A ubiquitous public understanding of risks and how to handle them is fatal to power, because the sources of these risks are quite commonly embedded in our social structure. In the United States, for example, an exercise called Dark Winter was run in June 2001 by the John Hopkins Centre for Civilian Biodefense. It involved several senior national politicians and former security and intelligence directors. Its findings were perfectly predictable: one was that the political leadership was fairly clueless about how to handle such things as bioattacks; another was that America's healthcare system didn't have the capacity to deal with such eventualities; another was that the response of ordinary people would be key. The latter is very often the case: the response of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 was in some ways a model in disaster-prevention - they stopped the attackers from finding a much better target than a field in Pennsylvania by collectively discussing the situation and then acting decisively. But the broader point is that to understand the risks we live with is not merely to have a handle on the failings of a particular administration. It is to strip away the mostly unnecessary secrecy of official deliberations and planning. This would render us both more effective at dealing with problems and less susceptible to scaremongering. It is also to understand properly the nature of the social world that we are reproducing (and may choose to stop reproducing at some point).
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Lenin, in a post on the vague kinds of information the public receives with respect to risk: