The Way of the Warrior: ‘Magical Thinking’ Won’t Keep Us Safe

There was a joke that made the rounds after the shoe bomber incident, when TSA responded by having us all take off our shoes at security: “Good thing he wasn’t the underwear bomber.”

Well, now we’ve got the underwear bomber. So far we haven’t been told to strip down to our skivvies, but the proclamations coming out of TSA are almost that ludicrous. One carryon bag. Stay in your seat during the last hour of the flight, with nothing on your lap. No electronics. The only thing there that applied to the underwear bomber was the staying in the seat part — since he had to go to the bathroom to get to his explosives. But there’s no rule that says bombers can only detonate explosives in the last hour of a flight.

“Magical thinking” is security expert Bruce Schneier’s new term for absurd security theatre like this. In his first post after the incident, he pointed out that only two changes we’ve made since September 11 make flying safer: reinforced cockpit doors and the fact that passengers know to respond to hijack attempts. He went on to observe:

This week, the second one worked over Detroit. Security succeeded.

Security succeeded, but of course, the security system failed. U.S. intelligence people had warnings about this particular bomber, but did nothing. As Schneier frequently points out, the real security solution is not more and more harassment at security checkpoints; it’s less visible, less sexy things like intelligence gathering, expanding police capabilities, arresting terrorist plotters without a media show. He explains all this better than I could in this interview with Rachel Maddow.

But from the warriorship perspective, he makes an even more important point in an interview he did with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic:

The fact that we even ask this question [about whether it’s only a “matter of time” before we have another successful attack]  illustrates something fundamentally wrong with how our society deals with risk.  Of course 100% security is impossible; it has always been impossible and always will be.  We’ll never get the murder, burglary, or terrorism rate down to zero; 42,000 people will die each year in car crashes in the U.S. for the foreseeable future; life itself will always include risk.  But that’s okay.  Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about terrorists or street crime: There is no such thing as perfect safety in this world. Sure, there are things you can do to improve your odds, like paying attention, listening to your instincts, and learning some fighting skills. Given that 42,000 figure on U.S. car crash deaths — a number much higher than the 14,180 murders in the U.S. in 2008 — a defensive driving class is not a bad idea, either.

But you can’t protect against everything. And if you run around being scared all the time, you just look like a victim — and that makes you even more vulnerable. That goes for countries as well as for individuals, by the way; the more scared we look, the more likely someone is to jump us.

Instead of getting scared and responding like sheep to whatever nonsense the TSA comes up with, we need to lobby our government to put the time and money into programs that work.

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll buy some new underwear for my next plane trip, just in case shoes aren’t the only things we have to take off.


Nancy Jane’s collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available here.



The Way of the Warrior: ‘Magical Thinking’ Won’t Keep Us Safe — 3 Comments

  1. Massive word. [nod]

    They’re also disabling the GPS displays — you know, those map displays on the in-cabin screens that show you where the plane is? Those are being done away with, and since in some systems it’s impossible to disable only the GPS displays, on those planes the entire in-cabin entertainment system will be shut down. Lovely — the next mid-air incident of violence won’t be a terrorist, but some frazzled traveller who’s been driven over the edge by stress with no rom-com to distract him or her. [eyeroll] ‘Cause seriously, the terrorists can’t look out a window? Or plot the flight path and go by timing? It’s not like this has to be exact; if someone plans on crashing a plane into a major metropolitan area, “close” will indeed be good enough.

    There’s been talk inside Homeland Security since 9/11 about eliminating all carry-on bags whatsoever, and some bright boy even suggested making passengers strip down and wear only clothing provided to them while on the plane, so that they’d be taking nothing at all on board of their own. Luckily saner [cough] heads have prevailed, but every time there’s an incident, the whack-jobs on the inside are all, “See?! See?! We were right!” (My husband works for Homeland Security, and whenever he comes home shaking his head, I hear about the latest woo-woo crap going around.)

    As it is, even if the current restrictions on things like liquids did any good — which they don’t — there are so many loopholes and exceptions that any actual terrorist with three braincells could get around them. There you go; it’s all for nothing.

    But then, it always was. It’s security theater, designed to convince the voters and taxpayers that the government is Doing Something. Whether it’s something which actually helps or makes us safer is irrelevant. They’re Taking Action, and that will supposedly make us feel all warm and fuzzy.

    What’s sad is that it works, with far too many people. :/


  2. I personally favor the idea of skirts. For all. The fashion industry needs a stimulus, and the need for all businessmen to fly in manskirts would do it. Then you pass through security and hitch ’em high.


  3. I have twice, inadvertantly, forgotten to haul the baggie with the liquids out of my carry-on luggage, and despite the fact that the carry-on went through the X-ray and said baggie-with-liquids with it, no one caught me. Which is good, since I’d probably have been sent to Guantanamo for my forgetfulness.

    None of this makes me feel safer. It all feels like barn doors being shut resonantly behind the escaping horse. Watching Bruce Schneier on Maddow the other night I more or less jumped up and down shrieking “YES! THIS!” Every time they take books or other comforts away from the flyers, the Terrorists Have Already Won. Pfui.