Our Newfound Fear of Risk

We're afraid of risk. It's a normal part of life, but we're increasingly unwilling to accept it at any level. So we turn to technology to protect us. The problem is that technological security measures aren't free. They cost money, of course, but they cost other things as well. They often don't provide the security they advertise, and -- paradoxically -- they often increase risk somewhere else. This problem is particularly stark when the risk involves another person: crime, terrorism, and so on. While technology has made us much safer against natural risks like accidents and disease, it works less well against man-made risks.

Three examples:

  1. We have allowed the police to turn themselves into a paramilitary organization. They deploy SWAT teams multiple times a day, almost always in nondangerous situations. They tase people at minimal provocation, often when it's not warranted. Unprovoked shootings are on the rise. One result of these measures is that honest mistakes -- a wrong address on a warrant, a misunderstanding -- result in the terrorizing of innocent people, and more death in what were once nonviolent confrontations with police.

  2. We accept zero-tolerance policies in schools. This results in ridiculous situations, where young children are suspended for pointing gun-shaped fingers at other students or drawing pictures of guns with crayons, and high-school students are disciplined for giving each other over-the-counter pain relievers. The cost of these policies is enormous, both in dollars to implement and its long-lasting effects on students.

  3. We have spent over one trillion dollars and thousands of lives fighting terrorism in the past decade -- including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- money that could have been better used in all sorts of ways. We now know that the NSA has turned into a massive domestic surveillance organization, and that its data is also used by other government organizations, which then lie about it. Our foreign policy has changed for the worse: we spy on everyone, we trample human rights abroad, our drones kill indiscriminately, and our diplomatic outposts have either closed down or become fortresses. In the months after 9/11, so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths dwarfed the deaths from the terrorist attack itself, because cars are much more dangerous than airplanes.

There are lots more examples, but the general point is that we tend to fixate on a particular risk and then do everything we can to mitigate it, including giving up our freedoms and liberties.

There's a subtle psychological explanation. Risk tolerance is both cultural and dependent on the environment around us. As we have advanced technologically as a society, we have reduced many of the risks that have been with us for millennia. Fatal childhood diseases are things of the past, many adult diseases are curable, accidents are rarer and more survivable, buildings collapse less often, death by violence has declined considerably, and so on. All over the world -- among the wealthier of us who live in peaceful Western countries -- our lives have become safer.

Our notions of risk are not absolute; they're based more on how far they are from whatever we think of as "normal." So as our perception of what is normal gets safer, the remaining risks stand out more. When your population is dying of the plague, protecting yourself from the occasional thief or murderer is a luxury. When everyone is healthy, it becomes a necessity.

Some of this fear results from imperfect risk perception. We're bad at accurately assessing risk; we tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange, and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar, and common ones. This leads us to believe that violence against police, school shootings, and terrorist attacks are more common and more deadly than they actually are -- and that the costs, dangers, and risks of a militarized police, a school system without flexibility, and a surveillance state without privacy are less than they really are.

Some of this fear stems from the fact that we put people in charge of just one aspect of the risk equation. No one wants to be the senior officer who didn't approve the SWAT team for the one subpoena delivery that resulted in an officer being shot. No one wants to be the school principal who didn't discipline -- no matter how benign the infraction -- the one student who became a shooter. No one wants to be the president who rolled back counterterrorism measures, just in time to have a plot succeed. Those in charge will be naturally risk averse, since they personally shoulder so much of the burden.

We also expect that science and technology should be able to mitigate these risks, as they mitigate so many others. There's a fundamental problem at the intersection of these security measures with science and technology; it has to do with the types of risk they're arrayed against. Most of the risks we face in life are against nature: disease, accident, weather, random chance. As our science has improved -- medicine is the big one, but other sciences as well -- we become better at mitigating and recovering from those sorts of risks.

Security measures combat a very different sort of risk: a risk stemming from another person. People are intelligent, and they can adapt to new security measures in ways nature cannot. An earthquake isn't able to figure out how to topple structures constructed under some new and safer building code, and an automobile won't invent a new form of accident that undermines medical advances that have made existing accidents more survivable. But a terrorist will change his tactics and targets in response to new security measures. An otherwise innocent person will change his behavior in response to a police force that compels compliance at the threat of a Taser. We will all change, living in a surveillance state.

When you implement measures to mitigate the effects of the random risks of the world, you're safer as a result. When you implement measures to reduce the risks from your fellow human beings, the human beings adapt and you get less risk reduction than you'd expect -- and you also get more side effects, because we all adapt.

We need to relearn how to recognize the trade-offs that come from risk management, especially risk from our fellow human beings. We need to relearn how to accept risk, and even embrace it, as essential to human progress and our free society. The more we expect technology to protect us from people in the same way it protects us from nature, the more we will sacrifice the very values of our society in futile attempts to achieve this security.

This essay previously appeared on Forbes.com.

EDITED TO ADD (8/5): Slashdot thread.

Posted on September 3, 2013 at 6:41 AM • 85 Comments

Comments

QLSeptember 3, 2013 7:37 AM

"As we have advanced technologically as a society, we have reduced many of the risks that have been with us for millennia."
Maybe, but don't discount the value of fear to garner additional power, and the resultant creation of a market for the perception of fear. The equation appears to be that, in return for greater control over society, a perceived risk is purported to be reduced or negated by an institution or agency. That end-point is not a benign by-product of societal advancement.

R2September 3, 2013 7:48 AM

Reason is reporting that

Brickbat: On Your Knees Charles Oliver | Sep. 3, 2013 6:00 am

Parents of students at California's Calimesa Elementary School weren't happy with a new policy that required students to kneel before Principal Dana Carter and a few other administrators. Officials described it as a safety measure. But after local media picked up the story, the school system announced it would drop the policy.

emphasis added

Paul JakmaSeptember 3, 2013 8:13 AM

Great post. Just one thing, you're wrong about "cars" not adapting. Cars are controlled by humans, and those humans adapt to safety devices. R.g., ABS hasn't improved road accidents anywhere as much as hoped, because given better braking drivers take more risks, brake later, etc.

kerenssaSeptember 3, 2013 8:25 AM

The use of the word 'indiscriminate' ("...drones kill indiscriminately") is careless, in my opinion, and I don't see supporting evidence in the article you linked. Would you please elaborate on your intended meaning?

Ben CurthoysSeptember 3, 2013 8:27 AM

I'm just re-reading http://www.amazon.co.uk/Risk-John-Adams/dp/1857280687 before lending it to a friend. If you've not run across it, it's worth a look. There is a large section on the risks associated with traffic and cars only because the data on traffic accidents and deaths is the best available dataset with enough data points for meaningful analysis, but the lessons and results are globally applicable.

Ned HorvathSeptember 3, 2013 8:52 AM

Two very relevant book references, both pay very high dividends for your reading time investment:

Nassim Taleb, Antifragile, makes the case that eliminating stressors (e.g. small risks) makes you weaker - more fragile. Stress - within limits - can make you stronger.

Daniel Kahnemann, Thinking Fast and Slow, covers an amazing amount of ground - a lifetime of well-designed psychological research - including that we tend to pay too much for small odds bets (e.g. lottery tickets), but we also tend to pay too much to turn "nearly certain" bets into sure things.

Paul RenaultSeptember 3, 2013 9:07 AM

Not just physical risks. I've come to realize that my primary job isn't resolving the technical issues of what I do for a living, it's "covering my ass".

(Photocopy this, take a picture of that, get receipts, write down the name of the person you spoke to, and on, and on, and bloody on...)

Michael BradySeptember 3, 2013 9:15 AM

Kerenssa

You're right I suppose, "indiscriminate" isn't exactly the correct word. Using a Hellfire missile to destroy the car or home in which a signature strike target is located also kills everyone else in the car or the home. The drone drivers in Nevada know this, so it would be more accurate to say they are "deliberately" killing persons not identified as combatants. Other words commonly used to describe such persons include - noncombatants, innocents, civilians, families, wives, children, grandparents, babies, neighbors, passers by...

http://web.law.columbia.edu/human-rights-institute/counterterrorism/drone-strikes/civilian-impact-drone-strikes-unexamined-costs-unanswered-questions

robSeptember 3, 2013 9:18 AM

One of the most annoying things about this petty risk avoidance is the idea that pocket knives are much more dangerous than a lot of other things (laptops, heavy books, car keys) carried by people. I especially enjoyed going to the municipal building to pay a $10 traffic ticket and being stopped at security for having a small swiss army knife (used for cutting my nails) for fear that I would use this knife, which is kinda hard to do since the traffic clerks are behind thick glass with a small tray to pass the ticket and money.
The security guard very nicely offered to hold my pocket knife while I paid my ticket, I said thank you.
This kind of risk avoidance does no good.

PeterSeptember 3, 2013 9:31 AM

@Ned Horvath

Another point Daniel Kahnemann makes is that our brains are really bad at statistics, so we substitute other things. In particular, risks are typically evaluated based on how quickly we can recall examples of the risk. Which, in turn, means that the risks that get the most publicity are perceived as the biggest problems.

Bernie CosellSeptember 3, 2013 9:39 AM

I don't think "zero tolerance" is a result of risk avoidance, I think it is a result of cowardice. The people who could make rational choices and promulgate rational judgement-including rules are afraid that if *anything* goes wrong they'll be drawn and quartered and so the only safe approach is "zero tolerance" where it is *nobody's* responsibility to "be the adult".

aaaaSeptember 3, 2013 10:25 AM

I always interpreted "zero tolerance" more as a manifestation of authoritarian mind set then risk tolerance. The idea seems to be that if you punish as many people as hard as possible, the rest people will become totally obedient.

It does not seem like something designed to lower risks, it seems to be designed to punish as many infractions as possible. It is the same mind set as the one that brought you war on drugs and placed USA as #1 in list of imprisoned people.

Peter GalbavySeptember 3, 2013 10:29 AM

While this trend is most visible in the USA it is being exported to the rest of us, sadly.

I think one of the driving forces for it is the relentless marketing and advertising that is so prevalent in the US. Odd thing to say I know, but in the US the power of the media and the advertisers is startling. Most TV viewers pretty much do what they're told and this softens them up nicely for political domination too.

Think of a sensible politician - seemingly an oxymoron - who wants to pull back on some of this impossible zero risk policy making; Their opponents will (and have) immediately jumped on them and screamed the equivalent of "think of the children!" at the top of their television amplified lungs and any positive change is lost forever.

andyinsdcaSeptember 3, 2013 10:31 AM

I notice that the 3 examples you give are all examples of the state abusing its power, not about risk or fear. Unfortunately, we can't do much about #1, but Radley Balko is doing a bang-up job of bringing this issue out with his book & book tour. On #2, there are many ways around this, for example, home schools or private schools. On #3, the people of the US are growing weary of war and there's a definite movement against action against Syria and while we rant about the NSA, we'll find ways around their spying on us or we'll just ignore it and go on about our day.

kerenssaSeptember 3, 2013 10:42 AM

@ Michael Brady: For heaven's sake, of course the weapon itself is indiscriminate.

My query to Mr. Schneier is for an elaboration of his intent in using the word "indiscriminate" to describe the use of the weapon.

Your sarcasm is not helpful ("other words commonly used to ....").

AspieSeptember 3, 2013 11:01 AM

Good points Mr. S and, at the risk of provoking ire with a trite but still salient point; the glorification of violence, particularly righteous violence, in the media and popular entertainment blockbuster films has undoubtedly turned weaker heads.

Unfortunately many of those heads seem be under hats with law-enforcement badges pinned to them.

If a person is trained to see every situation as a potential life-threatening one, it won't be long before they make a bad call. Throw in the idiocy of a "Threat Level Indicator" to tell people when to be nervous (the most cretinous and transparently manipulative device I've ever seen) and anyone with a backpack becomes a potential bullet magnet for any have-a-go-hero with or without a uniform.

As for David Morgan, he seems to have a problem with race and sadly that seems to have been going on for a long time south of the Mason-Dixon line.

JessSeptember 3, 2013 11:07 AM

kerenssa, you can't be serious. First you complain that drones are described as killing in indiscriminate fashion. Now you stipulate "of course the weapon itself is indiscriminate", and dismiss Michael Brady's description of their indiscriminate use as "sarcasm". Having trouble making up your mind?

Sarcasm is seldom appreciated by those who are completely wrong.

JSSeptember 3, 2013 11:19 AM

This is very much American-centric. On one hand, many European countries don't have such expansion of police or counter-terrorism forces. On the other hand, Americans are not worried about gun violence or health care bills or losing jobs. These are risky as well, and these risks are managed by things like social security and other regulations in Europe.

So I am not sure the thesis, that American or modern culture is more risk-averse, stands very well.

paulSeptember 3, 2013 11:46 AM

I think JS has it, in a sort of sideways fashion. In the US, we are subject to a whole slew of risks and worse-than-risks, from random job loss to medical catastrophe to loss of retirement savings to unhandled climate change to loss of home -- all of which have been ruled politically and culturally out of order to even acknowledge, much less address.

So instead we freak out about much-less-existential risks, and accept significant abridgements of liberty that don't even really address those risks. But do often profit some of the folks who might be disadvantaged by addressing the unspeakable risks.

It reminds me a little of a friend who lived in San Francisco and worried that in an earthquake her iron would fall of the top shelf of the bookcase where it was stored and damage something (instead of worrying, say, that the building would fall down) An amusing quirk in a person, not so good for a society.

BrettSeptember 3, 2013 12:03 PM

JS - "...Americans are not worried about gun
violence or health care bills or losing jobs...."

I would say that American's are worried about all three, different levels of worry but still worried. Ignore what you see on news and what comes out of the politicians mouths and talk with "common" people and you get a true picture.

From my perspective America really is becoming very risk adverse. I think it is a strategy by Government to push the risks and get people to accept loss of freedoms to feel more secure.


MattSeptember 3, 2013 12:18 PM

This isn't just about more accurately assessing risk; it's about this:

We need to relearn how to accept risk, and even embrace it

A society with the individual liberties that we enjoy is probably a tenuous thing, forever being resisted by poor education, unfettered greed, fundamentalist belief systems, those who seek power solely for personal reasons, and on and on. Suggesting that the main issue is accurately assessing risk begs the question: how much risk should we accept to create the sort of society we collectively think--to the extent anyone even wonders about this anymore--is the best that we can achieve?

It's a complex question. Many people would have difficulty with the idea of assuming risk (however minute) in their own lifetime for the benefit of a strong society that lasts many generations. In this case, it is probably a deficit of inspiring and transformation leadership that prevents average Americans from seeing how crucial it is that we do take these risks, and forgo the comfort and seeming safety of the burgeoning security state, in order to sustain and achieve the sort of government and society that we thing is best.

Michael PryorSeptember 3, 2013 12:45 PM

Could you kindly post the source for the number of vehicle deaths and the associated increase? "In the months after 9/11, so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths dwarfed the deaths from the terrorist attack itself, because cars are much more dangerous than airplanes."

bcsSeptember 3, 2013 1:00 PM

How can we change public perceptions? What would it take to get CNN et al. to report daily body counts for real risks (car crashes, police shootings, suicides, everything else in the top-20-causes-of-death, etc?)

WaelSeptember 3, 2013 1:09 PM

@ Bruce

We're afraid of risk...

Some are, some are not.
Various reasons for the people who don't fear risk, including:

1- "ignorance is bliss"...
2- Embracing: "No risk, no fun!"...

Michael BradySeptember 3, 2013 1:15 PM

@ karenssa

"My query to Mr. Schneier is for an elaboration of his intent in using the word "indiscriminate" to describe the use of the weapon."

Not sure I can do this without sarcasm, but...

If a foreign alphabet agency determined that a notorious transnational terrorist (or at least someone who uses his cellphone from time to time) comes to dinner at your home every Friday evening and they decide to drop a 500 pound JDAM down your chimney while he's there, knowing all the while that you and your extended family are also present, would you regard that as indiscriminate use of force?

Nope, couldn't do it...

dennisSeptember 3, 2013 1:50 PM

I had never heard the assertion that

"In the months after 9/11, so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths dwarfed the deaths from the terrorist attack itself"

so I did a quick Google search
This page: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3233376/ claims that there were 353 additional driving deaths because of 9/11 fear. That is only about 12% of the deaths from 9/11.

This page: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/05/september-11-road-deaths puts the number at 1595, which is about 53% of the deaths from 9/11.

What did you base your claim on?

tobias d. robisonSeptember 3, 2013 1:52 PM

After 9/11. I chose to drive rather than fly because flying became so unpleasant. I was not doing any kind of risk analysis. Flying has become much less pleasant.

some oneSeptember 3, 2013 4:43 PM

@ tobias d. robison
Someone made the risk analysis for you and made flying unpleasant. They seemed not to consider that people would resort to other, unsafer, means of transportation. It doesn't matter who made the initial choice, it's the cause (wrong/dubious risk analysis) and the outcome of it (more deaths) that's being discussed here.

StefanSeptember 3, 2013 5:05 PM

I want to emphasize that
"In the months after 9/11, so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths dwarfed the deaths from the terrorist attack itself"
seems to lead to some confusion (me, dennis, http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/17578 ) and needs some clarification.

MingoVSeptember 3, 2013 6:11 PM

RE: Risk reduction?

I'm walking on a city sidewalk at night and see a man walking toward me. Who would I find most dangerous:

1. A shabby-looking middle-aged white man.
2. A young black man.
3. A young policeman.

My answer today is number 3. #1 might beg for money. #2 might mug me. #3 might arrest me based on no evidence (or planted evidence), decide that I'm a terrorist money launderer and confiscate my home and vehicles, or kill me because he thinks my cell phone is a gun.

kashmarekSeptember 3, 2013 7:47 PM

More appropriate would be

"Our not so newfound fear..."

Today, more people are exploiting that fear (doing a better job of it) and we allow ourselves to be exploited.

Dirk PraetSeptember 3, 2013 10:01 PM

I'm not entirely convinced that (US) society as a whole is becoming more risk averse. What we do see is a dramatic shift in how we manage risk.

In classic risk management, there are four ways of dealing with risks: avoidance, acceptance, mitigation and transfer. A typical example would be considering the purchase of a car, usage of which may at some point get you involved in an accident. Your car can get damaged, you could damage someone elses, you might get hurt/killed or injure/kill someone else. This leaves you the following options:

1) You accept the fact that accidents can and will happen, but without a car you can't get to work. You're a careful driver and there's not a lot of traffic in the rural area you're living in anyway.

2) You're a foreigner living in New Delhi, where traffic is absolutely insane and people don't care about traffic rules and lights at all. You barely survive your test drive and decide to stick with public transport. You avoid the risk of getting involved in a car crash because it's very real.

3) You buy a Hummer and adopt a defensive drive style, thus mitigating certain risks.

4) You take out a comprehensive insurance policy covering both material and physical damages to yourself and others. On top of that, a life insurance policy guarantees your family is not left without means of living in case you die in a car crash. You have just transfered most risks to a 3rd party.

In accepting and mitigating risk, you assume full responsability and accountability for your actions. Transfering risk on the other hand is a convenient solution to put those on someone else's shoulder. It does however come at a price and requires a trust relation to either exist or be established between both parties. I believe that what we are seeing today in the general population is a growing shift from mitigation to transfer of risk, and in which both corporate marketing and government propaganda play a huge role.

Why risk being blown up by terrorists, violent criminals and evil nations when your government can totally take care of that problem for you ? Why bother spending time and money on all sorts of complex internet services when benign organisations like Google, Facebook et al offer them for free and are only a click away ? It's the right thing to do because all mainstream media are telling you so.

But just as with your car insurance policy, there is always a catch when transfering risk. You may think it covers DUI, but you haven't read the small print. You trash your own car and someone else's and end up paying all damages out of your own pocket. It's exactly the same thing when transfering all personal risk, responsability and accountability to your government. At some point you realise that in doing so you equally transfered your privacy and civil liberties and by signing up to all kinds of free corporate services you did more of the same.

Jonathan WilsonSeptember 3, 2013 10:46 PM

When I was a kid, I used take my pocket money every Saturday morning, tear out of the house at who knows what speed, down the street, through the car park of the recreation center, across the sports oval and through to the corner store (all the while shouting who knows what at the top of my lungs). Then I would go and spend my pocket money on all kinds of lollies (most of which would probably be eaten by the time I got home).
All of this was done with no parental supervision whatsoever.

These days if that happened, the parents would be yelled at for allowing their kid to go out unsupervised, yelled at for allowing their kid to run so fast though car parks and sports ovals and things with such a high risk of being hurt in the process and quite possibly yelled at for allowing their kids to spend their money with no controls on what they are buying.

AspieSeptember 4, 2013 2:38 AM

@Jonathan Wilson

Probably showing my age too but from age six onwards - probably earlier - on Saturdays I was roaming free either alone or with mates from dawn to dusk through the town and surrounding greenbelt areas. Legging it from farmers' dogs and bulls, scaling trees and abandoned buildings, making swings, exploring, imagining and generally getting as grubby, bruised and scraped as possible.

At home my mother might ask me with mild interest what I'd done to my leg/arm/head, dress the wound then ask me what I wanted for dinner. During summer holidays they couldn't have kept me indoors if they'd stapled me to the living room floor with croquet hoops.

All kids should be free to do these things, it's an essential part of growing up. To burden the child with the fears of the parents is to limit the kid's scope in life.

DerpSeptember 4, 2013 3:19 AM

The only person in the US government with the authority to accept any kind of risk is the president. I do not think this president, or the previous president understood that 'accepting risk' is a significant part of the job description.

saurabh hoodaSeptember 4, 2013 3:49 AM

Rules for avoiding risks are always made by a committee (police, nation or a simple school committee) and a committee will act as strong as its weakest member (or accept risk as much as the most risk-averse-vigilant person on the committee). On the same lines, a Startup can take too much of risk because one or two people decide what needs to be done and how much risk can be tolerated whereas in Big corporation risk tolerance is nearly zilch.
When people will feel suffocated because of these risk policies then they will appoint more risk taking people to the committee and hence risk taking capability will increase as little as weakest member. It's slow but that's the way :)

Marian KechlibarSeptember 4, 2013 4:35 AM

In my experience, Americans are incredibly low tolerant with regard to perceived physical risk, while being remarkably risk resistant when it comes to business risk.

In Europe, the situation is reversed.

Each of the cultures could teach the other the *good* lesson, but I am afraid that it will turn out precisely the other way round.

One of the reasons why I think so is that the share of young male population is plummeting in most of the Western world, and with it goes the only risk-taking part of the population. Most middle-aged and elderly people do not take any risk easily.

Marian KechlibarSeptember 4, 2013 4:40 AM

Regarding militarization of the police, this is a spill from militarization of the USA.

The old (as in "obsolete") military equipment has to go somewhere. Either you sell it off to Africa, or use it for domestic purposes. Most other First World nations sell of the surpluses to the rest of the world.

But American military surpluses are so huge that the rest of the world isn't simply capable of absorbing them; also, much of this equipment is "too good" for the recipients, either requiring expensive support and maintenance, or giving them too much firepower if they potentially turn hostile.

So I am not sure of the causation here. Maybe the police gets the military equipment first, and as they prance around in full battle gear, the general perception that the street is a battleground arises in the minds of the people.

LennieSeptember 4, 2013 5:18 AM

@JS @Brett @Paul the same trends and similar fears exists in Europe as in the US.

The difference I think is the 'Climate of fear' in the US. One of the examples is the way violence and crime is reported on TV, how it might have influenced the mentality in the US.

(I've never been to the US, so I had to find a reference point. This term came from the Wikipedia description of the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine)

GweihirSeptember 4, 2013 5:21 AM

This is even more dire: The more the focus is on irrelevant or minor risks, the more real high risks get ignored. In the end, society either recovers from this collective loss-of-context or collapses under the load of addressing all those things that are irrelevant and not addressing the relevant things, as efficiency is not to be had anymore.

There is also a self-amplifying effect: If you stop taking minor risks, you stop learning how to improvise when minor things go wrong, amplifying the minor things.

jintoreedwineSeptember 4, 2013 6:07 AM

Thanks for writing this awesome article! I have been trying to explain this exact point to my friends and family for a while now, but could never explain it as well as you have. I think the way things are headed is more scary than all the "risks" we seem so afraid of...

EdSeptember 4, 2013 6:41 AM

This paper from 2005 suggests that almost 2200 driving deaths are attributable to post 9/11 flight avoidance. Not quite as many as on the day itself but quite close.

BrianSeptember 4, 2013 7:08 AM

It would be nice if people like Bruce applied the same reasonable risk assessment to the government that they insist people apply to threats like terrorism. I'd certainly agree that terrorism isn't the world ending threat some make it out to be, but Al-Qaeda has still harmed way more innocent people than the NSA and harmed them much more seriously.

The line "...the general point is that we tend to fixate on a particular risk and then do everything we can to mitigate it..." is a good argument in the terrorism debate, and could just as easily apply to risks from our government.

EdSeptember 4, 2013 7:37 AM

Brian, to paraphrase another 'contributor' from earlier who appears to have gone to ground: I don't see supporting evidence for your assertion comparing the NSA and Al Qaeda. Would you please provide citations.

BartSeptember 4, 2013 9:29 AM

@brian

the risk assessment with goverment goes like this:

It's an axiom (and a simple historical observation) that any position of power will sooner or later fall into the hands of someone who is either shortsighted, misguided or just plain evil.

Whenever that happens, that's the times when the biggest evils in history happen (the bigger the powerbase the bigger the evil).
It's those big evils that form an existential threat towards society. There's absolutely nothing an individual or small group can do that comes anywhere near that. Yes that's 9/11 and a hypothetical rogue nuke (or casualty-wise similar event) included.

Consequently we need to limit both the size and scope of any powerbase. Hence we get ideas like separation of powers, checks and balances, civil rights, due process, rule of law etc.

As far as the nsa goes: the kind of information the nsa and other government agencies are now routinely gathering and storing about everyone is the kind of thing the stazi or kgb or SS would have quite happily killed to get (and then used as justificaton for further killing)

The ultimate consequences of that data-hoarding when the next McCarthy starts another witchhunt, or an outright dictator grabs power will make 9/11 look like a meaningless blip on the radar.

RSaundersSeptember 4, 2013 10:16 AM

This poor risk response causes another sort of problem, call it Post Tragedy Stupidity Disorder since everything needs a label these days. Here is how the reasoning works:

1) Something bad happens, usually involving some "bad person" or a regular person with a "bad idea".

2) Because unusual, unlikely, bad things are uncommon, they qualify as "news". TV stations, having already blocked time and sold ads promising that they would play in the time around "news" programs, broadcasts the "something bad". In order to get viewers to consider the unlikely event as interesting, the "news" programmers are full of lines like "What if this happened to your kid | wife | school | ...?"

3) Boatloads of people, completely unaffected by the "something bad", become afraid. They demand "Something must be done!"

4) Reasonable scientists and engineers explain that there is no good reason for them to be afraid. This input is totally ignored, because it's not as catchy as the "news" take.

5) Thoughtless politicians respond with enthusiasm that if their particular part of the vast web of government had more money, they could prevent this particular "something bad" from happening.

6) Economists point out that the solution costs more than the recovery from the "something bad". Bruce writes a column pointing out that the politicians narrow response wouldn't have any benefit if the evildoer simply changed their tactics a little. This input is also ignored.

7) The voters stand on "Something must be done" and the politicians respond with "This is something" and even though the analysts point out that "The proposed something is ineffective", the decision is to do something. Government gets more money, and mostly wastes it.

8) In a couple of years, the fearful event dulls in the memory, and someone (usually Bruce) suggests that we stop wasting money that particular way. The politicians, never willing to see government of any kind shrink, proclaim "In the past N years, we've spent money and the bad event has not recurred. Who wants to take the risk that something bad will happen?"

9) It is pointed out that the bad event is statistically rare, and in the N years before the historic event we didn't spend money on government and something bad didn't happen then either. This input is ignored because history is the definition of "not news".

10) The government just keeps spending more and more. We're spending so much on "security" that our acceptable risk level goes down. Now an unlikely event that only slightly hurts people becomes the new level of "something bad". Didn't the Roman Empire collapse from this sort of entitlement spending?

The real terrorists here are the "news" folks. I propose we declare real-time news businesses (TV, Radio, and web) as terrorist organizations and ban them. Newspapers could remain, for those interested in the news, but we need to find some way to make them about 2-3 days old before they are delivered. We'd run a better society.

CTSeptember 4, 2013 10:17 AM

Marian, that's an incorrect assumption, and I'm not sure where you got it from. Police organizations are not getting second-hand military surplus gear, they're buying it new with our tax money from places that are targeted towards the militarization of the police force. (At least every department that I work with is... Look at www.policehq.com.) You could argue that these products are being marketed to police departments by the manufacturers and retailers due to a drop in sales to the military or in an attempt to grow into a new market, but because we spent money on military gear doesn't mean it's going to end up in the police's hands. (Very few police would refuse to place their lives in the hands of used/second-hand gear.) The police are trying to reduce their risk and are using a variety of excuses ("the criminals have military stuff," "it's dangerous out there," anti-terror, etc.) to get their new toys and accessories. And I assure you, they are toys to them, just as an unnecessary new gadget or computer is a toy to most of us. In reality, it's likely various forms of insecurity and power-tripping that is driving it.

gordonSeptember 4, 2013 10:23 AM

Sorry, but when you distort any statistical data in this fashion:

"so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths DWARFED the deaths from the terrorist attack itself"

it really hurts your credibility. I like the premise of the blog, but you are grossly exaggerating the facts when you really don't need to in order to support your argument.

KerrySeptember 4, 2013 10:51 AM

Not so sure it's about risk as much as threat. Perceived threats are what drive us to do things that are actually much more risky than the alternative, like driving instead of flying. A risk is something you believe yourself to be in control of, eg, I'm taking this risk. A threat is something you feel you can't control, which leads to the ridiculous measures listed.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 4, 2013 11:08 AM

@ Maurice,

I'm not sure what your definition of "adult diseases" is but quite a few diseases aquired by adult "social" contact behaviour are curable and have been since the use of anti-biotics started.

If you are thinking of cancer if caught early enough many are curable, as are quite a few of the self inflicted ones such as type II diabeties and some types of organ diseases though in general they are better prevented by appropriate eating and excersice habits for your body type.

What is happening is the medical proffession is trying to move from cure to prevention arguably this started with the first vaccienes but has starrted with other diseases as the knowledge/technology improves to the point it's practical.

There are quite a few people alive currently who are effectivly living on the leading edge of medicine, in that they are developing with age a succession of diseases which have become curable a liittle befor they get them. Life expectancy is on the rise still for many and people will quite soon regularly live to over one hundred and ten.

In quite a few cases these days it's not your biological health that determins your life expectancy but the stressors in your everyday environment. Whilst people may poo poo global warming, the efforts made to reduce green house gases will also remove a lot of environmental stressors such as micro particulats and various other mineral polutants that are carcniogens. In fact it's been pointed out that in some parts of the world environmental carcnioges have dropped to the point you are at a greater cancer risk from eating overdone toast each morning.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsSeptember 4, 2013 11:08 AM

@ Bruce Schneier

Your $1,000,000,000,000.00 estimate for the years, to date, is much too low. Here are the numbers I have
Yearly averaged costs (expenditures and indirect costs)
600,000,000,000.00 Military Operation Cost -- Gross
120,000,000,000.00 National Security Apparatus (FBI, CIA, DOJ, NSA, etc)

140,000,000,000.00 Supplemental Appropriates (Unfuned Wars)
500,000,000,000.00 Opportunity Cost -- things that were displaced by this spending (improving infrastructure, education, etc.)
-375,000,000,000.00 Credit for non-equipment costs for DoD -- Replacement Costs are added, reoccuring costs are not.

So on a yearly basis, the war effort is a whopping:
$985,000,000,000.00 a year

You can argue about the opportunity costs, I am just using the high end of the scale.

G. TomSeptember 4, 2013 11:23 AM

Is there a reference for this statement? The data I've seen says automobile-related deaths have gone down, but all that data is expressed in deaths per 100k persons and not in absolute numbers....

" In the months after 9/11, so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths dwarfed the deaths from the terrorist attack itself, because cars are much more dangerous than airplanes."

MikeSeptember 4, 2013 11:26 AM

I tend to agree with the sentiment of this article, but it's no more useful than other philosophical/religious/political position pieces until it argues a specific set of actions and proves (experimentally, ideally) how those actions remedy a real societal problem.

For example, I think many people I know would agree with the statement:

"The more we expect technology to protect us from people in the same way it protects us from nature, the more we will sacrifice the very values of our society in futile attempts to achieve this security."

Ok, great...so what do we actually do? This is only a platitude as it stands now. I would love to hear suggestions of the author and of fellow commentators about this.

Captain KephartSeptember 4, 2013 11:43 AM

We're risk intolerant becuase the consequences are determined by the layers, not by reality.
Blame makes money, common sense does not. Go figure why that works well in the USA - 'Home of the Free'-market economy.

Captain KephartSeptember 4, 2013 11:47 AM

Sorry, that should be LAWYERS, not layers ...
It's time the Law took it's social responsibility seriously in terms of how it affecting society - it has always hidden behind the (false) axiom that it is there to Do Good.

ROSeptember 4, 2013 12:06 PM

Blame the legal system that rewards ambulance-chasing liability lawyers, too. That is what a lot of "decision-makers" are driven by as they have to consider whether "due diligence" will protect them from that crew.

Although a case could be made for law enforcement excesses that do not seem to take that sufficiently into account, so it's not quite so clear-cut.

R.September 4, 2013 1:22 PM

I don't know about privacy, but this is a recurring issue in epidemiology, particularly the pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine debate. I've noticed that you really listen, the fears the parents are worried about aren't the risks you're focusing on. From their POV, you're comparing apples to airplanes. Trying to clarify what x in 100,000 really means won't help much if they're really worried about z.

I think Mary Douglas's theory about purity, danger, "us," and "them" is spot on.

MBSeptember 4, 2013 1:52 PM

Our intolerance of risk has precluded nuclear energy expansion and development. Instead we embrace the certainty of 3,000,000 deaths annually worldwide due to fossil fuel air pollution. Most Americans believe humanity is causing global climate crisis, but we're unwilling to take risks (or make much of any effort really) to prevent it. We happily slurp down Happy Meals and mindlessly accept the health consequences, but we are too superstitiously cowardly to take a fraction of a percent of that risk to save the biosphere as we know it.

AnonSeptember 4, 2013 3:27 PM

While mass surveillance does mitigate the risk of terrorist, we need to ask if it opens us up to different risk as a country.

Certainly these programs have prevented more attacks and I think we are all grateful for that. But in doing so, have we create a new risk?

Snowden had access to a lot of private information. Instead of disclosing to us what he had access to, imagine he used this database for personal gain without telling us, or kept his access and worked for a hostile government while maintaining his access.

If knowledge is power, and politics is using leverage to get people to what politicians want, then are we creating a system which someone with access to the system can easily and anonymously abuse its power get leverage on our politicians? And indirectly impose their agenda?

Is the real threat that the next Snowden doesn't tell us he did it, but instead uses the information he has for his own personal gain influencing us without our knowledge all the while knowing way more about us than we even imagine? If a hostile country tapped into our system and tried to influence us from the inside?

Should we be protecting ourselves against this risk, which has the potential to end our country as we know it? Should our governments accept the risk of terrorism and protect against catastrophic country take-over/destabilization? Can we do both? This may sound extreme, but are we building tools that REQUIRE a benevolent user?

What if instead we focused our best minds on protecting and safeguarding our data? Or does these go hand in hand? Like we learn to hack and then we learn to protect our selves at the same time? Or has our government already thought of this and we are just a trail of how to hack and record everything so we can protect ourselves from another country doing it to us?

What do you think?

AnonSeptember 4, 2013 3:30 PM

While mass surveillance does mitigate the risk of terrorism, we need to ask if it opens us up to different risk as a country.

Certainly these programs have prevented more attacks and I think we are all grateful for that. But in doing so, have we created a new risk?

Snowden had access to a lot of private information. Instead of disclosing to us what he had access to, imagine he used this database for personal gain without telling us, or kept his access and worked for a hostile government while maintaining his access.

If knowledge is power, and politics is using leverage to get people to what politicians want, then are we creating a system which someone with access to the system can easily and anonymously abuse its power get leverage on our politicians? And indirectly impose their agenda?

Is the real threat that the next Snowden doesn't tell us (and our enemies@@) that he did it, but instead uses the information he has for his own personal gain influencing us without our knowledge all the while knowing way more about us than we even imagine? If a hostile country tapped into our system and tried to influence us from the inside?

Should we be protecting ourselves against this risk, which has the potential to end our country as we know it? Should our governments accept the risk of terrorism and protect against catastrophic country take-over/destabilization? Can we do both? This may sound extreme, but are we building tools that REQUIRE a benevolent user?

What if instead we focused our best minds on protecting and safeguarding our data? Or does these go hand in hand? Like we learn to hack and then we learn to protect our selves at the same time? Or have they already thought of this and we are just a trail of how to hack and record everything so we can protect ourselves from another country doing it to us?

What do you think?

vas pupSeptember 4, 2013 3:55 PM

@Dirk Praet:
"In accepting and mitigating risk, you assume full responsability and accountability for your actions. Transfering risk on the other hand is a convenient solution to put those on someone else's shoulder."
Sometimes risk is only partially caused by your intentional actions/inactions. That is why mitigating risk for you is mitigating risk for others involved as well (liability insurance for having in possesion potentially dangerous and not absolutely controlled devices/things: cars, guns (not in USA, unfortunately), planes, boats, dogs of particular brands (e.g. pitbul), etc; liability insurance for particular professional activity (private or paublic): e.g. police work, health care, transporation of dangerous materials/explosives).
Insurance companies (those 'greedy fat cats') will force you to mitigate risk/adjust your behavior by universal tool: money (your insurance rate). That is only work when insurance required by Law (in that case insurance lobby could be useful for all, not only for their industry).

MauriceSeptember 4, 2013 4:56 PM

@ Clive,
"I'm not sure what your definition of "adult diseases" is but quite a few diseases aquired by adult "social" contact behaviour are curable and have been since the use of anti-biotics started."

The indiscriminant use of antibiotics has given rise to a number of infections that are resistant. This trend is worsening. However, this point supports Bruce's contention. The overuse of antibiotics is partially motivated by risk aversion, though it's minimal relative to whole spectrum of disease.

"If you are thinking of cancer if caught early enough many are curable"

Tell that to the 574,743 people in the US who died of it in 2010.

" as are quite a few of the self inflicted ones such as type II diabeties"

Diabetes is at 69,071 deaths in the US in 2010, though it doesn't distinguish by type.

Oh, by the way, it's 597,689 for heart disease in the US in 2010.

If anything, we harbor an alarmingly little concern to dangers of disease, by far and away our biggest killers.


"What is happening is the medical proffession is trying to move from cure to prevention"

The major preventative dietary advice of the last 50 years has had the effect of increasing the incidence of obesity, diabetes and related diseases, though this is beginning to change. On the issue of cancer, the new book, "Truth in Small Doses" by Clifton Leaf argues that cancer research is still mired finding a cure.

"There are quite a few people alive currently who are effectivly living on the leading edge of medicine, in that they are developing with age a succession of diseases which have become curable a liittle befor they get them. Life expectancy is on the rise still for many and people will quite soon regularly live to over one hundred and ten.

Death by disease is to a degree a matter of luck. I wonder if the increase in life expectancy is more due to the fact there are simply more of us.

FluffySeptember 4, 2013 5:25 PM

If knowledge is power, and politics is using leverage to get people to what politicians want, then are we creating a system which someone with access to the system can easily and anonymously abuse its power get leverage on our politicians? And indirectly impose [his] agenda?

What is your rationale for using the future tense in describing this scenario? We know our political trajectory has been altered in the past by misuse of surveillance powers; Hoover is perhaps the best studied example.

It is reasonable -- absent evidence to the contrary -- to assume that Snowden is not the first man to have used our security secrets in unintended ways........... just the first to do so publicly.

RomerSeptember 4, 2013 5:26 PM

@bcs --- "get CNN et al. to report daily body counts for real risks (car crashes, police shootings, suicides, everything else in the top-20-causes-of-death, etc?)"

How about old age? Which for reasons known only to the health care industry is almost always reported as some kind of mortal illness. It's quite rare to see an obit that says "Mr. Smith was 85 years old, and died of old age."

Another example of hyper-exaggerated risk.

Dirk PraetSeptember 4, 2013 8:23 PM

@ vas pup

Insurance companies will force you to mitigate risk/adjust your behavior by universal tool: money.

Exactly. You cannot transfer risk if you can't (or won't) afford it, leaving you to your own devices to mitigate your risks and assume full responsability and accountability for any and all consequences of your actions and decision. If for example you can't afford health care, well, tough luck.

What I was trying to point out is is the insidious nature of risk transfers presented as coming at little or no cost where you are being deliberately kept in the dark or misled as to their real cost. Consider this phenomenon in a context where the legal system is so broken that corporations can pretty much out-procedure any individual by virtue of more money and better lawyers, and a government that can hide behind secret orders by secret courts based on secret interpretations of the law, then draw your own conclusions.

SevSeptember 4, 2013 8:44 PM

"Certainly these programs have prevented more attacks and I think we are all grateful for that. But in doing so, have we created a new risk?"

I reject your premise that mass surveillance has prevented any new attacks, for lack of any sort of proof.

AlfSeptember 5, 2013 4:50 AM

This article is not about risk in general, it's about American hysteria.

Most advanced societies don't have shooting in schools, police officers are not aggressive and do not go shooting or using Taser on innocent people.
And while they dedicate significant resources on intelligence and military operations, they are not obsessed with it, they know that security is not a matter of weapons alone, you can not outsmart the enemy forever, instead they try to not have too many enemies but strong alliances.

vas pupSeptember 5, 2013 2:08 PM

@Alf:
"instead they try to not have too many enemies but strong alliances".
And they value alliances and preserve them (not like "you are my friend until you have trouble, then I'll dispose you rather than help you" - e.g. Musharaf, Mubarack, and other SOBs, but our sobs.) If priority is security, then key is loyalty to us/US, otherwise your path is to become the world's cop rather than delegate such fuction to local sobs loyal to you. I don't want sound cynical, but recent 'democracies' brought zero stability inside and loyalty/security to us/US.
Could you ever imagine killing of three US diplomats in Libiya under regime of Gaddafi?

Michael MoserSeptember 5, 2013 11:09 PM

It's because of the broken window theory / zero tolerances crime fighting policy. The way we maintain order is now having a feed back effect on society.

Dave FSeptember 6, 2013 11:36 AM

@DERP - "The only person in the US government with the authority to accept any kind of risk is the president."
This statement really gets to the heart of the problem. In reality, the only person with authority to accept any kind of risk is me (you). The idea that the government is responsible for you is the basis of most of wrong perpatrated since the writings of Karl Marx. You are responsible for yourself, not the government. When you ask for the King's Justice, you get just that, the King's Justice, not justice, not what is right, but what the King wants. Replacing the King with Government doesn't change this equasion. This is not an 'American' problem, the Europeans have the same problem, they are just better at accepting the King's Justice than we are. With good reason, the United States was set up by people who had trouble with accepting the King's Justice.
When the government takes it upon itself to feed children, we should not be suprised when a portion of the population decides that men are not responsible for feeding their children. This extends to every responsibility that the government decides to accept.

Russell Hogg September 7, 2013 5:02 PM

On the subject of drones it seems obvious to me that they are not at all indiscriminate at least compared with most other ways of killing your enemies. Whether or not you think killing people is a great idea is another matter. I thought the following article on drones was ver interesting though I notice there was an article arguing against it I haven't had time to read yet. Anyway it articulated a lot of why I instinctively dislike drones while making me realise I am not being very logical in that dislike.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/09/the-killing-machines-how-to-think-about-drones/309434/

CodySeptember 7, 2013 9:36 PM

Re: Clive who wrote: "I'm not sure what your definition of "adult diseases" is but quite a few diseases aquired by adult "social" contact behaviour are curable and have been since the use of anti-biotics started."
--
Wrong. The word you are looking for is "treated" - not cured. Your point about cancer being caught early is also irrelevant when you consider that cancer can (and DOES) return. And as someone else pointed out the abuse of antimicrobials in e.g., live stock and people who don't understand that (for antibiotics, say) the cold is a VIRUS and not a bacteria (and unless they have respiratory disease = increase the risk of bacterial infection which they still should be cautious with prophylactic antibiotics* then they should be a shamed of themselves just like their doctors should be). Further a sore throat does not necessarily need an antibiotic (more often than not it does not). I ask: why is it NOT OK for a doctor to kill one person by way of maltreatment BUT it IS OK for a doctor to kill MANY PEOPLE by introducing resistances to serious infections ? Exactly.

Shortly: only people who have been more or less healthy their entire life believe in cures. They should be thankful of that but many are in fact not and take it for granted (shameful also).

*Funny (in a sick and twisted sense of the word) thing is the black box warning for the flouroquinolones called Steven Johnson's syndrome": the onset can appear to be exactly what antibiotics treat and yet by going to the stronger ones by default more are risking their own life (yes it's a fatal disease; I'll let you find out what it actually is, for yourself. Enjoy it!).

3dgSeptember 8, 2013 6:02 AM

@peter
Daniel Kahnemann's main thesis is that we are loss averse and can easily be tricked out of a reward by making it look like a loss.
I would equate loss averse with risk averse.

AnnieSeptember 8, 2013 3:06 PM

I think that the word "risk" has been confused with something called the responsibility in some of the cases. While people perhaps are afraid to take risks, many rather refuse to take the responsibility for their ,and theirs only, actions. Authorities, in the other hand, do it gladly.

Myron KuziakSeptember 12, 2013 1:11 PM

This article is extremely cogent to our times.

A bit of a backgrounder for anyone interested in how the state uses fear to increase the level of totalitarian control over people can be found in this article:

"The Rise of Totalitarianism and Fascism in the Former Democracies"

I am not surprised at the naivete(accute accent on the last e) and ignorance of most of the commenters and of journalists on the issue of the 'surveillance state'. Very few are ready and willing to call a spade a spade and most are unable to recognize or admit to themselves
that the state - in each of the 'former democracies' the entire government aparatus, from the elected self-servers, through the bureaucracy, the military, the legal apparatus, and the host of others wielding some aspect of power - is, in the main, a totalitarian, and
often stupid, lying, cheating, theiving and power-hungry collection.

One should not be willing to avoid placing the above in the context of fascism. This phenomenon, although it's most infamous examples being NAZI Germany and Mussolini's Italy, is revealing itself today in the
so-called 'democracies'. By definition, the merging of state and corporate power into a single functioning system is called fascism, which is where we are at the moment in the so-called 'democracies'. As a telling example, it is interesting to note that the term - 'department of homeland security' - is a reasonable translation of the name of one of the most feared branches of the NAZI SS in Germany during WW2.

Proof of this merging abounds. It has just been revealed in a Guardian article that major U.S. corporations, such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others, worked for and were paid by the U.S. National Security Administration to create the comprehensive spy system,
PRISM. In an entirely different area, U.S. laws were not applied to large corporations (example: financial corporations) because 'they are too important to the economy') when government policies and corporate
greed combined to severely damage the world economy and decimate small investors savings. Rewards for such fraud by those in positions of trust are huge, and if they are too 'structurally important' to prosecute, then even if the actions will ultimately destroy the business, country or world economy, they have to be followed.

The business behaviour of large internet-related corporations is another example. Corporations like Facebook, Google, GMail, and others, amass huge data banks of information about their individual users. This data is sold to their corporate customers, ostensibly for use in targeted advertising. It is an easy and natural step to sell this data to government agencies which will use tha data to enhance the goal of surveillance and control.

Of course, many people will, at the least, roundly criticize me for my 'intemperate' language, and concoct a myriad of excuses for the totalitarian state, calling its members' behaviour 'misguided' or 'excessive' or 'mistaken' or stemming from 'an honest desire to do good' or 'justifiable business practices'.

Such excuses merely forgive the evil behaviour of the aforesaid bunch and fail to acknowledge that the state and its partners have, throughout most states' known histories throughout the millennia, consistently
sought more power, more control and more wealth for its members and friends through the direct and indirect exploitation of the vast mass of humanity who have little or no access to power, no control and no wealth. Rebellions, civil wars, insurrections, protests (both mass and by less widespread interests), sabotage, emigration and other forms of escape, and other anti-state or anti-wealth actions have spontaneously risen or occurred from time to time throughout history. Sometimes these
have resulted in 'reforms' or reductions in the unfettered exercise of state power and control. The creation of nominally democratic forms of government in some sectors of the world has resulted from these actions. Nevertheless, the state constantly strives, albeit sometimes without the minds of its participants explicitly or specifically directing their thoughts towards it, to maximize its power and control over the masses of humanity.

The fact that this apparent increase in state surveillance and the totalitarian laws and apparatus which support it and the striving for control it reveals is so widespread across the spectrum of what I call the 'former democracies' makes it clear to me that my analysis is
correct. The U.S.A., the UK, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and many other countries, are examples of the 'surveillance state' and varying degrees of totalitarianism.

The recent increase in terrorism on a world-wide basis is being used as the pretext or excuse for the current apparent increase in totalitarian behaviour by the state. And the wishy-washy, cowardly, excuse-making by
so many people today also has its counter-parts in past behaviour, particularly during the rise of fascism after the First World War.

So I call upon the populace to recognize this totaliarianism for what it is and take appropriate action to fight against it.

tshimangabSeptember 14, 2013 3:54 PM

The article about risk is one that interested me because I am a risk taker at times and for me to see how the world is changing into being more protective and staying in a box so that we can't fail or have a less of a chance of failure isn't a way to live. Sheiner states very good examples such as school having no tolerance, police enforcement, and more are all examples some may so don't do a try anything that can cause controversy. I think the article makes sense when it says were so afraid of being able to risk that we give up our freedom. Which isn't good because we have right to liberty and freedom as long as it abides the laws.

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