More on airport security - it's not the actions, it's the responses.

Bruce Schneier has turned up the 1,349,822nd example of poor airport security. I've already commented on his blog about this. Here's what I said...

Yet more examples of ignoring Gibson's First and Third Laws.
I long for the days when I used to be able to wander onto a plane with my Swiss
army knife in the pocket.
We can bleat on about how bad it all is, but what can we _do_ about it??? How do we lower entire nation's paranoia levels? What is a reasonable compromise so that people feel safe but uninhibited?
Is there an 80/20 rule we can apply?
So many questions, but so few answers. Sigh.

OK. Maybe I'm getting to be a bit of a blowhard about my "laws", but the general idea is still true.

For the sake of the argument, I think it's safe to assume that there are lots of examples of OTT security in airports.

The crux of the matter
The major problems here are cultural not regulatory. Although events such as 9/11 and the war on terrorism have led to the current security infrastructure, the problem in this case is not those actions it's the responses to them. i.e.
  • Because of the American psyche, based around their history and the way they perceive the world, they have reacted in a certain way to these events.
  • Because of the British/French/Australian/New Zealand/Beninian/Iraqi/Afgani/... psyches, based around their history and the way they perceive the world, they have reacted in a certain way to these events
  • Because of America's standing in the world, other parts of the world have reacted a similar or completely different ways
Another example of this is perhaps the whole firearms debate that Michael Moore put up. Question: Why do so many American's die in gun-related crimes compared to say Canada, which has the same regulatory framework? Answer: It's a cultural thing.

So often major events are catalysts for change. Something major happens and people revert to type and react accordingly. Welcome to life. This is not stuff that can change over night if at all. It's taken years to get to our current states of mind. I don't see it changing easily.

What do we do about it?
Taking a deep breath and thinking rationally will help. People like Bruce, experts in their fields can help with this. Then we need to get to a collective understanding. Oh dear, here comes Gibson's 4th law (90% of people are stupid). In this case, the interpretation is that 90% of people will do whatever someone tells them to, because it's easier not to think.

Buggered if I know what do to about that.


  • Tom Barnett calls the major catalysts for change System Perturbations - see his post at http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/archives2/000711.html

    You are so right about the cultural impacts - at its core humanity is about relationships.

    Not sure if your Moore gun example is a good example. The US cities with the tightest gun control experience the highest fatality rates. The town with a law requiring each household to own a gun has the least gun crime. See http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0304f.asp
    Maybe the real difference is that Canada doesn't have any crazy slums like Chicago and Detroit.

    I suspect that the paranoia is a combination of experience (9/11) and media obsession (from rebroadcasts of the event to 'scoops' on the ability to get through security with a wee little knife). Statistics should give us confidence but the up close images still haunt us.

    The events in Egypt and Lebanon after the Iraqi elections show that cultures may change if the preceived benefit is great enough (and the escape from history).

    Your 4th law seems a bit cynical. Perhaps 90% of the people are 'followers' or just lazy. People like Barnett offer a new view to oppose both the 'stuck in a rut' views of the US right and left parties. He is gaining increasing influence in the 'middle' - as the 'thought leaders' weigh in on these views expect to see the 90% make their choices. Frankly his position is based in optimism and a 'future worth creating' - certainly a recipe to defuse paranoia.

    By Blogger Stuart Berman, at 6:36 PM  

  • Stuart,

    All good stuff. I know my 4th law is extremely cynical - it got written at a very cynical time and I have probably overstated the problem. Your idea around the sheep mentality is perhaps closer to the truth.

    I think your idea about guns is not quite right either. It suggests a correlation between tight gun laws and high gun crime. I can't accept that the relationship is so simple. From my limited understanding (and external view) of American culture, this seems like a major and very emotional topic. There must be more going on, which is where my culture vs. regulation comment comes from.

    I don't think that there is a regulatory answer to high gun crime in the US - or anywhere.

    Barnett takes an interesting view. I haven't had a chance to research the background of where he is coming from or his motives, but he seems like a bright guy. I think a number of his comments are interesting.

    My first question is whether the historical examples he quotes from can be extrapolated to today. i.e. if it applied in 1648, it must apply today. Again I think that's too simplistic.

    My second comment is that a lot of the "scenarios" they assessed come out of Tom Clancy novels, which might not be a bad idea as the terrorists seem to read them too ;-)

    All that said, I do prefer the simple answers to things. Being a mathematician by trade (a while ago), I know that complicated models for complicated processes don't necessarily work. It's the simple ones that often come out the best - e.g. Black-Scholes for options pricing.

    By Blogger Rhys Gibson, at 9:30 AM  

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