe where one will be arrested for even protesting moslem rapefests. That gives them the excuse to remove even more rights for ‘security’.

    Now, a question. Is it a fallacy to accept that while there are good and bad moslems(like anyone else) but believe that en masse they are toxic to any western society? I ask this because that is where the evidence points for me…and not just moslems but multiculturalism in general. An individual is just an individual, good or bad, but a million(or ten million)from a radically different culture becomes something else, no?

    As for terrorism itself, it is as you say, a small risk. But it is an additional risk imposed by governments on a society, and for no good reason. You call these people ‘refugees’ but as far as I am concerned they are not refugees. Refugees lose that status once they leave the first place of refuge. We saw that in Oz where so-called refugees flew to Indonesia then paid people smugglers to try to bring them to Oz by sea…yet our lying media still calls them ‘refugees’ despite having found refuge in Indo. Our govcorp now sends them to Nauru or Papua which they re not happy about, which only shows that they are only economic opportunists.

  3. WTP said, on December 23, 2016 at 10:40 am

    “If Muslims are accepted by the Western countries, then the terrorist groups lose influence and propaganda tools—and thus lose recruits. ”

    Mike wrote this. He was serious. Mike teaches “critical thinking”. To college students. While I am not surprised by this, I am quite surprised that others find this arrangement acceptable.

    • ronster12012 said, on December 23, 2016 at 11:11 am


      Am I mistaken by pointing out what seems absolutely obvious to me ie. numbers and demographics matter? It is universal human nature that the more of X race/culture in any place the stronger they sense themselves to be and the stronger(politically and economically) they are, and the less the need to compromise exists. And group identification is universal.

      Many western liberals people have the conceited view that everyone in the world wants to be like them and given a chance will adopt their values. They have a real surprise coming…..

      • WTP said, on December 23, 2016 at 12:18 pm

        No, you’re not mistaken. You’re spot on. The problem is that this is what is taught as critical thinking. And has been taught for decades now. And this miseducation/diseducation/self-flattering bullshit has existed in an echo chamber, removed from the real world, subsidized by the taxpayers for all those years. One would have to be a fool, or a philosopher, to think that the result could ever be otherwise. The only serious question is how long must it go on before people wake up to how they are being screwed? Perhaps the millennials who are going into debt to be mentally abused in this manner will eventually see it. Though I doubt that as I highly suspect the millennials will dodge those debts and the costs will be passed on either via taxes or the hidden tax of currency devaluation.

  4. TJB said, on December 23, 2016 at 11:50 am


    1) Allowing Muslim refugees into a country increases the probability of terrorist attacks.

    2) Terrorist arracks produce a populist backlash and strengthen the far right.

    3) Those who support more Muslim immigration are therefore knowingly supporting the far right.


    • WTP said, on December 23, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      TJ, do you suppose such would pass muster in Mike’s “critical thinking” class? Curious how Mike would grade such. You do know he’s known at FAMU as an easy A.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 23, 2016 at 8:52 pm

        Though we differ in many of our views, I have no doubts about TJ’s ability to ace a freshmen critical thinking class. I don’t grade based on the student’s professed values, but on the quality of the work. Also, critical thinking is fairly objective; the deductive logic sections entirely so.

        • WTP said, on December 24, 2016 at 8:11 am

          Typical of your responses, so off point I don’t know where to start…I asked TJ if the logic he used, implied or inferred as presented by a student, not necessarily TJ himself, would pass muster in your class. To infer from my question the unasked question as to TJ’s ability to pass a freshman critical thinking class makes me wonder if you could pass one taught by anyone with practical experience in thinking. As to CT being “fairly objective”…a whole other can of worms, but then here I am arguing things that, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out to TJ, only exist within the friendly confines of your head.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 23, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Interesting approach. But, using the same logic:

      1) Allowing people to have children increases the probability of terrorist attacks.
      2) Terrorist attacks produce a populist backlash and strengthen the far right.
      3) Those who support having children are therefore knowingly supporting the far right.

      • TJB said, on December 23, 2016 at 8:55 pm

        #1 is false unless you include an ideology that supports terrorism.

        • WTP said, on December 24, 2016 at 8:57 am

          #1 is false under any society that is even remotely sustainable. Note how blithely Mike assumes other people’s ability to procreate, intentionally or otherwise, falls within the realm of the state.

  5. DH said, on December 23, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    “Assuming that aiding terrorists is morally wrong, this coverage is morally problematic.”

    I think this statement is problematic. Holding public events, like the Boston Marathon, or gathering in large groups, such as in Times Square, offers aid to terrorists in enabling them to maximize the impact of their attacks, but the moral problem still lies with them. In the United States, we enjoy freedom of the press; the moral compromise would be if we were to somehow give up that freedom for fear that we would be aiding an enemy in some abstract way. Of course, if there is a specific reason to suppress some factual reportage – to keep a strategic secret, for example, this would be morally acceptable. Acting within the context of our own freedoms is not morally problematic simply because immoral people exploit those freedoms. Giving up those freedoms under any guise for the false belief that it will make us more secure in our homes is, I believe, the problematic area morally.

    I think that the press, like politicians, should be thought of like the viper in Aesop’s tale – The story concerns a farmer who finds a viper freezing in the snow. Taking pity on it, he picks it up and places it within his coat. The viper, revived by the warmth, bites his rescuer, who dies realizing that it is his own fault.

    The point is that as the beneficiaries of an elected governance and of freedom of the press, have a moral obligation to remain wary of both, and to know their nature. Only by doing so, and by acting accordingly, can we protect our freedoms and not allow ourselves to be exploited.

    The press, under the stated objective of printing “All the news that’s fit to print”, (with apologies to the NYT for co-opting their slogan) often tend to the more sensational “If it bleeds, it leads” approach, as this is what sells papers. I would much rather live in a society where I have the freedom to access multiple and diverse approaches to stories on a free and open Internet than to allow some central agency to censor the news because, in their view, to publish certain stories would be “morally problematic”.

    “One of the ironies of terrorism is that there are politicians in the West who exploit the fear created by terrorists and use it to influence people for their political ends.”

    This statement can be broadened and applied to just about any political end. It’s called “Populism”. Barack Obama used a populist argument when talking about large corporations, the wealthy, and income inequality; Donald Trump uses it when talking about the government and those who are mistreated or ignored by insiders. Populism in politics involves identifying a common enemy of the people, and placing yourself in a position of the heroic savior. It has been around since the very early days of this country. One could argue (and many have) that the very founding of this country was based on populism – “eternal struggle between liberty, virtue and the common good against corrupt and tyrannical courtiers.”

    Like anything else, the fear that is brought about by evildoers must be tempered, but to scoff at it and dismiss it as you seem to do is to fall dangerously into the same arena that the Europeans and the European Jews fell in 1936. “It’s not that bad”. “It can’t happen here”. “That is a complete exaggeration”. No one believed that Hitler and the Nazis could be so purely evil as to exterminate millions of people – neither the Jews nor the rest of Europe stood up to him until it was too late.

    However, there is some merit to some of your arguments – I have been making the same ones myself in response to a number of your posts.

    “A second effect of the coverage is that it fuels the spotlight fallacy. This is a fallacy in which a person estimates the chances that something will happen based on how often they hear about it rather than based on how often it actually occurs.”

    Is this not the exact issue with gun control and BLM? I’ve made the case that we hear about gun violence so often in the traditional and social media that it has risen to epidemic proportion in the minds of so many – yet incidence of gun violence has steadily declined over the last 25 years to a level less than half of what it was in 1990. FBI and DOJ statistics confirm this – and yet we believe we are in the midst of a surge. So-called “Assault Rifles” are at the forefront of gun-control measures, but the murder rate using these and ALL rifles combined (including shotguns) falls short of that using knives and bare hands. This is a perfect example of the spotlight fallacy, and one of politicians exploiting the fallacy for their own gain. But – as Aesop pointed out, “they are politicians! What do you expect them to do?”

    BLM is another example. Statistics show over and over that black-on-white and black-on-black violent crime far outpace white-on-black; that for every white cop who takes down a black suspect there are black cops doing the same, or black criminals killing white cops – but what we hear about is white-cop-on-innocent-black, to the point that we believe we live in a violent, racist country. Again – a perfect illustration of the spotlight fallacy, and another example of politicians exploiting the fallacy for their own gain.

    The politicians will act as politicians, the press will act as the press. Their motives are clear enough to be suspect; the moral obligation falls upon us to be vigilant and careful, and to not believe the first thing we hear. We must take this assault of information seriously, but, as an old Russian proverb says (and Ronald Reagan used himself), we must “Trust, but Verify”.

    That is OUR moral obligation, not theirs. It is what we need to do to protect the freedoms we have. If we don’t, we will eventually be told that we cannot handle the truth, it must be doled out to us by some authority who knows better, who has a better moral compass than we do, and understands better than we ever could how news affects the world order – and we need to be protected from ourselves, our own fears.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 23, 2016 at 8:57 pm

      I certainly agree with your point about guns-the news coverage does lead people to commit both the spotlight and misleading vividness fallacies.

  6. nailheadtom said, on December 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    ” the group that claims credit gains terrorist credibility and status.”

    Who says it has to be a group? Isn’t it just as likely “terrorist” acts could be committed by one or a few jihadis operating on their own? Of course, that wouldn’t advance the narrative of a dangerous conspiracy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: