Not Saussure

September 12, 2006

Risk Avoidance

Filed under: Blogroll, civil liberties, Panic, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 8:56 pm

Garry, at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot has been listening to the radio:

On the radio today, there was a discussion about the fact that classical musicians can no longer take their musical instruments into the cabin when flying from the UK. When travelling abroad for performances, these musicians, who, for obvious reasons, are unwilling to entrust their irreplaceable instrument to the dark world behind the plastic sheeting at airports, have been forced to take the Eurostar to Paris and then fly on from there. This is, apparently, a serious problem and is threatening the livelihood of British classical musicians.The reaction of most listeners was predictable; public safety must come before economic or other considerations so the musicians will just have to learn to live with these new rules.

He goes on to make the very valid point that

More people die on our roads every year than died in the attacks of September 11th 2001. Over the last five years, three hundred times as many people died in the UK in road traffic accidents as in terrorist attacks.

When people talk to me about the importance of doing absolutely everything to fight terrorism, I tell them these statistics. Most people respond by looking slightly confused.

I think what’s happening here is that people, as so often they do, are confusing how terrible it would be if something were to happen with how likely it is to happen. We’ve long known, for example, that, mile for mile, you’re at more risk in a car than you are on a plane, but there are far more people terrified of flying than there are of driving. I suppose it’s partly because we’re used to the risk; most of us drive or are driven most days and we’re subconsciously aware that we usually survive the experience without mishap. We’re most of us less used to flying, and the thought of being killed in a plane crash is pretty scary anyway — something to do your fate being completely out of your hands, I suspect — so some of us get unduly worried about it.

I must confess I’m bemused that most people responded as they did, though, wanting to put ‘public safety before economic or other considerations.’

For one thing, I genuinely don’t see what may be the public safety implications of letting musicians take their instruments on board planes; the things will be checked by security, after all, and it’s not as if, in the normal course of events, many people will want to avail themselves of the opportunity to take their violin on a plane with them. For another, people may well say that in the abstract — especially if it’s about something that’ll inconvenience or cost someone other than themselves — but when it comes down to it, people generally take a far more pragmatic view.

I used to work in Russia, and I can assure you that Aeroflot internal flights can be quite hair-raising at times; did it ever occur to me, for more than a minute or two the first time I had to make the decision, that I’d rather spend a couple of days on a train going where I needed to go rather than take the risk of a couple of eventful hours with Scarealot? Did it seem to bother the Russians who packed out the flights? Like hell it did.

Transfer that to a wider scale, and I bet that if the government actually said they were going to work on the basis that ‘since public safety comes first,  we’re going to use the money we planned on using to provide more NHS dentists — for example — on fighting terror instead’ and we’d hear a howl of protest, and quite right, too.

No, what people mean is that they’re willing to have others put up with any conceivable inconvenience in a good cause, just so long as it doesn’t affect them to much.    I hope that’s it and that I really don’t live in a country where people would actually be prepared to put up with cameras and mikes in the lavatory (‘for your safety and comfort,’ of course) to travel in the terrorist-proof aeroplane.
(Unless he was listening to ‘Call You and Yours’, of course — that would explain the callers’ attitudes).


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