In many cases the factual situation and what people think the situation is differ dramatically. This doesn’t sound like an issue per se, but it becomes a major problem when one realizes that most of our actions are based on what we think the situation is as opposed to what the reality is. Managing the subjective feelings of any given situation is therefore critical.
This works on all levels – many individuals don’t like to walk outside alone when it’s dark or very late in the night because it feels unsafe. It may or may not be any less safe than at other times of the day, but that doesn’t matter at all. It’s the feeling that controls the behaviour, not the factual situation. On a larger scale, if a panic strikes a dense crowd for one reason or another, it’s very likely that the situation will turn ugly – completely irrespective of the whether they were in any real danger in the first place. Like a few months back when a thousand Iraqi died because of a rumor.
It’s a curious dilemma – on one hand, the deep-rooted prejudice to one thing or another of a single human being is a very difficult thing to change. However, generalizing only a little, opinions of the general public are heavily influenced by mass media and their portrayal of things. Security and safety is the perfect example – on many fronts, the mass media is keen to hype up all kind of insecurity and one could even say they instigate fear, distrust and doubt. The reason being, of course, that catastrophies and crisis sell well. On the other hand, some governments are adamant on maintaining a treacherous balance of (illusion of) safety and atmosphere of vigilance and suspicion. Sadly, these approaches may have nothing to do with the actual security / safety situation.
The illusion of safety is what many of the airline “safety” policies are based on. It’s a rare occurance when somebody actually admits this, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this story on Schneier’s blog – and disappointed although not surprised at the reaction the Australian minister’s comments caused. Admitting the truth does not underime airline security, quite the opposite – in the ideal world, it would allow us to focus the discussion and measures of airline security to the ones that actually have significant effects. But has that been discussed? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Instead, what seems to be on top of the agenda is calling for her resignation – for telling the truth?
Sure, shoot the messenger…