Between the Razors' Edge

When might state security practices become counterproductive?

~300 words


Last modified: June 18th, 12,018 HE

This essay was written for the Security and Conflict in the Digital Age module (PPR.432) of my MSc. It received a grade of Merit.


In Terrorist Killer, you are shown a terrorist. Then, a crowd of people, the terrorist amongst them. Your reticule pans across the scene and you fire when you see your target—you invariably hit a couple bystanders, but your mission is nonetheless a success. In your next briefing you are told that …for some reason, the number of terrorists seems to have increased. The crowd is thicker now; to get your targets takes a little more collateral damage. Each round the crowd thickens, until eventually you can no longer make out the individuals. The message is not subtle, but it is equally a not-uncommonly-espoused one: that heavy-handed responses to state security threats (activists, terrorists, heretics) tend to reinforce the very movements they seek to control. Terrorist Killer ends with a quote from Noam Chomsky: Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it. Is this really the case? When might common state responses to security threats, real or perceived, internal or external, serve instead to perpetuate and even empower those threats? This essay shall argue that the answer is dependent on which philosophical razor one prefers to apply—Hanlon’s or Heinlein’s.