TED Talk Tuesday: Fear, mistaken expectations, and the war on terror


Have you ever done comparison shopping and thought you were being a smart shopper? I have. This item is 50% off but that item is 75% off. The logical thing to do is buy the one with bigger savings, right?

Not always.

Dan Gilbert is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard. He tells us why we might be making mistakes because of our tendency to compare things in the wrong context. He begins with questions like, would you pay $25 for a Big Mac? Or, would you drive across town to save a $100? But Dan moves on to more serious questions. He has consulted with the Department of Homeland Security, so he talks of the reaction of terror caused by 9-11:

“We already know, in the United States, that more people have died as a result of not taking airplanes -because they were scared – and driving on highways, than were killed on 9-11”

Is our reaction disproportional to the threat? Was it worth going to war? Was it worth Obama signing a bill yesterday that took our right to trial in an effort to protect us from terrorists? Terrorists who caused more deaths by making us avoid airplanes than their actual act of terrorism? Regardless of your answers to these questions, realize this: The people who are the most aggressive about protecting America are the ones who are the most fearful, and fear can cloud our judgment.

In the end, Dan tells us how vital our mindfulness is to our future:

“We are the only species on this planet that has held its own fate in its hands…The only thing that can destroy us and doom us, is our own decisions.”


Follow me and I will take you away from the everyday.

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2 thoughts on “TED Talk Tuesday: Fear, mistaken expectations, and the war on terror

  1. Reminds me of these lyrics from R.E.M.:

    “Nature abhors a vacuum, but what’s between your ears?
    Your judgment clouded with fearful thoughts, headlights and a deer.”

    And indeed, fear has clouded the judgment of our elected officials and the rest of our government since 9/11. Fear causes irrational action. As a result of this fear and paranoia, our rights have slowly eroded away AND racial/religious prejudice has increased since then.

    The real reason my fiance and I don’t fly is NOT because we’re afraid of some nutcases hijacking an airplane, it’s because of liberty-robbing actions such as TSA patdowns and paranoid airport security.

    And as far as the war on terror: how do you fight an enemy you can’t see?

    -Nicole

    1. Nicole, I really like those lyrics, an artful way to talk about reality.
      I’m a little concerned about the security patdowns. I’m more concerned about fighting a perpetual war, because, like you say, it is against a threat that we can’t see, and it’s purpose is not to cause us physical harm, but the precise reaction that is happening. Large scale war, a giant government agency of Homeland Security to tighten domestic monitoring, and an increase of executive control, to take our right to trial and freedom to move about. The power being taken for our security needs to be used wisely. Does our current leadership have the virtue to control this power?

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