America's Dubious Threat Assessments

America's Dubious Threat Assessments

By Heather Wilhelm - September 25, 2014

Sometimes, when people get rich, they get a little out of touch. It’s not their fault, really. Once the lower levels of your hierarchy of needs—food, water, shelter, employment, friendship, a $600 phone that you stare at to avoid making eye contact with your friends and family—are completely sated, the mind is free to wander, as psychologist Abraham Maslow once suggested, into the realms of self-actualization. Unfortunately, for some people, that wandering quickly dodges higher thought and swerves directly into the Land of Lost Marbles.

We saw this over the weekend with the “People’s Climate March,” a cavalcade of leftist hobby horses valiantly masquerading as concern for the environment. On Sunday, more 300,000 demonstrators marched the streets of New York City and, as usual, they made for a colorful crowd. Among the socialists, anti-Koch-ists, and militant vegans (yes, friends, irony is truly dead), the Indigenous Environmental Network was my personal and a crowd favorite, sporting “traditional native” garb, wearing fabulous headdresses, and repeatedly bowing before what appeared to be a giant, flower-draped, papier-mache Tiki god stolen from Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.

A more common thread at the march, however, was anti-capitalism. “We live in a grotesque era where we have everything we want all the time right now,” one protester told a reporter from Reason magazine. In a spot-on attempt to counter that vexing problem, another marcher, a beaming lady from Chicago, proudly posed behind the following sign: “I’m marching for FULL COMMUNISM.” Nicely done! If you want to get rid of all that money, honestly, I can’t think of a better way.

Here’s the problem when you get rich: You forget things. You forget that communism has historically led to epic levels of environmental degradation—not to mention, you know, horrible oppression and death—and that rich, capitalist countries, while plagued with piles of dirty money, are also often the greenest. It all goes back to Maslow’s good old hierarchy of needs: If you’re dirt poor, you don’t care about the hole in the ozone. Unfortunately, once you become rich, courtesy of capitalism—and on a global scale, most Americans are unbelievably rich, whether they realize it or not—you often forget to dance with the date that brought you.

In the same way, wealth, along with its close companion, comfort, can warp your vision when it comes to assessing certain threats. Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that climate change is “the biggest challenge of all that we face right now.” In early September, Hillary Clinton agreed: “Climate change,” she said, “is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.” Last Friday, meanwhile, journalist Bill Maher dramatically pooh-poohed the idea that ISIS poses any kind of threat to the United States, arguing that Americans would be better off fearing agribusiness giant Monsanto, a company that "stands for pure evil"—and, if you believe its bad press, is quite possibly genetically engineering a sinister army of walking, human-size, bloodthirsty corncob zombies at this very moment.

Warped threat assessments aren’t confined to the left. On Monday, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a rather interesting piece titled “Snap Out of It.” In the midst of pleading with Americans to cheer up and give more power to government elites, he argued that we really don’t have that much to worry about: “Our global enemies are not exactly impressive. We have the Islamic State, a bunch of barbarians riding around in pickup trucks, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a lone thug sitting atop a failing regime.” He failed to mention, of course, that Vladimir Putin is also sitting atop a giant pile of nukes, and that those “barbarians riding around in pickup trucks,” in a disastrous-but-plausible scenario, might someday be able to get their hands on a loose one.

But, never mind! It’s much more fun to talk about the woes of capitalism—or anything, for that matter. On Sunday, Rick Perry took the stage at the Texas Tribune Festival for a one-on-one interview, followed by questions from the largely left-leaning audience. Near the end, Perry, who clearly did not want to be there, let some exasperation show: “We’ve been on this stage for nearly an hour, and you didn’t ask me what I consider to be one of the biggest issues I’ve been engaged with in possibly my entire political career. That is making the decision to send Texas law enforcement and the Texas National Guard to do the constitutional duty of the federal government, and that is to secure the border.” Perry then described the disaster unfolding on the border, detailing various serious crimes and national security issues.

That didn’t make the national news, however. Perry’s throwaway comment about Joan Rivers, used to defend Texas’s newest abortion law, did. No one, I suppose, should be surprised. What’s Monsanto up to these days? 

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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