Mad, Beautiful Ideas
The Terrorists Have Won

I’ve blogged about valuing privacy before, but Bruce Schneier, a Security Technologist and Author, blogs today about a War on the Unexpected. His post a number of vast over exaggerations of things that under normal circumstances would never have been considered a threat, but the current state of panic that most of the populace seems to live in is a strong indication of one thing. The terrorists have clearly won.

Bruce links to stories on a lot of the high-profile out-of-control escalations which have occured over the last few years, so I won’t bother rediscussing them here. What frightens me most, is the people supporting knee-jerk escalations in the comments on Bruce’s blog. A cell phone being left behind on a plane does not warrant a full evacuation and search of the plane. If airport security is doing their job, how would a bomb have gotten on the seat? A lot of things are out of the ordinary, but out of the ordinary doesn’t mean that it’s a threat. If w’ere going to encourage the populace to report everything, we need to train people on identifying a credible threat. We need to stop praising people for out of control escalation, and praise them instead for appropriate responses. I’m not suggesting that no response is the best solution, but responses must be considered and reasonable. While today most of the Western World lives in fear of imagined threats, how much longer before we simply become numb to the world around us?

This guise of protection has already taken it’s toll, and that cost is the encouragement of interest in Science. This isn’t just the fault of Al-Qeada and 9/11. The dulling down of our children has been escalating for years. A co-worker of mine was recently approached by Washington’s Child Protective Services because of a black eye he recieved at home, since the teacher felt the need to escalate a single bruise witnessed on a young boy. I remember when I was nine years old, I constantly had bumps, bruises and scrapes from playing with other children and just generally going foolish things. Hell, I’m in my mid-twenties, and I still get small injuries on a regular basis. I know I haven’t seen kids change that much as I’ve grown up.

Yes, we need to protect children, but we need to protect them from real threats. Paedophiles, murders, theives. We need to teach them what to do when something genuinely frightening happens, and comfort them when something unnerving happens. But we need to keep them free. Free to play. Free to experiment. Free to Explore. If we don’t our society will crumble as our desire to promote safety raises everyone to such an intense level of fear, that we can not function. We can not advance. We can not succeed.

Did the world change on September 11, 2001? I don’t think it did. We’d been attacked before. We’ll be attacked again. What changed, was us and our perception of the world. Where before we were mostly comfortable with our world, and usually able to judge geniunely suspicious behaviour, as a whole we’ve largely lost that ability, and our society is suffering for it. AT&T uses their Hancock language to identify communities of interest, establishing guilt by association, even two or three layers away from the target of interest. St. Louis encourages a ‘telling culture’ in it’s schools, which, if implemented without a proper discussion of what a threat is, could easily serve as a precursor to the knee-jerk reactions and escalations we see today.

American’s have become afraid of the silliest things. We choose to fear that which we don’t understand, rather than seek to understand it. In our rush to fear, we choose to shelter people from things rather than educate them. The St. Louis story I link to above makes reference to escalated responses by children to bullying, presumably in the form of school shootings. This is an unfortuante problem, particularly with how young some of the shooters have been, but this is more of a lack of education. If you’re going to keep guns in the house, they need to be kept safe, and everyone in the house needs to respect the weapons, and what they can do. I remember a story of a father taking his young son, three or four years old, out to an outdoor range, setting up a glass jug of water, and shooting it with his son watching. It was to make his son understand what the gun was, and to demonstrate, explosively, what it could do. People need to be taught to respect the dangers inherent in an item, whether it’s chemicals, weapons, or even a bicycle. By respecting the danger, we can keep oursevles relatively safe, while still exploring, still learning. Will we get hurt occasionally? Yeah. But that’s just another part of the learning process.