Security and Human Behaviour 2010 – Section 4: Culture, Risk, and Fear

Continued from Session 3 – Fraud

Scott Atran (UMich among others) is an anthropologist who talked about intractable conflict – how groups like the Hamas or the Mujahedeen define and experience conflict. He talked of sacred values that lead to sacred conflict. Sacred values are impossible to negotiate on. Certain items are just off the agenda, so to speak.

One of the most reliable predictor of who will actually commit violence (regardless of political or religious convictions) is who their friends are.

Scott also drew our attention to the fact that groups like Al-Qaeda are grass roots organisations. They don’t actively recruit, as there are enough disgruntled people to join their ranks willingly.

Dylan Evans (UC Cork) talked about how humans estimate probabilities. He presented an online risk intelligence test his group designed.

Ragnar Löfstedt (King’s) asked whether transparency is always a good thing. He mentioned that doctors didn’t want early disclosure of information on the Internet, as this created half-informed and highly opinionated patients. He also mentioned FDA’s transparency initiative which looks like a remarkable paradigm shift.

William J. Burns (Decision Research) pointed out that the highest cost to society is paid for the reaction to a terrorist strike, not by the strike itself. He also mentioned that the Times Square “strike” (which wasn’t) was “remarkably well handled”.

Chris Cocking (London Met), fresh in from Glastonbury, talked about emergency crowd management. He disagreed with Gustave Le Bon’s “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind” and supported that crowds display emergent qualities that help stave off disasters. Interestingly he mentioned that many fire fatalities occur exactly because people do not panic enough and have a too phlegmatic approach to danger. But the popular view that crowds by default become anarchic, dangerous mobs, was directly challenged.

Frank Furedi (Kent) talked about fear and risk. He mentioned the Newsweek article on BP’s oil spill worst case scenario and noted that worst-case thinking reduces risk to fantasy. A manifestation of this effect is that (apparently) right now in the UK anyone who has any direct contact with children other than their own (e.g. if you’re giving your neighbour’s children a lift to school some days along with your children) has to be CRB-checked. This has resulted in 7,5 million adults being listed in the CRB registry as “dealing with children”.

That was the end of day 1 of the workshop. Further notes I scribbled in my notebook that day:

Session 5, kicking off the workshop ‘s second day, to follow…

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