The point of terrorism is not to "destroy." It is to terrify. And for eight and a half years now, the dominant federal government response to terrorist threats and attacks has been to magnify their harm by increasing a mood of fear and intimidation. That is the real case against the ludicrous "orange threat level" announcements we hear every three minutes at the airport. It's not just that they're pointless, uninformative, and insulting to our collective intelligence; it's that their larger effect is to make people feel frightened rather than brave.
Access to endless amounts of cheap energy made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbors.
Our economy, unlike any that came before it, is designed to work without the input of your neighbors. Borne on cheap oil, our food arrives as if by magic from a great distance (typically, two thousand miles). If you have a credit card and an Internet connection, you can order most of what you need and have it left anonymously at your door. We've evolved a neighborless lifestyle; on average an American eats half as many meals with family and friends as she did fifty years ago. On average, we have half as many close friends.
There are psychological implications of our hyperindividualism. In short, we're less happy than we used to be, and no wonder — we are, after all, highly evolved social animals... And so it heartens me that around the world people are starting to purposefully rebuild communities as functioning economic entities, in the hope that they'll be able to buffer some of the effects of peak oil and climate change.
If a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.