Full text of David Rothkopf, a foreign policy strategist on How Fear Drives American Politics at TED conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – How Fear Drives American Politics by David Rothkopf at TED Talks
What I’d like to do is I’d like to talk to you a little bit about fear and the cost of fear and the age of fear from which we are now emerging. I would like you to feel comfortable with my doing that by letting you know that I know something about fear and anxiety. I’m a Jewish guy from New Jersey. I could worry before I could walk.
Please, applaud that. Thank you.
But I also grew up in a time where there was something to fear. We were brought out in the hall when I was a little kid and taught how to put our coats over our heads to protect us from global thermonuclear war. Now even my seven-year-old brain knew that wasn’t going to work. But I also knew that global thermonuclear war was something to be concerned with.
And yet, despite the fact that we lived for 50 years with the threat of such a war, the response of our government and of our society was to do wonderful things. We created the space program in response to that. We built our highway system in response to that. We created the Internet in response to that. So sometimes fear can produce a constructive response. But sometimes it can produce an un-constructive response.
On September 11, 2001, 19 guys took over four airplanes and flew them into a couple of buildings. They exacted a horrible toll. It is not for us to minimize what that toll was. But the response that we had was clearly disproportionate — disproportionate to the point of verging on the unhinged. We rearranged the national security apparatus of the United States and of many governments to address a threat that, at the time that those attacks took place, was quite limited. In fact, according to our intelligence services, on September 11, 2001, there were 100 members of core Al-Qaeda. There were just a few thousand terrorists. They posed an existential threat to no one.