One morning, I got out of bed, turned on my computer, and my Netscape email client automatically downloaded that day’s news pane. On that particular day, the news was that two hijacked planes had been flown into the World Trade Center.

These were my first three thoughts, in order:

I guess I really am living in the Future.

Thank goodness it wasn’t nuclear.

and then

The overreaction to this will be ten times worse than the original event.

A mere factor of “ten times worse” turned out to be a vast understatement. Even I didn’t guess how badly things would go. That’s the challenge of pessimism; it’s really hard to aim low enough that you’re pleasantly surprised around as often and as much as you’re unpleasantly surprised.

Nonetheless, I did realize immediately that everyone everywhere would be saying how awful, how terrible this event was; and that no one would dare to be the voice of restraint, of proportionate response. Initially, on 9/11, it was thought that six thousand people had died. Any politician who had said, “6,000 deaths is 1/8 the annual US casualties from automobile accidents,” would have been asked to resign the same hour.

No, 9/11 wasn’t a good day. But if everyone gets brownie points for emphasizing how much it hurts, and no one dares urge restraint in how hard to hit back, then the reaction will be greater than the appropriate level, whatever the appropriate level may be.

This is the even darker mirror of the happy death spiral—the spiral of hate. Anyone who attacks the Enemy is a patriot; and whoever tries to dissect even a single negative claim about the Enemy is a traitor. But just as the vast majority of all complex statements are untrue, the vast majority of negative things you can say about anyone, even the worst person in the world, are untrue.

I think the best illustration was “the suicide hijackers were cowards.” Some common sense, please? It takes a little courage to voluntarily fly your plane into a building. Of all their sins, cowardice was not on the list. But I guess anything bad you say about a terrorist, no matter how silly, must be true. Would I get even more brownie points if I accused al-Qaeda of having assassinated John F. Kennedy? Maybe if I accused them of being Stalinists? Really, cowardice?

Yes, it matters that the 9/11 hijackers weren’t cowards. Not just for understanding the enemy’s realistic psychology. There is simply too much damage done by spirals of hate. It is just too dangerous for there to be any target in the world, whether it be the Jews or Adolf Hitler, about whom saying negative things trumps saying accurate things.

When the defense force contains thousands of aircraft and hundreds of thousands of heavily armed soldiers, one ought to consider that the immune system itself is capable of wreaking more damage than nineteen guys and four nonmilitary airplanes. The US spent billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers’ lives shooting off its own foot more effectively than any terrorist group could dream.

If the USA had completely ignored the 9/11 attack—just shrugged and rebuilt the building—it would have been better than the real course of history. But that wasn’t a political option. Even if anyone privately guessed that the immune response would be more damaging than the disease, American politicians had no career-preserving choice but to walk straight into al-Qaeda’s trap. Whoever argues for a greater response is a patriot. Whoever dissects a patriotic claim is a traitor.

Initially, there were smarter responses to 9/11 than I had guessed. I saw a Congressperson—I forget who—say in front of the cameras, “We have forgotten that the first purpose of government is not the economy, it is not health care, it is defending the country from attack.” That widened my eyes, that a politician could say something that wasn’t an applause light. The emotional shock must have been very great for a Congressperson to say something that . . . real.

But within two days, the genuine shock faded, and concern-for-image regained total control of the political discourse. Then the spiral of escalation took over completely. Once restraint becomes unspeakable, no matter where the discourse starts out, the level of fury and folly can only rise with time.

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I would like to give praise to express my agreement with the spirit of this post.

(Attacking Afghanistan made sense... but much of the rest of what was done, militarily and otherwise, was sheer overreaction.)

I would argue that that our reaction to 9/11 was not a uniquely bad use of the military, but that most of our wars were mistaken (as were most domestic reactions like locking up dissenters in WW1 or Japanese in WW2). It saddens me that otherwise intelligent people see restraint as indications of being a crackpot.

Despite your post being entirely correct, if for a moment we ignore the welfare of humanity and consider the welfare of the United States alone, there is a good chance that this irrational overreaction will be remembered, and that it will serve as deterrence to any aspiring attackers for a hundred years to come.

Sometimes irrational wrath pays, especially if you can inflict pain much more effectively than you need to endure it.

The cost to humanity is probably dominated by some 1,000,000 deaths in Iraq, but the cost to the U.S. at least in terms of deaths is comparatively smaller. The Iraq deaths are an externality.

As a non-US citizen, I can state that the irrational over-reaction was exactly the response that the terrorists were aiming for. Lots of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - lots of panic and mindless reaction... it has also greatly debilitated the effectiveness (and no doubt the profitability) of the entire world's air-transport system, without actually enhancing security thereby.

There is no deterrent here

IMO this would not in any way discourage future attackers - but encourage them.

As a non-US citizen, I can state that the irrational over-reaction was exactly the response that the terrorists were aiming for.

I concur. Terrorists. Want terror. Got terror.

9christopherj8yI remember when I heard "They hate us for our freedom" I immediately thought, "Don't worry, soon we'll have much less of those". Turns out they still hate us, probably for bombing their country and replacing their democracy with dictatorships in the name of democracy.
1Dojan10yIf Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not have that effect... As a non-US citizen, I estimate that the net effect for the US is quite negative, even internally as you put it, for the reason of other people and nations seeing the US in a negative light. Most of US commerce is international after all. Also I don't see how the viewpoint of ignoring-the-humanitarian-and-welfare-cost-of-everyone-not-in-the-US is in any way an interesting one; Either people suffer and die, or they don't, their physical location and country of birth don't really change anything. [Edit: Spelling]

Despite your post being entirely correct, if for a moment we ignore the welfare of humanity and consider the welfare of the United States alone, there is a good chance that this irrational overreaction will be remembered, and that it will serve as deterrence to any aspiring attackers for a hundred years to come.

On the contrary, this now teaches someone that if they want to do damage to the United States they can easily get it to engage in an autoimmune disorder along with a few oversea adventures.

Moreover, this isn't the only example. Look at how one of the most successful post 9/11 attacks terrorist in the last few years was by many metrics Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. In terms of lost time and productivity in responding to his unimpressive attempt, literally millions of people every day need to take off their shoes, run them through already busy x-ray machines, and then put them back on.

4christopherj8yAll that means is that any terrorist who can do a memorable attack on the US and leave a trail leading to his target country, can effectively command the US to attack that country. And if it was the US they wanted to harm, they earn themselves countless recruits from that country.

An unrelated but creepy thought: my first reaction to type in some sort of full-fledged assent was immediately dampened by a queasy post-Patriot-Act thought (of, admittedly, a very IT-illiterate person), "If I openly write something like this, will They know and will They care and will I ever come to regret it?" Or maybe it's not such an unrelated thought -- the not always irrational fear of Big Brother did, after all, turn out to be a significant part of the more-than-ten-times-worse assessment of things to come.

denis bider, the people who perpetrated the 2001-09-11 attacks died, and knew they were going to die, so others like them won't be deterred by the likelihood that the USA will go after them personally. It doesn't seem like the US's overreaction to those attacks has been all that effective in harming al Qaeda (I mean, bin Laden is still alive so far as anyone knows). It doesn't seem like it's been all that effective in making people who might have been sympathetic to groups like al Qaeda less so.

So I'm wondering how you expect the overreaction to deter other people who might be considering similar attacks.

In the weeks after 9/11, my colleague Roger Congleton, who had some expertize on terrorism, did a number of radio and other interviews where he argued that 9/11 was a unlucky aberration, and warned against overreacting. It wasn't a message people wanted to hear then, and his being right early wins him nothing in today's media game.

You're right, and the thing that depresses me is that we can see this and yet at least I have barely any notion of what to do about it. Actually... (Well, actually, the relevent thought belongs on the Open Thread, so I'll go there...)

g,

Or, one could do what noted Law scholar and hero of secular humanists Alan Dershowitz calls for, which is destroy the families, homes and towns of the attackers. He has explicitly argued that Israel should destroy the entire town of every Palestinian attacker.

The fact that Dershowitz can say something so obviously hateful and still be considered a sane member of society is another manifestation of the spiral of hate that has gripped this nation.

It doesn't seem like the US's overreaction to those attacks has been all that effective in harming al Qaeda I disagree, if we count the invasion of Afghanistan in there. It seemed to have quite effectively smashed al Qaeda proper so that they could not pull off any attacks since (remember that they attacked the U.S.S Cole, two embassies in Africa and bombed the WTC in the years before) with the remaining terrorists who call themselves "al Qaeda" franchises being quite buffoonish.

rukidding wrote: now you're claiming brainwashed (if not drug-induced) suicide of defenseless and unsuspecting people isn't the height of cowardice. Is there a reason you can't work on your OWN biases?

I agree with you on two points, ru, (1) that the overall thrust of this post by Eliezer is strong, and (2) that cowardice is a fair and accurate descriptor of the hijackers.

I understand Eliezer's point about the folly of tossing every kitchen-sink insult at the Enemy even when it's inaccurate. I think he just chose a bad example. The definition of cowardice ... (read more)

Well, I wouldn't have the balls to hijack an airplane and crash it into a building. If they're cowards, what does that make me?

-6AndyCossyleon11y

America has one of the largest and best-equipped armed forces in the world. Only an idiot would attempt to confront it directly and according to the "rules of war".

Reality check: when openly declaring war and restraining one's tactics will inevitably lead to defeat, breaking the conventions is not only canny but necessary. There is simply no branch of the contingency tree where playing by the rules leads to a benefit in such a scenario.

I think that militarily President Bush under-reacted to 9/11. The U.S. faces a tremendous future threat of being attacked by weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, before 9/11 it was politically difficult for the President to preemptively use the military to reduce such threats. 9/11 gave President Bush more political freedom and he did use it to some extent. But I fear he has not done enough. I would have preferred, for example, that the U.S., Russia, China, UK, Israel and perhaps France announced that in one year they will declare war an any ot... (read more)

"I'd say they were cowards. Suicide isn't an act of bravery."

R U Kidding, I agree in this particular case.

If they had lived, we would have caught them and slowly tortured them to death. They were taking the easy way out by dying. Similarly with palestinian suicide bombers. By dying they avoid the treatment they'd get as prisoners of the israelis -- they get off easy.

"I still remember a kid who hit me from behind on the street once, because he was too much of a pussy to come up to my face about it."

He was expressing his feelings. Did he ... (read more)

I know this comment is very old, but I'm a bit incredulous at this.

If they had lived, we would have caught them and slowly tortured them to death.

If they had lived, they would have been among the highest profile prisoners America has ever seen. Torture is officially illegal in the United States, and whatever we get up to out of sight and off our turf, the government doesn't like to show the public how we torment our hated enemies.

Timothy McVeigh got a lethal injection, one of the most painless methods of execution which we can contrive. This was, controversially, allowed to be witnessed on broadcast by those closest to the victims of his attack. Perhaps one might argue that torturing the bombers to death for preventative or retributive reasons would have been a good idea, but it's simply not realistic that we would have done it.

Some very vehement responses.

If you believe invading Afghanistan was a correct choice then I'm not sure how you could say Iraq was a complete mistake. The invasion of Afghanistan was aimed at eliminating a state that offered aid and support to an enemy who would use that aid and support to project power to the US and harm her citizens or the citizens of other western states. Denying that aid and support would hope to achieve the purpose of reducing or eliminating the ability of the enemy to project power.

Any other state that might offer aid and support to ... (read more)

"I would have preferred, for example, that the U.S., Russia, China, UK, Israel and perhaps France announced that in one year they will declare war an any other nation that either has weapons of mass destruction or doesn't allow highly intrusive inspections to make sure they don't have weapons of mass destruction."

James D. Miller, I think your idea has possibilities. However, it would be very hard for it to succeed with israel on the list of nations that has nukes but denies them to others. Israel would have to be one of the nations that would be ... (read more)

0Technologos12yThe 4-step logic you talk about may be difficult to implement--you describe a Prisoner's Dilemma, but suggest playing Cooperate. Empirically, this can be tough to maintain.
-1Dojan10yFreely after Ian M Banks

"If you believe invading Afghanistan was a correct choice then I'm not sure how you could say Iraq was a complete mistake. The invasion of Afghanistan was aimed at eliminating a state that offered aid and support to an enemy who would use that aid and support to project power to the US and harm her citizens or the citizens of other western states. Denying that aid and support would hope to achieve the purpose of reducing or eliminating the ability of the enemy to project power.

"Any other state that might offer aid and support to the enemy would e... (read more)

Any other state that might offer aid and support to the enemy would enable the enemy to rebuild their ability to project power.

By that 'reasoning', invading Switzerland would have been a proper response to the 9/11 attacks.

I've always used motorcycle fatalites as the yardstick to put it in perspective; 9-11 came up just short.

I suspected we might be in trouble when they floated the story that Bush didn't return to Washington because of a credible threat to Air Force One, a threat in which, the supposed terrorists were more concerned with establishing credibility than carrying out their attach and thus used some sort of code word that only someone with inside knowledge would have.

It was perfectly reasonable for Bush to put a half dozen states between himself and the most like... (read more)

"We will be safer after we conquer every potential enemy."

There are limits on our physical and moral capacity for making war. My post was simply pointing out that failing to respond to someone who actually attacks you can have increasingly dangerous results over time. That enemy leeches at your resources and learns how to become better at attacking you, while you gain nothing. There are plenty of potential enemies out there who aren't attacking us and may never attack us. They aren't gaining actual experience at attacking us. Their knowledge is o... (read more)

And maybe suicide can be viewed as cowardly, but not many people are capable of slitting someone's throat with a boxcutter. See a MR blog (and the linked book chapter): http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2007/11/violence-a-micr.html

The one point where I think Eli goes off the rails is assuming the response would be completely disproportionate. I agree with those who've said that the Afghanistan campaign was just about right (from the perspective of the government). Unfortunately, this even happened when the New American Century crowd w... (read more)

Comparing the lives lost in 9/11 to motorcycle accidents is a kind of moral calculus that fails to respect the deeper human values involved. I would expect people who die on motorcycles to generally understand the risks. They are making a choice to risk their lives in an activity. Their deaths are tragic, but not as tragic. The people who died in the WTC did not make a choice to risk their lives, unless you consider going to work in a high rise in America to be a risky choice. If you're doing moral calculus, you need to multiply in a factor for "not b... (read more)

rukidding: And one of the possible ramifications of the Iraq invasion is an end to the escalation of terrorist actions. How does the causality work there?

childish and hateful number I have never read any of those two adjectives precede that noun.

how does anyone here know that there wouldn't have been more deaths if Saddam had remained in power? Look at a graph of deaths under Saddam, assume any current trends continue. It's not certain, but it's a reasonable guess.

Why is the board so determined to think that being anti-bias should only mean being anti cons... (read more)

Well its more or less an empirical question isn't it? On the one hand maybe 9/11 was a fluke - in that case the best option would be to just rebuild and carry on, like Eliezer says. But maybe it wasn't - maybe the people behind it were/are both willing and capable to successfully launch more attacks. In that case it seems to make sense to wager, or at least consider wagering, some amount of lives to prevent greater losses in the future. It all depends on the information available: what are the resources/intents of your enemy? Would it be at all possible to... (read more)

Afghanistan and iraq were stupid mistakes. The bush administration simply fed off the people's desire for revenge and gave them afghanistan, which in turn let bush build a case for plundering oil rich iraq. All this was exactly what al quaeda wanted, to show the infidel empire attacking the moslem lands. End result, massive polarisation of moslem opinion against america and the creation of a whole new herd of terrorists and sympathisers across the world. America should have gone after Osama and only Osama and avoided any impression of a crusade. Special fo... (read more)

I don't believe in heaven, so for me it would take a lot of courage to commit suicide, but I don't know if it's the same for a devout religious person, because I can't get in to their head. Probably there would be some sort of fear response on the biological level, even for them, so at the very least they would have to achieve "mind over matter" and probably bravery also, but I can't say for sure the last.

As for 9/11, I think the correct response would have been to attack the organization "Al Qaeda," and to ask all other governments in ... (read more)

Leif makes strong and good points.

From various readings and my own observations I do agree 'we'(meaning the Public and the government taken as a whole) have overreacted. On the other hand I wonder how many people think like me and think it's overblown but don't say it because they know it makes them look bad. It's almost assured that the better option is to keep mum rather than risk ire because voicing doubts about our specific reaction(was unpopular then but OK now) or expecially voicing doubts about the severity of the attack itself(still unpopular) is n... (read more)

2AndyCossyleon11yAh... some classmates and I were just having this discussion. I agree with you.... BUT DON'T POST IT ONLINE! By doing so, you enter into a "position to change many other peoples actions." Shame, shame.

Susan Sontag pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers weren't cowards a week after the event, and took an enormous amount of shit for it. And in fact there were a great many people engaging in relatively sane, measured reactions after 9/11. But they were drowned out by the much louder negative death spiral.

Many conflicts are really formed out of two mutually reinforcing negative death spirals. In this case, our overreaction to 9/11 caused us to take actions that produced more hatred of us in the Islamic world, leading to more conflict, leading to further hatred on both sides. This is a very basic dynamic underlying war.

ego in action, hard to stop, but in conscious circles, the outcomes were already known... ego-driven people are mostly unconcsious

An unrelated but creepy thought: my first reaction to type in some sort of full-fledged assent was immediately dampened by a queasy post-Patriot-Act thought (of, admittedly, a very IT-illiterate person), "If I openly write something like this, will They know and will They care and will I ever come to regret it?"

I see this "omnipotent government" bias all the time. I wonder why.

I remember my initial reaction to the attacks of September eleventh. I hoped our country would do the right thing. Despite this tragic occurrence we would be leaders. We "would not let the terrorists win." We would clean up the mess and rebuild. We would learn from our mistakes. We would reinforce our national security structure, and possibly make a few key intel and military maneuvers.

By no means did I think that this was grounds for an endless full scale war on keyword Terror. If anything the lessons of September eleventh have extended be... (read more)

I remember my initial reaction to the attacks of September eleventh. I hoped our country would do the right thing. Despite this tragic occurrence we would be leaders. We "would not let the terrorists win." We would clean up the mess and rebuild. We would learn from our mistakes. We would reinforce our national security structure, and possibly make a few key intel and military maneuvers.

By no means did I think that this was grounds for an endless full scale war on keyword Terror. If anything the lessons of September eleventh have extended be... (read more)

You abuse, commas when you, write your blog post. Stop abusing commas, because they make all, your sentences start sounding, just like this. Like William, Shatner. Only, without the, differing intensity levels, between pauses.

hmmm...

Happy Death Spirals, indeed.

No comments on the religious, social and cultural biases that caused a group of extremists to hijack passenger planes and kill as many people as they could.

That reveals a bias in itself, actually. (So much for the scientific method, eh?)

(Hint: They didn't hate us just because we're rich and happy and decadent, or because the last of the Ottoman Empire collapsed during WWI. They don't even hate us because of Western foreign policy.)

Culturally and socially, the world is still a dangerous place. There are still people ... (read more)

"If the USA had completely ignored the 9/11 attack - just shrugged and rebuilt the building - it would have been better than the real course of history."

The World Trade Center was comprised of several buildings -- doesn't everyone know that? The centerpiece was the twin towers, which is what the planes hit. The towers were each a city block square and over 100 stories tall. They were so huge and held so many people they had their own zip code. When they fell, the impact destroyed several other Trade Center buildings in the surrounding blocks, not... (read more)

If you want to see an example of a measured response, take a look at the UK's after the London Underground bombings of 7th July 2005. Admittedly the bombings weren't of the same league as the September 11th attacks, but virtually nobody in the UK was saying "let's bomb the f*ers" And a month or two later (at the most) it was as if nothing had ever happened.

"If you want to see an example of a measured response, take a look at the UK's after the London Underground bombings of 7th July 2005. Admittedly the bombings weren't of the same league as the September 11th attacks, but virtually nobody in the UK was saying "let's bomb the f*ers" And a month or two later (at the most) it was as if nothing had ever happened."

Mike K, I tend to agree with you, but....

The fact is, the british empire is gone and the british are ex-colonialists. As a nation they're old and tired and wimpy. It's different for... (read more)

"The world is not a 'nice,' quiet, middle-class, suburban neighborhood."

Translation: a bellicose attitude is to be adopted when dealing with other nations. Preemptive wars, false insinuations about other countries, breaking alliances, CIA-meddling in other nation's affairs, disingenuous overtures of peace, torture, mass imprisonment, black-flag operations and shit-on-you diplomacy is what is called for.

None of us know to what future conflicts our whimsical meddling will lead... very unfortunate. Seeing the US's hopeless bumbling on the internatio... (read more)

"The overreaction to this will be ten times worse than the original event."

Those were my thoughts that day too, except for the multiplier of ten. I don't think i put a number on it, but 50 to 500 times was probably close.

It'd give the current administration and all the hawks a blank-check excuse to do all kinds of fundamentally bad moves, that they'd had on their wish-list for a long time. Sadly they have made the most of this possibility and have hardly wasted any time ever since, making the world a worse place and squandering foreign support of the US.

I do so regret not having a blog at that time, as this would've been a 'told you so' so big it's scary.

Okay, I'm totally not understanding the claim that the attackers were cowards. Either the people saying that are using a different definition of "cowardice", or perhaps they're thinking of the attack's mastermind(s) who stayed safely at home. m-w.com defines "coward" as "one who shows disgraceful fear or timidity" -- perhaps the hijackers timidly crept to the front of the plane, and killed or incapacitated the pilots with disgracefully shaking hands?

Or perhaps you mean fear of facing their enemies directly in fair combat, inst... (read more)

I've been reading this blog in RSS for a while onw and I was happy to see it on the front page of Reddit!

In "The Fog of War" about McNamara's life, he discusses proportionality when dealing with your enemy. The fact that America invaded Iraq (that had nothing to do with 9-11), enacted the Patriot Act, and will have troops in Afghanistan for decades to come is not a proportional response to a small group of hijackers flying planes into three national symbols.

Many people wanted blood after 9-11 though. My neighbor was a vet student (so he's presumably smart) and he was ranting on 9-11 about the need to show everyone "who's boss." I guess that hasn't worked out so well in hindsight.

So is the propensity to say, "I knew it instantaneously" a kissing cousin of the hindsight bias?

p=.02 the first 3 conscious thoughts were, sequentially: "I guess I really am living in the Future. Thank goodness it wasn't nuclear. and then The overreaction to this will be ten times worse than the original event."

I can see the utility in starting off the post with such a narrative (grabbing attention and establishing svengali authority), and don't doubt those 3 thoughts popped up fairly quickly, in one form or another.

I know it's effective, but I expect a little better.

I think this is the first blog post I have read in years that contains ONLY civil and intelligent response. It makes me hopeful!

Almost all of our responses to 9/11 seem irrational, most of them ineffective. It seems to me that fear informed almost all choices, whether it was fear from the 'terrorists', or fear from domestic political reactions. America became fearful of gels, liquids, underwire bras, breastmilk on airplanes, pocket knives, tshirt slogans, and remarkably, the disapproving eyes our our fellow citizens... we don't want to look unpatriotic... (read more)

Warren Bonesteel (is that seriously your last name?): No comments on the religious, social and cultural biases that caused a group of extremists to hijack passenger planes and kill as many people as they could. Eliezer discussed that here.

Eliezer never said the world was a nice place or that people wouldn't try to kill us. He said the reaction was foolish, and judging by the bodycounts we can say worse.

Mike K: If you want to see an example of a measured response, take a look at the UK Didn't they shoot a Brazilian electrician and pass all sorts of Big Brot... (read more)

I wish we could draw a distinction between the mess we're in now, as a country, and what was going on a few months maybe even a year after 9/11. But with everything becoming so muddled, it's really hard to accurately look back and understand what was going on, then.

But as rational people, we know that Iraq and 9/11 have nothing to do with each other - and regardless if 9/11 even happened or not, there is an educated chance that, knowing the Bush admin - that we'd end up in Iraq anyway.

To stand idly by though as terrorists blatantly attack and murder people... (read more)

This is one of the truer things I have read since 9/11; I know that because it perfectly matches my own opinions. :) I also had more or less the same three thoughts in rapid succession in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the towers. A previous commentator, 'david', was skeptical about that kind of claim, i.e. that the mental event would have gone down precisely in that fashion. To david, I would concede that certainly in accounts such as this we omit some stray thoughts, such as: "Where's the remote control?" or "I bet nobody's g... (read more)

I tend to agree with Eliezer-February-2007:

"If you want to make a point about science, or rationality, then my advice is to not choose a domain from contemporary politics if you can possibly avoid it. If your point is inherently about politics, then talk about Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality - but it's a terrible domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss rationality, unless all the discussants are already rational."

"I guess we can try to have a debate in the philosophies about appropriate response, but I know if some dude ran a plane into my house, I'd want to kick his ass."

As I keep trying to explain to Bush Plan supporters: that is exactly what we are failing to do, and it is precisely because of the stupidity (or "inappropriateness" if you prefer) of our response to the attack that we are failing to do it.

To put it in terms that the unashamedly "WHUP ASS!!" crowd can understand: the perpetrators have probably become exhausted from rol... (read more)

NYC 9/11 Survivor. Generally during a gunfight, it is a bad idea to let the enemy know
he has hurt you. The voices of civilians placed at risk and even the voices of
civilian HEROES, including the building maintenance crew were NOT HEARD.

TV and media focus on Guliani, presidential candidate. His choice of 'command center'
was located at Ground Zero and could not be used. Confusion reigned, according to the
Village Voice.

Fury and folly together is dangerous. Many guys when lost, speed up I am angry I am late.
They rarely consider asking others for direc... (read more)

steven: I looked for that same quote. What's happened in comments was so predictable, and Yudkowsky must have known any abstract point about bias would be lost. Even got Truthers scuttling out from under their rock. Maybe he was trying to attract more eyeballs (reddit), fair enough if so, awfully close to trolling.

An personal observation: best for me to learn to address the way of thinking, not the thought.

With that in mind, I thought I'd address a thought or two...

First, the discussion about "bravery" vs "cowardice" is dumb.
One can be brave and cowardly at the same time. You can bravely
perform a cowardly act. Easy.

Secondly, it occurs to me that a "real" war would require a draft.
If this is the Monumental Challenge of the Centuries (as we are told
it is), then why, OH WHY, don't we have conscription? Absolutely no
need for shortages of soldiers...!...draft everyone! Easy.
Of course if that happened, this phoney-baloney war would be over
in 10 minutes.

In essence, this entire worldw... (read more)

Burger flipper, as nearly as I can recall, those were literally my first three conscious reactions with no intervening thoughts. Could be retrospective distortion, but I think I summarized those three thoughts shortly after 9/11 (same day?) so it's not quite a first attempt to recall after years. As you say, though, retrospective distortion is subtle. I'd rate the probability higher than 0.02 though. (Doesn't alter the logic of the post either way, except to point up that the overreaction was foreseeable in advance, not just in hindsight.)

Steven and Ce... (read more)

Don't know if I can blame bad form on making 78 McSkillet Burritos.

That morning I was a fine display of generalizing from fictional evidence.
Most salient among my initial thoughts seeing the buildings on TV: that looks like the end of Fight Club.
Then on the drive in I was listening to NPR. A reporter was live on air and on site as the plane struck the Pentagon. From that I extrapolated (momentarily) the existence of a far larger plot.

Had this blog only existed back then.

However, the most impressive reaction I'm aware of came from an high school chum of... (read more)

"Thank goodness it wasn't nuclear."

Don't thank goodness just yet. It will be. Probably not in Palo Alto, but Washington DC is a good bet.

After that you'll see an "over reaction" to remember.

Rely upon it.

Well I find an underreaction from the people who if they investigated some facts about 9/11 would see it had to be an inside job. No hijackers they weren't on the flight lists. They say they ID'd everybody in the planes including the hijackers. Where did they get the DNA to check that? Go back one day 09/10/01 and goodle Donald Rumsfailed at the Pentagon and see him announce that the Pentagon has misplaced 2.3 TRILLION Dollars. And what luck 9/11 the next day so no more questions about the missing money. We never should have bombed anybody for 9/11 except ... (read more)

For the record, as far as my knowledge goes, the reasons George Washington won against the English are:

1) He avoided fighting battles that could lead to a decisive English victory; all he had to do was "not lose" and make the English keep spending resources to try to finish his forces off. Until...
2) Benjamin Franklin was able to persuade France to lend military support. France had a military as strong as England; it was basically the French army that won the American colonies their independence.

Wow, have I gotten off-topic...

A few points.

I also, on 9/11, thought, and in fact could see, that we'd overreact. I was in a bar where the average opinion was expressed as "just bomb'em, just bomb'em to pieces." I was there saying "bomb who?" I would have said "bomb whom" but it wasn't that kind of bar.

But the point of my post is that no one can calculate the ramifications of actions, or inactions. Did Hiroshima/Nagasaki cost lives, or save them? That's one of the clearest examples of "saving by killing" I can imagine, and I mean saving Japan... (read more)

As to the separate "cowardice" debate in this thread--relevant to bias because the label is being rejected because of political bias--let me ask this.

A man loses his job, can't find another, can't support his family, and so kills himself. Bravery?
A woman gets divorced, fears being alone, kills herself. Bravery?

Now, that's "personal" suicide, you'll be saying. Not "political" suicide. As if mass murder of civilians changes it from cowardice to bravery. As if killing yourself in the attack, so that you don't face the conse... (read more)

The Iraq war isn't nearly so clearly correct, and my guess is that it costs more lives than it saves.

You're joking, right?

their political message would have been heard

I don't think you understand the nature of their message. They weren't trying to get themselves killed as a form of political protest, they were trying to get themselves killed in order to demonstrate that the US could be hurt, and badly, by people willing to risk their lives to do so.

As such, their strategy was quite brilliant.

Empires always sneer at the efforts of guerillas and people who won't fight by 'civilized' rules as cowards - see the British response to the Americans' refusal to adopt mass marching tactics during the Revolutionary War.

The Americans DID adopt mass marching tactics during the Revolutionary War. We even won battles that way!

Here is Wikipedia on the mistaken idea that the American Revolution was won by guerrilla tactics.

Wow, the cowardice thing again. To review:

1) Eliezer_Yudkowsky just made a post arguing that it's not very virtuous to do things at great person risk when you believe you're immortal, and when you believe you are doing it to get great things in the afterlife.
2) The 9/11 hijackers believed they would be greatly rewarded in the after life.
3) It does not take much courage to argue on the internet, or in public forums.
4) The 9/11 hijackers did not argue their point of view with their intellectual opponents.
5) But, the 9/11 hijackers were courageous.

I a... (read more)

Caledonian, joking in which way?

If you can't make the argument that the invasion is saving lives, and if you can't make the argument that it's costing lives, you don't belong in the argument.

"The same people who would never blindly accept a Bush Admin figure will blindly accept an anti-Bush figure."

Notice how you assume, without bothering to Google it, that the million-casualties figure was "anti-Bush". If it came from Clinton for President, or MoveOn, or the Democratic Party, you would have a case. In reality, the survey was conducted by Opinion Research Business, an independent polling agency which is not even US-based (their HQ is in London). The same group has published pro-Bush results in the past (eg, see http://www.t... (read more)

rukidding, it's obvious that it's saved some lives (of people who would have been killed by Saddam Hussein and his minions) and cost some lives (of people killed by US forces, or by the people opposing them, or as a result of the general state of lawlessness and civil war in Iraq, or because the chaos there has produced poverty, poor healthcare, etc.), and certainly someone who is unable to consider both doesn't belong in the argument.

But if you're saying that no one "belongs in the argument" who can't make both a serious argument that on balance... (read more)

The Americans DID adopt mass marching tactics during the Revolutionary War. We even won battles that way!

Okay, fine, let me rephrase: to the Americans' willingness to resort to nonstandard tactics.

It would seem to me we have all missed the point here. If we were not arrogant enough to presume we have a right to invoke military presence in their countries in the first place, they would not have felt the need to attack us. Simply put, if we had left them alone, they would leave us alone. PERIOD.

R U Kidding, it seems to me that you are not serious and I mostly don't want to reply to you. However, you have said some things that look like they could lead to interesting conversation among actual commenters.

But the point of my post is that no one can calculate the ramifications of actions, or inactions. Did Hiroshima/Nagasaki cost lives, or save them? That's one of the clearest examples of "saving by killing" I can imagine, and I mean saving Japanese lives as well as American lives. Yet many auto-condemn the bombings. And they might be right... (read more)

The terrorists don't have to be cowardly or courageous, you know.

rukidding, being biased doesn't mean we can't know anything.

Look at the amazing results of this poll: 68% out of more than 120 voters agree with this post
click here to see the poll

the overreaction was foreseeable in advance, not just in hindsight

To paraphrase what my brain is hearing from you, Eliezer:

In 2001, you would have predicted, "In 2007, I will believe that the U.S. overreacted between 2001 and 2007."

In 2007, your prediction is true: you personally believe the U.S. overreacted.

Not very impressive. (I know lots of people who can successfully predict that they will have the same political beliefs six years from now, no matter what intervening evidence occurs between now and then! It's not something that you should ta... (read more)

Rolf, I think I have a non-uncanny knack which is not more powerful than a prediction market, i.e., I don't think I can beat the most informed bettors out there. If you'd shown me a betting market predicting otherwise, I would have adjusted my own guess.

If you'd asked me to define "overreaction" in verifiable terms, I probably would have defined it as "Killing at least ten times as many people and costing at least ten times the property damage."

This strikes me as an instance of a larger category: topics on which making group-acceptable statements is considered more important than making accurate ones.

Here's anther example, pulled off recent Reddit. Kiddy shagging. Do the children ever initiate and deliberately intend the proceedings? A sane analysis of human variability would say "some times, of course". Are children universally mentally incompetent to understand what sex means? Again, a sane analysis would say "in some cases, they're perfectly competent". But you can't say th... (read more)

Eliezer, the US killed at least a million Japanese in World War 2, while the attack at Pearl Harbor killed less than 2500. Maybe it is true that the US response to 9/11 is "greater than the appropriate level, whatever the appropriate level may be" but I don't think you have showed that to actually be the case.

Julian Morrison, William Saletan has suggested lowering the age of consent but states that people wouldn't think rationally about it. I discussed that here, and noted here a study showing that sex and pot don't screw kids up like people thought.

TGGP: Yes. That is my real name. First Anglicized in nearly it's present form in 1715 at Three Forts in NY state (Bonnesteel). I understand that a small museum stands there, now. The etymology is from north of the Caucus Mountains prior to the 1400's; later "Germanicized" to Bohnenstielen and then Anglicized five years after the Paletine Immigration. ...learning the true meaning of the name requires learning about ancient Teutonic and Indo-European linguistics, archecology, the Human Genome Project ...and certain specialties in ancient history.... (read more)

(sex and drugs, that is... not the Bonesteels. The Bonesteels is cool with me.)

A word about the terrorists being called cowards: when you take into consideration their complete certainty that they were going directly to paradise, the statement that they were cowards seems more reasonable. As a thought experiment, imagine that some person was faced with a choice between preventing the violent deaths of some 3000 people, or going directly to a paradise of eternal bliss. If this hypothetical person were to choose the former, I would consider that to be a brave decision. If they were to choose the latter, I would have to go with cowardly (and reprehensible, obviously). Put it this way: in their eyes at least, they were taking the easy way out, at least if my understanding of their radical doctrine is correct.

"Eliezer, the US killed at least a million Japanese in World War 2, while the attack at Pearl Harbor killed less than 2500. Maybe it is true that the US response to 9/11 is "greater than the appropriate level, whatever the appropriate level may be" but I don't think you have showed that to actually be the case."

DL, let me put it this way. If the Rotary Club in canada declared war on somebody and did an atrocity, and that somebody in response killed ten million americans most of whom were not Rotarians, and mostly after they won the war against us and disbanded our surrendered army, would you perhaps consider that greater than the appropriate level?

Eliezer:

'the point here was a very short distance from ones I'd already made in "Uncritical Supercriticality" and "Affective Death Spirals"'

Perhaps the main point was, but statements like this:

"If the USA had completely ignored the 9/11 attack - just shrugged and rebuilt the building - it would have been better than the real course of history."

seem to me to require another month of steps of inference even if they're true. Tracking and comparing consequences in world politics is really really complicated.

Maybe I missed it in the many, and often rambling, posts, but has anyone addressed why we haven't been attacked again since 9/11? If we're talking about predictions, I would guess there were VERY few of us who would have predicted that on 9/12.

Second, it's remarkable how much confidence people have defining alternative courses of history. (Of course, it's made Harry Turtledove a fortune.) I haven't seen the ability to predict events in advance that would lead to such confidence.

gator80, I haven't noticed anybody saying why they thought the continental USA hasn't been attacked since 9/11.

Here are three possibilities:

1. In the days after 9/11 we rolled up the AQ network, that we had been watching before but not doing much about since after all they weren't doing much and the ones we let run sometimes led us to new agents and such. Once we eliminated the ones in the USA and our allies eliminated the ones in their own countries, new ones haven't really gotten a foothold.

2. AQ is following Napoleon's maxim which goes "Never inter... (read more)

(I link to this post and print my reply over at my own site. I actually have some pleasant things to say about you - which you might not readily guess from this comment.)

The longer I consider this post the more it troubles me. Your argument is "The American public was destined to overreact to the events of 9-11. Therefore, what they did do must be an overreaction." When I state it that way, you would of course rise in protest – “No, no. What the American response was to 9-11 can be demonstrated to be an overreaction in its own right. Th... (read more)

JT,

Pretty good summary. Scenario 3 is clearly ludicrous (unless you like totally inconsistent logic and a complete absence of evidence). Beyond that I tend to favor the Occam's Razor solution, which is number 1. I could be wrong, of course, but a plan to have the world's mightiest armed forces hunting you down, killing your followers and forcing you to live in caves hardly seems like one that would have survived the Al Qaeda brainstorming session.

I also have a hypothesis why scenario 1 is never mentioned - and which is consistent with the responses on this board. It would require giving credit to the administration, the most appalling scenario of all!

Assistant Village Idiot, I sympathise with your desire to go over the old talking points again. I like to do that sort of thing myself sometimes. Like, I'll find people to argue with about Kerry and the swiftboating. I didn't like Kerry that much, he just turned into the only alternative to the Bush ongoing disaster, but he didn't deserve what he got from the Swiftboat liars who certainly didn't deserve nearly the media attention they got after their first lie was exposed. But the truth is, it's a dead issue. The swiftboat liars won and Kerry lost, and arg... (read more)

I think that on the whole it would be wiser to close comments on this thread at this point. What's sayable has probably been said.

hi. i'm not going to use any capital letters because i come from a very small country. australia has no weapons of mass destruction. we promise. we promise promise promise. please don't invade australia like you did iraq - even though we do have an abundance of natural resources, mostly steel and uranium. we're on your side. really really.

Why are you all talking about the US's over-reaction to the 9/11 attacks? You all realise that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism or nukes or polie-actions. You know this. It was about oil. From the ver... (read more)

Initially, there were smarter responses to 9/11 than I had guessed. I saw a Congressperson - I forget who - say in front of the cameras, "We have forgotten that the first purpose of government is not the economy, it is not health care, it is defending the country from attack." That widened my eyes, that a politician could say something that wasn't an applause light. The emotional shock must have been very great for a Congressperson to say something that... real.

This may have been more of an applause light than you thought. This is an outloo... (read more)

Interesting article, and I agree with most of it, but there is a point in which I fail to understand your reasoning, and which seems to contradict the rest of the article.

It's the « "We have forgotten that the first purpose of government is not the economy, it is not health care, it is defending the country from attack." » part. How is that not an applause light ? And how is that real ? When the country was just attacked, like after 9/11 or after Pearl Harbor, when everyone has in mind the fact the country is attacked and the horrors of violent death, but everyone forgets about the horror of diseases and the fact that half a million die from cancer in the US each year (according to cancer.gov), that is, one 9-11 every 3 days, that's definitely an applause light.

The first purpose of government is to maximize a very complex utility function, that contains factors about protecting people's life, factors about their (average, median, ...) economical well-being, factors about protecting personal freedom and safety, ... Maximizing this utility function requires investing resources into defending the country against external aggression - because external aggression comes with a ... (read more)

4lessdazed10yThe private sector and non-profits can take care of health care, scientific and health research, education, etc. sometimes better than, sometimes worse than, the government. They currently do much of it now. Not so for national defense, espionage, etc. It's the "first purpose" not because every marginal dollar is best spent there, but because that is its irreplaceable function: the use of violent, coercive force.

I don't understand how

“We have forgotten that the first purpose of government is not the economy, it is not health care, it is defending the country from attack.”

was a smarter-than-one-would-have-guessed response to 9/11. Had anyone forgotten to hire soldiers and fund the secret services before 9/11? Why was preventing 9/11 more important than reducing the number of traffic fatalities by, say, 30% (and thereby saving about 10000 lives per year)? Or preventing 30% of the 45,000 yearly deaths due to lack of health insurance? What am I miss... (read more)

1Rafael Harth2yI'm not sure EY meant to imply that the response is factually correct. Smarter-than-expected could just mean "not a totally vapid applause light." A wrong but genuine response could meet that standard.
3ChristianKl2yIt feels to be written from a libertarian point of view. You might argue that the FDA causes a lot more then 45,000 yearly deaths by not allowing valuable medicines to be brought to market. It's debatable whether or not a more government interference or less government interference would be helpful. The same goes for government interventions in the economy. On the other hand there's no other party that might defend the country from attack then the government. Before the tea party when this was written libertarian slogans were less of an applause light. So I would interpret the post as saying, immediately afterwards the politicians responding by saying libertarian things but then they overreacted instead of engaging policies that would pass libertarian standards. (that said I don't agree with the point)

The overreaction to this will be ten times worse than the original event.

I can't think of a better description of COVID-19, thank you!