September 18, 2003

The Paradox of Terror

Three different countries were recently polled, and respondents were asked whether or not they were satisfied with their lives. The three countries were Israel, the United States, and Canada.

Now. Ask yourself which of these three countries is probably the happiest, and which is the most distraught.

I would have guessed Canadians would be happiest, followed by Americans, and then Israelis. And I would have gotten it exactly backward.

In Israel 83 percent say they are happy.

In the United States 64 percent say they are happy.

In Canada only 45 percent say they are happy.

These three polls were administered by different people using different methodologies. Yet that doesn't change the fact that on first glance it appears that terrorism indirectly makes people feel better. Perhaps that's a classic case of the cause-correlation fallacy. But maybe there's something to it.

Take a look at this article in the Toronto Star where the polls are reported.

"When I first heard it, I was amazed they [Israelis] could feel this way with everything that's been going on. But upon reflection, I believe it," said Tel Aviv University anthropologist Moshe Shokeid.

"I think the biggest reason for it is Israel's sense of communitas that feeling that no matter what, you are never alone. We are in this together.

"North Americans had a brief taste of it during the recent blackout. On one hand, there's a disaster happening. But on the other hand, everybody is overcome with an incredible feeling of togetherness," Shokeid said.

"This is how Israelis feel. We feel it every day ... that we are acutely together in an incredibly difficult situation."

Terror leads to contentment and happiness? Perhaps that's utterly bogus. But maybe it isn't. A crisis does bring people together, and that does make people feel better. There are probably a lot more lonely and isolated people in Canada than in Israel.

If this from-the-hip analysis is correct, terrorism completely and utterly fails.

UPDATE: American Digest has an interesting story to go along with this.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 18, 2003 11:49 PM
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