Arnold Kling  

Security Symbolism

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Megan McArdle writes,

Perhaps I am too jaded by excess air travel, but most of our homeland security seems designed to

A) Increase the power of congressmen and agency heads or
B) Put on a show for the yokels

rather than

C) Make us safer

One of my father's favorite political scientists, Murray Edelman, would have said that this sums up politics in a nutshell. Edelman used the phrase "symbolic reassurance" as a more hoity-toity way of saying B).

Mass politics is a game of manipulating symbols. It's tempting to want to believe that a politician is going to really do something to solve problems. If you succumb to that temptation, however, then chances are you've fallen for one of the tricks in the game.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Dan Weber writes:

Computer security guru Bruce Schneier calls this "security theatre." And while lots of us in the industry no longer listen to much he has to say, he still has an excellent knack for explaining things to people that aren't in the field. This is the perfect example.

Caliban Darklock writes:

The single biggest problem with government is that people constantly want government to do things it should not do, and even when the government understands it shouldn't do it (which is more often than you think, but still less often than it ought), the people just plain can't grasp the concept.

So the government does things that don't really matter, because it needs to do something, or the people won't shut up. The difficult part is to crawl through the dog-and-pony show and see what the government is really doing. In general, so long as that inner core is a Good Idea, there's nothing wrong with the dog-and-pony show... but too many people get bound up in the question of whether that inner core is the Right Thing, which is a whole different question.

yoshi writes:


I find your comment odd. As someone who is in this industry I have to disagree with you. Most of us in this in industry listens to what he has to say because most of us cannot articulate the issues as clearly as he can - also he is right most of the time.

kebko writes:

At our airport, there are concrete burms lining the sidewalk between the drop-off lane and the doors from the luggage claim area, presumably to prevent a car bomb from ramming the building or something. But, in order to get on a plane, you have to stand in a security line along with a hundred other people. And where is the security line? On a pedestrian bridge right over the drop-off lane.


aaron writes:

Hmmm... We can always rationalize though. Maybe those long lines and inconveniences are opportunities to run biometric scans under a variety of conditions.

N. writes:

Not that I necessarily disagree with any of this, but I think it makes sense to point out that the security you see is not as important as the security you don't see... and it's tough to gauge the effectiveness of that security precisely because you don't see it. However, just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.

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