Friday, January 09, 2015

The War on Risk

So, rather than republish cartoons of Mohammed or tweet 'Je Suis Charlie', I decided that the best response to the recent atrocities in Paris that I could make would be to just carry on doing what I normally do, both here and at The Sleaze.  After all, isn't that what all of this is about?  Refusing to have your choices dictated by terrorists.  Not that you'd necessarily know that from the response of our own Security Service, which simply sees the shootings at the 'Charlie Hebdo' offices as an opportunity to try and gain more surveillance powers to prevent it happening here - although they also admit that this kind of attack is pretty much impossible to prevent.  Indeed, despite all those vague claims of having been able to prevent dozens of undefined 'terror attacks' through the use of surveillance and other repressive 'anti-terror' laws, the reality is that determined terrorists will always be able to mount attacks on us - only truly repressive, authoritarian regimes with no concept of human rights, civil liberties and, well, freedom, are more or less immune from such attacks as they can simply employ the same lack of regard for human life and decency as the terrorists in their fight against 'terror'.  That's the price of total security: total repression.

Conversely, the price of freedom is constant vulnerability to acts of terror.  However, the reality is that, horrendous though such attacks might be, statistically, you still have more chance of dying in a road accident than a terror attack.  Unfortunately, the idea seems to have taken root in official circles that it somehow is possible to create a 'risk free' society where it is possible to use 'risk assessment' procedures to predict every possible risky outcome to an activity or situation and then formulate strategies to 'lower the risk' in order to avoid the least favourable outcomes.  Of course, to carry out effective 'risk assessments' government needs to gather as much intelligence about these situations and the main actors in them, as possible.  Hence the continued push for ever more intrusive surveillance powers for the police and Security Service.  But the reality is that we can't possibly predict all the possible permutations of risk.  It's like those people who prepare for exams by studying past papers and trying to predict which questions are statistically most likely to come up and preparing answers only for those.  I've seen so many of them come unstuck when one or more of their 'guaranteed' questions don't come up.  The past papers can only give you a broad idea of the kinds of topics most likely to come up and a wider, less targeted, revision regime will allow you to respond to the actual questions you get more flexibly. 

Nevertheless, the media has faithfully peddled this idea of a 'risk free' approach for years now.  Just look at the way a public expectation that we could fight 'casualty free' wars (well, casualty free to us) in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  The public backlash once it became apparent that British soldiers actually were dying and being maimed, in significant numbers, was pretty spectacular.  All of a sudden everybody was an anti-war campaigner.  Anyway, I'm in danger of straying from my essential point, which is that we need to resist these latest calls for more powers for the police and intelligence agencies so that they can 'protect' us from terrorists.  The idea that if only the authorities had enough data they could eliminate the threat posed by terror groups is entirely false.  Not to mention downright dangerous.  Like it or not, risk is an inherent part of life, particularly in a free society - it is the trade off we make for being free.  OK, I've ranted enough and this is all a bit heavy for a Friday!



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