January 31st, 2011


What Does Random Panic Protect Us From? (2nd edition)

Today is the anniversary of the day in 2007 when Boston was under attack by cartoon terrorists.

On this day, we ought to reflect and remember the victims. I don't mean the mooninites' usual victims Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad; on January 31st, 2007, they struck further and wider. On this day, remember our fear based policies, our hostility to quirkiness, our collective political sickness of panic and xenophobia. Although the Mooninites (with the aid of lightfixer and his friend) temporarily turned it all into a farce, their job is not yet done.

So today, I'm reposting something I wrote for the Blue Mass Group blog shortly after the cartoon terrorist scare of 2007:
What Does Random Panic Protect Us From?. I've added some new material to this re-post. Please read it, and share it, and re-post it.

What Does Random Panic Protect Us From?

Boston and Massachusetts officials, and some people here at Blue Mass Group, have tried to justify Boston's overreaction to some hanging lights last week by saying, "what if they hadn't done what they did, and a real bomb went off?" This makes as much sense to me as trying to justify the Iraq war by asking, "what if we had not invaded Iraq, and there were another terrorist attack in the US?"

Or, they say, "people were just doing their job!" Why, they ask, are we second-guessing the actions of the bomb squad, who were responding to a call? Keeping with the Iraq analogy, this is the "support the troops" tack: It equates criticizing bad policy with attacking the police officers (soldiers) who carry it out.
Let's focus on the real issues:
  • What threat are we trying to protect ourselves from?

  • How serious is that threat?

  • How would a city protect itself from it?

  • What are the effects of the process we currently have in place?
    • Is it effective?
    • What are its drawbacks?

  • Something clearly went wrong - what should we change?

My answers:
    We're not facing a serious threat.
    We have a process, which I call "Random Panic", that wouldn't protect us from it anyway.
    Our protection method is actually a bigger problem than the supposed threat.
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CYA Security [new]

When I wrote that four years ago, I left out an important part: Obviously this Random Panic process doesn't protect us from anything, but it's part of a system to protect politicians from us.

The threat: If something bad ever does happen, people will punish politicians for not having done enough to prevent it, by taking them out of office.

The countermeasure: Lots of ridiculous measures that do us no good, and plenty of harm, but that make it appear as if those in charge are doing the best they can - and more. If they're ever accused of not having done enough, those accusations will lack credibility with most people, who have seen this stuff being done over the years.

Viewed in this light, the threat is real, and the defense is probably effective to some extent, so it's a perfectly rational thing for those in charge to keep on doing. If we want it to stop, the responsibility is ours to tell them:
  • We see the harm these processes do to us.

  • We know that none of this makes us any safer.

  • We don't want them to keep doing it, and we won't punish them at the ballot box for stopping it. We'll reward them.

So today, call your legislators, both state and federal. Ask them to stop bag searches on public transit, or ask them to dismantle the offensive excessive practices of airport "security" theater, or ask them to ease up on allowing foreign students into American universities. Pick some part of this insane system and call them about it today.

"The mooninite adventure was like MA telling me that they don't want my creativity."
-A brilliant and talented person of the sort our state should want to attract.