Re: Impact on history

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Sep 13 2001 - 13:39:49 MDT

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> >
> > If the US does do anything real, militarily, it will probably involve more
> > death and destruction than was caused by the destruction of the World
> > Trade Center, dozens or hundreds of bombs instead of two planes, dropped
> > on some dirt-poor country far less capable of dealing with the disasters
> > resulting from each and every bomb impact, and the only real end result
> > will be more hatred of the United States. I don't expect that will stop
> > the United States from doing it anyway.
> Are you saying we should not respond to an act of war as such?

That is exactly what I am saying. A futile response is worse than no
response. We should respond only if we can find and successfully target
the people who were actually responsible. We should not launch a
spasmodic, useless, civilian-killing military attack on a randomly
selected country just because "we have to do something".

Terrorists don't strike at the US because they think they can get away
with it. Terrorists strike at the US because they hate the US and feel
that "they have to do something", no matter what the cost is.

> How exactly would this make future terrorism using suitcase or
> larger nukes or a bioweapon less likely than if we took out as
> many major terrorist cells as we can find?

Neither one will make it less likely, so we may as well focus on trying to
reduce some of the underlying hate by actually obeying international law
for a change. A moderate, lawful response by the US at this point, a
response that doesn't involve invading other countries just because we can
get away with it, might have a real emotional impact in the minds of the
countries that believe, correctly, in the arrogance of the US. That's how
Martin Luther King scored his victory. Following international law even
after a major bombing would send a message that the US is willing to
choose to play by the same rules imposed on non-superpowers. It wouldn't
halt terrorism but it might decrease the growth rate.

Can you imagine the righteous indignation if Afghanistan were to mount a
military attack on the US under similar circumstances? That is the
essence of the United States's arrogance - a double standard backed up by
superior military force. It is that unbearable unfairness which creates
the burning hatred and the willingness to attack, regardless of the
consequences, just because it's so unbearable to think that the Americans
can bomb and bomb and never be touched themselves.

It's not just a cycle of hatred, it's a cycle of futile hatred. The
terrorist attacks on America will do nothing to reduce America's
arrogance. America's military actions will do nothing to reduce the
likelihood of future terrorist attacks. Domestic security measures will
likewise fail. Even if America did start behaving correctly, the hatred
would still be too ingrained for the terrorist attacks to stop. The cycle
will continue, running on its own wheels, generating new terrorist attacks
and indignant First World military responses, until technological changes
to the underlying society (transparency, Earthweb, Singularity) remove the
causes or prohibit the effects of terrorism.

I agree that taking out all the big, organized, technologically adept
terrorist cells, or reducing them, or reducing most of them, would
significantly decrease the probability of a WOMD terrorist attack for at
least the next several years. I would still expect conventional attacks,
and I would not expect to be safe forever.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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