Thinking and Feeling Risk for 9/11 Anniversary

8 09 2010

What we snooked last election for this occasion applies in this election cycle only more so, and with insane dysfunction:

. . . tomorrow is the anniversary of September 11, after all the Republican leadership’s (to me shocking) cynical exploitation of the overwhelming emotions that day evokes. I grew up in the South where “waving the bloody shirt” has been a cynically successful form of politics by division for 150 years:

The Republican party thus continued to depend upon the bloody shirt long after the war was over, with Lewis Gould noting that in the post-Reconstruction years sectionalism was “a genuine and continuing source of Republican strength.”

. . .Talk about playing to emotion! Must we accept for the next 100 years, then, nine-eleven bloody shirts waved by old warriors every election cycle, to keep our past the most powerful enemy of our future, our own divisions making a dysfunctional mockery of these “united” states? Does that make us safer in a third-millennium world and economy finding new equilibrium without following our lead, or make us throwbacks unable to lead even ourselves?

But think about it — we CAN learn to do better. For example . . .

Some scary things are not really as risky as they seem, and others are better handled by staying in the scary situation to set up a more advantageous future response. This means there’s an evolutionary advantage to being able to hold off the reflexive fight-or-flight response while you work out a more sophisticated analysis of the situation and your options for handling it. . .

People are not computers. We don’t evaluate security trade-offs mathematically, by examining the relative probabilities of different events. Instead, we have shortcuts, rules of thumb, stereotypes and biases — generally known as “heuristics.” These heuristics affect how we think about risks, how we evaluate the probability of future events, how we consider costs, and how we make trade-offs. We have ways of generating close-to-optimal answers quickly with limited cognitive capabilities.

Don Norman’s wonderful essay, “Being Analog”, provides a great background for all this. [And I LOVE Norman’s book, Emotional Design which I blogged here.]

Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics for some of this work, talks about humans having two separate cognitive systems, one that intuits and one that reasons . . .

So doesn’t it make sense that we’d benefit ourselves and our kids’ future, by educating ourselves about analyzing and coping well with risk, tune up those helpful heuristics and make them more productive?

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2 responses

8 09 2010
JJ

Christians should follow Jesus on mosque debate and presumably on Quran-burning:

The cycle of conflict is a well-recognized, predictable and destructive one as old as the Bible itself–“For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Recognizing the universality of human conflict in which violence compounds violence, Jesus offered a way to break the cycle of extracting an “eye for an eye.”

10 09 2010
JJ

News Bias and the Media:

As usual, all sides in this cultural clash are employing the very media they consistently accuse of “news bias” to promote their competing visions. Like the “Global War on Terror” spawned by the attacks, the ongoing struggle to interpret 9/11 now appears to be a war without end.

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