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May 4, 2017 / Congau

The Terror of Imagination

Freedom is also a feeling. Even if you could actually do whatever you wanted, you would not be free if your own thoughts constrained you.

A physical threat is a real limitation to what we can do. The man with the gun blocking the road is an obvious limit to free passage, but he doesn’t really have to be there to accomplish the threat. It’s enough that we imagine him to be there; he would still force us to take another way.

The imagination is powerful. It sees dangers where none is present. There are monsters in the closet, food drenched in poison and, yes, there are terrorists. We know those terrorists are there because we have heard the stories and we can feel them coming just like children who are aware of the clear and present danger of witches and dragons.

The news is not fake. The attacks have indeed happened, but the real threat to every one of us is quite fictitious. The number of victims of terrorism in Europe last year was a tiny fraction of those killed in road traffic accidents. That reminder, however, is too rational to be taken seriously. The horror has crept into our minds and stolen some of our freedom.

It is frequently said that we will let the terrorists win if too much social control is introduced in an effort to catch them, but they already achieved their purpose when we paid attention to them and when the story tellers of the media keep reminding us of their continuous presence. Every reminder is a threat to our freedom. When an armed guard is placed among the flowers in a local park, the terrorist work is effectively accomplished, for then we instantly remember our fear. When a “war on terror” is proclaimed with the sound of the trumpet, the terrorists have already won it.

What can be done against terrorism? Quiet intelligence work and subtle investigation. But that would never satisfy a public that feed on sensationalism and indulge in their own fear.

If we really wanted to be free, we would not let our imagination carry us into subjection. We cannot control our thoughts but at least we could try not to listen to those who want to scare us. If we didn’t listen to the media and the politicians, the terrorists could not be heard.

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