The Institutionisation of Fear

Just read this awesome essay by Bruce Scheneier about the fundamentally broken way in which security policies and management is being done in the countries of today.

Most of the folks in charge of security are trying to base their measures and policy around the worst case scenario. This leads to ridiculous scenarios which makes the 99.9999% scenario of normalcy as bad as possible - not carrying liquids in plane, photography being banned from many public places, strip searching of travelers, etc.

Scheneier argues that this only makes things worse.

There’s a certain blindness that comes from worst-case thinking. An extension of the precautionary principle, it involves imagining the worst possible outcome and then acting as if it were a certainty. It substitutes imagination for thinking, speculation for risk analysis, and fear for reason. It fosters powerlessness and vulnerability and magnifies social paralysis. And it makes us more vulnerable to the effects of terrorism.

For one, instead of working with facts, the emphasis in security policy is revolving around imagination.

Secondly, instead of allocating resources based on the probability of all the possible scenarios, our policy makers are allocating all the resources on the worst case scenario, no matter how improbable it is.

Thirdly, by trying to convince administrators and the public that this doomsday scenario is what they need to protect themselves again, the public ends up being more scared and vulnerable all the time. Even events where security measures have been successful in fending off an attack, ends up making people feel more vulnerable instead of secure!

A quote referenced in the article:

Worst-case thinking encourages society to adopt fear as one of the dominant principles around which the public, the government and institutions should organize their life. It institutionalizes insecurity and fosters a mood of confusion and powerlessness. Through popularizing the belief that worst cases are normal, it incites people to feel defenseless and vulnerable to a wide range of future threats.

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