Not all consequentialist arguments – slippery slopes, where one event is predicted to lead to a chain of subsequent and presumably worse events – are logical fallacies. I can assert, for example, that an individual making a terrorist threat to O'Hare Airport would begin a chain of events that would disrupt air travel throughout the United States. It would likely cause delays, cancellations, or even closure of an airport through which thousands of flights connect for passenger transfers every day, so O'Hare is infamous for creating "butterfly effects" in air travel. The slightest hiccup there is felt everywhere. I can't predict with any certainty what specific effects will follow the initial action, but I can construct a solid, evidence based argument that there will inevitably be consequences.

I point this out to underscore that when the facts are taken into account, banning Muslim immigration into the U.S., as Trump and many of his fellow travelers advocate, will be only the first step in a chain of escalating actions against Muslims. No one can predict with anything other than pure speculation as a guide exactly what those next steps will be, but there is zero doubt that there will be "next steps." We can conclude this with confidence because it is so simple to demonstrate that the first step – selectively banning Muslim immigration – will not accomplish its goal of eliminating terrorist attacks and making Americans "feel safer."

Only the most superficial understanding of the evolution of terrorism over the past four decades is necessary to understand that the age of Terror as Spectacle or terrorism to achieve political ends is over as far as the United States is concerned. Past terrorist groups either committed acts of terror to accomplish a specific goal – i.e., hijacking a plane to secure the release of prisoners – or to create a grand, publicity-seeking spectacle – Black September, the Dawson's Field hijackings, the Japanese Embassy hijacking in Lima, and so on. Al-Qaeda took the idea of spectacle but redirected the goal toward mass killing. They were drawn to the symbolism of attacking icons while also racking up a large body count. ISIS and ISIS-inspired terror, though, is the next step in that evolution. They've done away with the big, expensive, complicated (and therefore less certain of succeeding) spectacle in favor of the low tech, high body count approach. Why concoct some intricate plot to teach people to fly planes into buildings when you can have someone rent a truck and drive it into a crowd? Why not just grab a gun or strap on an explosive vest and head down to the mall? Why recruit expert bomb makers when any yahoo in the world can buy a Walmart crock pot and download a simple bomb schematic from the internet and construct it out of supplies you can buy at any hardware store?

The tradeoff is in glamour and efficiency. Each individual attack will result in fewer deaths than a single grand terror attack, and certainly there's none of the prestige and feeling of superiority that comes from crafting a complicated plot to "defeat" the intelligence communities in western nations. Cumulatively, though, the body count evens out and the attacks make up for what they lack in efficiency with low cost, ease of planning, and quantity. Most importantly, they are virtually impossible if not literally impossible to stop. One person, perhaps having read some ideas off an internet message board, perhaps inspired by an individual who contacted him online, or perhaps just acting on his own limited but sufficient imagination, can easily concoct a plan to kill a bunch of people. Anybody who is of the mindset to do so can rent a truck and drive it into a crowd, go to a crowded public place and start shooting, or construct a crude homemade explosive device. A plot like the 9-11 attack took years to plan and execute and had enough people and moving parts involved that the opportunity for law enforcement to intercede was always there. If a guy or a small group of people decide they're going to go shoot up the mall or the soccer stadium, nobody can really stop them from doing that provided they have enough discipline not to give themselves away beforehand.

So, accepting the reality that the new terrorism is low-tech, crude, cheap, and therefore unstoppable, what is likely to happen after we ban Muslim immigration and find that it has not made us Feel Safe? When the terrorist attacks that require little to no imagination, preparation, or ability to carry out continue, are the same political forces that demanded the "No Muslims" policy likely to throw up their hands and say, Oh well, we tried? Or are they more likely to ratchet up their rhetoric and their proposed solutions as they chase the dragon of Feeling Safe in a world in which complete security is a goal that can never be achieved? We can't predict what will come next, but we can predict that something will indeed come next once we have tried an immigration ban and discovered – to the surprise only of people oblivious to the world around them and unable to understand modern terrorism for what it is – that it did not end terrorism. What happens when we're five steps down the slope – say, having rounded up and interred every vaguely Middle Eastern looking person – and we find that even that hasn't stopped this kind of terrorist attack that can't be stopped? I have no clear idea where the imaginations of people like Trump go, but I have a clear sense that I do not want to learn by experience.

The flaw in the things xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and nationalist elements in our society propose to protect us from terrorism – moral, ethical, and legal problems aside – is that they will not actually protect us from terrorism. The process of watching them increase their dosage in pursuit of a high they can never achieve is not something we can describe in any detail until it happens, but we can predict safely that it will be unpleasant.

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  • It seems "they" only lose their minds if a connection to Islam can be made. Let some white supremist or "sovereign citizen" or a local lunatic do something and it is largely ignored. We have mass shootings every week now and the occasional explosive incident but I have heard the newscritters say "the authorities are investigatiing to see if this is a terrorist attack" a few times now. Now that's your slippery slope and we're already moving down it.

  • Just to clarify: it's maybe true that all slippery slope arguments are consequentialist, but not all consequentialist arguments are slippery slope arguments. Consequentialism says that actions are right when they have the best consequences, and wrong when then don't–but many bad consequences are immediate and very likely, and don't depend on predictions about a long chain of events that eventually lead to disaster.

  • Your accurate description of "retail terrorism" omits other cultural/political categories, e.g., Dylan Roof's assault on the Pinkney church in Charleston, SC, and last winter's assault on the planned parenthood center in Colorado. In Roof's case he was surely groomed by various racist sites he found on line. The rhetoric of the so-called right to life movement is well known. There's also the obvious political terrorism which local police forces impose on black communities almost daily.

  • "Cumulatively, though, the body count evens out and the attacks make up for what they lack in efficiency with low cost, ease of planning, and quantity."
    "One person, perhaps having read some ideas off an internet message board, perhaps inspired by an individual who contacted him online, or perhaps just acting on his own limited but sufficient imagination, can easily concoct a plan to kill a bunch of people. "

    Good thing we're finishing our first $9 billion {googles} er… nearly almost there but already 2 years late and apparently up to $14 billion dollar aircraft carrier. That's exactly the 21st century tool we need!

    God forbid someone with a brain comes in and reduces the size of our bloated, unnecessary, & ineffective military though or it will be seen as weak and needing a good dose of Reagan build-up and presumably internationally illegal use. Thanks Obama

    Seriously, why can't you or I work for the Navy

  • I remarked over a decade ago that if bin Laden and company *really* wanted to terrorize America in the wake of 9/11, they'd go for the same tactics that IS hangers-on are now using. Crude, decentralized, and targeting literally anyone. Blow up the snack counter in a Walmart in the Nashville suburbs, and you've taken the attack away from Obvious Target to Holy Shit They Are Killing Everyone.

    When I said it, I knew exactly what the response would be: paralyzing fear leading us to do terrible things, like completely trashing our Constitution in the name of Feeling Safe.

  • I don't know where I read a little historical essay about the topic, but the modern era is amazingly similar to the "Anarchist Panic" of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Same reactions. Same fear of swarthy ferriners (a lot of Italians in the anarchist circles)

  • The main problem is that we don't have a good working definition of "terrorism." Everyone thinks they do, but when you scrutinize their definition, it falls short. Either it's too narrow and excludes some acts we want to call terrorist — or it's too wide and includes things we don't want to call terrorists.

    Example: Many people will say an act is terrorist if it's against civilian populations. By that measure, any mass shooting on a military base is not terror. Nor, to many people's dismay, is the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon.

    Others want to say that it's terrorism if it's conducted by civilians, rather than military. If you don't say that, then GWB's Shock and Awe campaign against Iraqi civilians is clearly terrorism. "An act of violence against a civilian population in an effort to effect political change." However, you now have ISIS declaring itself a state and declaring that people blowing up bombs in various places are "soldiers of ISIS." What adjudicating authority is there to say they're wrong?

    Even "experts" who deal in terrorism can't agree. There are currently over 100 definitions on the table with no real agreement.

    In the US — both among politicians and the media — "terrorism" has come to mean "something we don't like done by someone we don't like." What difference is there between a guy who plants a bomb at a mosque because he's pissed off at Muslims and a guy who blows up a city block when he tries to get back at the laundry that ruined his shirts?

    Until we're clear about what "terrorism" is, we can't really even talk about how to stop it. The bottom line, as G&T alludes to, is that "terrorism" is a tactic. And you really can't fight a tactic.

    Closing the borders won't help. Recent "terrorist" attacks in the US were done by people who were either born here or came as small children. And most were living what were perceived to be normal assimilated lives until they somehow went off the rails. That's the troubling thing.

    When I was in college in rural Vermont, we had a guy who was pissed off at the administration for something. One night, he went to the quarry that abutted the campus and blew up the dynamite shack. No one was injured, but it blew out every campus window facing the quarry. Back then, it was viewed as just an asshole perpetrating a criminal act. Today, it would probably be considered terrorism — mostly because the guy, second-generation American, came from a Lebanese family.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    My new favorite logical fallacy is the That's A Fallacy Fallacy. It's the belief that one can wave away any argument by using the words "slippery slope" and "fallacy" with sufficient emphasis.

    I wish that everyone in my country would read this post and understand it.

  • I've said this (quietly, smugly, to myself only) for many years: "There really isn't any security we'd accept that would 100% prevent these mass shootings or bombings. As pro-gun control as I am, I still own a hand-gun and want to keep it. I went through the system and was (rightly) found to be sane enough to own one.

    Aside from aggressively placing body scanners in front of every location that allows 2 or more people to congregate, you will never be able to stop someone ass with a bomb from killing a group of people. I even thought at times that the crowded enclosed space that is airport security would be ideal, since there was no security before that point and people are clustered. What are you going to do, move security further out? Then you still have long security lines, and now have to walk (cars wouldn't be cleared easily) very far to get to the front counter.

    Same with public events. One of the worst deaths in recent memory, the Boston marathon bombing, would have been hell to truly secure.

  • Ah, forgot to bring up my point, is that you can't prevent it from happening. The best bet at this point is to try your best to prevent people from WANTING to do it. Stop radicalizing people by demonizing their homeland. Stop bombing their home countries. Stop discriminating against their culture/language/looks just because they aren't your typical white man look. Start working on reducing poverty. Stop letting the rich have a louder voice than everyone else. Stop the rich from being benefited over the rest of the people. Stop concentrating all the wealth among the top…

    .. Aw man, and now I'm a "communist."

  • But if "classical" terrorism had clear purposes, what are the goals of random acts of terror? Presumably it's to inspire fear and undermine trust in authority, to little by little make fear and suspicion the status quo. (We could talk about terrorism's faith in the butterfly effect, perhaps.) My question is this: once the government takes that role upon themselves (by starting down the "slippery slope" of criminalizing this and that civilian population group or affiliation), would the purpose and nature of subversive terrorism adapt and change?

    In fact, isn't the point of this kind of terrorism ultimately to criminalize the regime, whether local, national, or global? And how different is that, really, from the goals of the white nationalist movement? Are they not ideal allies, these consorts of fear and hatred?

    Another question: How did we retreat from the precedent of interning Japanese-Americans? Or did we?

    And another: Does anyone remember anthrax?

  • ConcernedCitizen says:


    No, you're not a communist, because you didn't call for collectivization. But you are a Marxist, because you attributed irrational violence to material circumstances, rather than to irrational, violent ideas.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    Perhaps this is naive of me, but it seems to me that someone who has, in whatever sense, a strong desire to stay alive is least likely to commit these sorts of attacks. The recruiters (IS, etc.) depend on a steady supply of young men who see life as less appealing than a 'purposeful' death.

    There are few things besides my family that I'd die for, because of the life that I'm living. Take everything away that gives my life meaning and purpose, and that would certainly change.

  • Terrorism is basically attempting to control populations through fear of death or bodily harm, the motive of which is ideological, usually accomplished through threats and random acts of violence to show dominance, making periodic demonstrations by objectifying and using smaller portions of that population as "examples". The caveat is that it isn't personal per se–the victims have no personhood according to the perpetrators, they're just props. All they did to "deserve" their fate was be who they are, doing things with which the terrorists don't agree (though by which said terrorists aren't actually personally affected).

    Extremism gives the powerless something to cling-to. They feel like they're being screwed in life (and probably are), and fall prey to those with bigger agendas. They find power in knowing the Real Truth, something all the blind sheep can't see. They project their anger and paranoia on some vague scapegoat or another, the more distant and foreign to them, the better. If they really have nothing to lose, they'll risk their own lives in order to reset the balance where their team is on top and the other team is on the bottom, and All Will Be Right In The World.

  • @Major Kong

    "Terror is a tactic. Might as well declare a global war on flanking maneuvers."

    Perhaps we could all achieve a glorious bipartisan compromise and just begin the War on Terriers?

    Anyway, the slippery slope that we are on feels a damn sight more like sliding down a razor blade bare-ass naked than I wish to contemplate. So many people have given up on courage and decency and chosen to blindly charge after a boiled ham topped with string cheese towards some imagined Valhalla, I don't see how this dynamic stops before the train piles into the buffers at full speed and we all get to experience a sensation akin to flying into a piledriver.

  • @ConcernedCitizen–

    I'm not sure what you mean by that. I think the radicalized person in question has to first and foremost believe that they are being marginalized in some fashion, but they are susceptible to these things because it gives them power that they don't otherwise have. For instance, I live in a place in Appalachia in which there are a lot of poor white people. An alarming number of them have been convinced that the reason that they are where they are is that something to which they are entitled is being taken from them, particularly by black and brown people, but any "outliers" are suspect. They cling to whatever political/religious fairy tales that allow them to take their anger out on others without actually addressing the cause of their misery. Burning a cross on someone's lawn, for instance, is an act of terrorism. So is bombing an abortion clinic or shooting up a black church.

    Northern Ireland is (or was) a hotbed of terrorism (Fun fact: the Catholics in Northern Ireland will often fly the Palestinian flag because they see their situation as extremely similar). People forget about that, possibly because they are white and Christian. Israel vs. Palestine, too.

    ISIS is significant in that it's taking its bullshit to the global stage. I think that this at least partially had to do with the fact that North America is huge and America's states are the size of European countries; proximity is an issue. America is also young and its people have been relatively isolated from other countries until recently.

  • I could just imagine: "But if we stopped marginalizing people, it might expose my ineptly chosen financial vehicles to inflation!".

  • It doesn't seem, whether they cite ISIS or some other extremist ideology, like the modern day terrorist has any further agenda than killing people. I mean, what is ISIS trying to achieve? A caliphate in the Middle East? How is bombing random civilians in the U.S. (or anywhere) getting them any closer to that? As for the Dylan Roofs of the world, again, is killing a few black folks at a church really advancing the cause of white nationalism?

    The bottom line is there are a lot of sociopaths out there. Maybe not all these terrorists are sociopaths but they're definitely disturbed somehow and want to kill people, not because of some ideology, but because they want to kill people. Self agrandizement, sheer bloodlust, some other base impluse…those are the causes/motivation. They'll latch onto anything they can to justify killing people, but it's a veil that hides their real motivation from themselves and others. If we want to cut down on terrorism, we need to make fewer sociopaths. I have no idea how we do that but that's the ultimate solution.

  • You can make a bomb out of a crock pot? I'm pretty sure it would require a pressure cooker, for obvious reasons. There would have been far fewer casualties in Boston if the brothers had used crock pots.

  • @TakomaMark, I believe the logic is that by killing random civilians they will turn the West against Islam generally, and once the West starts oppressing Muslims (which is already happening) they will be radicalized into joining Jihad against the West. So, essentially, it's a deeply cynical recruiting tool to turn peaceful people into soldiers in a holy war on both sides, because it was prophesied… or something, something gazpacho.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    I often get the feeling that secular people in this country, even moderately religious people, have trouble imagining that jihadists actually believe what they say they believe: that the Qur'an is the literal and inerrant word of God, that Islam is the final revelation and the only system truly congruent with human nature, that only those who embrace it will be judged positively, and (here's the real kicker) that only those who die defending it will bypass judgement and go straight to paradise. They see this fight as a cosmic struggle for the souls of all Muslims, if not all humanity. Earthly concerns, such as local autonomy or control of resources, are subordinate to this ultimate cause.

    And yes, psychopaths who just want to kill people, as well as losers longing for some higher purpose, will jump on this bandwagon. But even they must be motivated, to some extent, by ideas of righteousness and martyrdom. It is those ideas, at bottom, that must be debunked. This will probably take some time.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    On the contrary, even the most fundamentalist Christians in this country (barring, perhaps, Dominionists) are effectively secular. As much as they may thump their Bibles, they also believe in the Constitution and in the open-ended, (classically) liberal civilization that it underwrites.

    If this were the 14th century you'd have a point.

  • @ConcernedCitizen

    On the contrary, even the most fundamentalist Christians in this country (barring, perhaps, Dominionists) are effectively secular. As much as they may thump their Bibles, they also believe in the Constitution and in the open-ended, (classically) liberal civilization that it underwrites.

    If this were the 14th century you'd have a point.

    An uncomfortably large number of them want to take us back to a time when there was compulsory Protestant Christian prayer and religious instruction in the public schools, a complete ban on abortion, homosexual activity was a crime, and the races were kept "separate but equal". That may not be the 14th century, but it is further back than any progressive should be willing to go.

  • @Ronzie; you didn't have time to mention the whole take-the-right-to-vote-from-women-and-minorities movement, the stay-at-home-daughter (where girlchildren stay at home and cook and clean until their fathers assign them to a husband, at which point they move into the husband's house to cook and clean and start breeding for Jebus) movement, and other distinctly anti-Constitutional beliefs these folks have.

  • Gee, just when I was getting ready to ask Concerned Citizen (is that, like, something to do with the French Revolution?) for clarificiation, he gives it to us in spades:

    Jihadists = Fundie whack jobs

    Christians, except for dominion issue = secularists.

    Thanks for clearing that up. I thought, for a minute there, you weren't trolling.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    ConcernedCitizen – you have an impressively upbeat perspective on the USA population. The bulk of the King James Only, Catholics aren't Christians, Jews must convert or burn forever crowd would NOT hang me and my husband from a lamppost, but I would not expect them to lift a finger to stop it from happening.

    During my late father-in-law's lifetime – and my late father's – hundreds of Black men were lynched. Care to guess how many white men were ever sent to prison for those murders? The lynchers made and distributed photos of the events, that's how confident they were.

  • "I have no clear idea where the imaginations of people like Trump go, but I have a clear sense that I do not want to learn by experience."


  • @Robert

    You opinion of the King James Only x-ians is a lot higher than mine. Most liberals think that once the crazy old generation dies off, things will improve. Not so.

    Here in SW Virginia, I have seen twenty something rural losers and they are so fucking scary that they would make George Wallace's skin crawl. Give them another thirty years of hate and meth and they will jump nazi go straight Khmer Rogue.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    ConcernedCitizen, are you proposing that the perception of some fundamentalist Christians in the USA as being potentially as dangerous as Muslim jihadists is somehow unfair?

    My impression is that the majority of such people (by no means all) are kept in check by the unwillingness of the government (in most areas) to serve as either the neutral observer or the active collaborator to their atrocities. The goal of the extreme fringe is to work towards the goal of a civil authority sympathetic to their goals, but they'll settle for one that punishes them as harshly as Southern state governments punished lynch mobs.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Yes, there is something unfair, in this day and age, about equating Christian reactionaries with Muslim reactionaries.

    With that said, jihadists pose a minimal threat to our society; I'm much more worried, in practical terms, about Trump and his ilk.

    I'm just tired of people thinking that suicidal mass murder represents some kind of rational response to globalization.

  • Concerned Citizen, obviously you're choosing to remain oblivious to the Bundy (Mormon) clan, the armed-and-delusional Malheur standoff, the countless calls to "water the tree of Liberty with the blood" of others–even by elected officials. You also choose to ignore the fundagelical breeding organizations and their insistence on taking away the right to vote for women and minorities. You seem to have a sliver in your eye about the Muslims, but are ignoring the plank of the homegrown Christian crazies

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    There's a small, but noisy and intemperate, faction in this country who display Sharia envy.

    They're usually the same people who bellow the loudest about the threat of actual Sharia law in this country – not because they're concerned about the safety and well-being of vulnerable groups of people, but because THEY wouldn't be in charge.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    That too. Your understanding of terrorism appears to only apply to the United States. As if ours is the only society worth worrying about when it comes to terror.

  • Are you being deliberately obtuse? KRISTIAN terrorists have killed people in the US and committed many, many acts of vandalism and intimidation and you seem to want to brush that off and concentrate on the actions of people who aren't them.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Islamist militants have killed literally millions of people throughout North Africa (Algeria, Sudan, Nigeria) and the Middle East (Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq) over the past two decades. They have also carried out significant attacks on civilian targets in the West, not to mention India and China. There is no movement among Christians even remotely comparable to that in the world right now. But you don't care about the world, as you've made clear. You only care about the U.S. That's why, when I say "jihadists," what springs to your mind is a handful of individuals among a tiny minority in a country full of Christians — not a globe-spanning movement devoted to apocalyptic violence.

    By all means, rail against the fundies who occasionally set an abortion clinic on fire. But please, keep some perspective.

  • If Trump loses, his ideological fabulism won't go away. He'll be all over the place stirring up shit. He's shown Tea Party types and worse that it's okay to be even more uncivil.

    I can't wait for Trump cable news,

  • "Islamist militants have killed literally millions of people throughout North Africa (Algeria, Sudan, Nigeria) and the Middle East (Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq) over the past two decades."

    Sure, let's dump two decades of warfare across two continents into a single ideological bucket that post-dates your chosen start point and call it "analysis".

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Fair point: I should have said "over the past three decades." But yes, it is the same "ideological bucket." Or do you think Boko Haram is fundamentally different than the Taliban?

  • Why stop at three decades? Why not just argue that Islam has been an unbroken chain of apocalypse worshippers since the Prophet Mohammed himself?

    Come on, don't be coy, now.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Because Islam is a vast and diverse religion, spanning many ethnicities, theological interpretations, and political orientations.

    What I've been talking about is militant Islamism. Or do you think they're the same thing?

  • What will happen if we ban Muslims?


    Americans don't do subtlety. Sikh, Shia, Siite, Hindu, even Latino – any brown-hued person is sufficient. We're too stupid to know the difference, and really, knowing the difference sounds like a lot of work when what we really want to do is indulge our animal Id and just PUNCH SOMEONE.

    The fact that it's illegal, stupidly caveman – level violent, and misguided holds no sway over the macho swaggering meatheads, and never will.

    As one such meathead said after he shot and killed a Sikh, "I’m a patriot and an American. I’m American. I’m a damn American.”

    He had the "damn" part right…

  • "What I've been talking about is militant Islamism. Or do you think they're the same thing?"

    I think it's pretty obvious that you're the one having difficulty telling the various sects and political entities apart.

  • An easy way to do that is by:Paying attention to how women smell. By looking at both the past and future per capita income, population growth rates, housing costs and other such data that can be found through the census and local Chamber of Commerce, you can see the overall economic environment of your city and how it is performing. What once was a one sided relationship, has become reciprocal, as readers of various publications and viewers and listeners of television and radio shows can voice t

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