Security technologist and established author Bruce Schneier wrote a brilliantly insightful article for CNN about how we as people react to catastrophic events like the Aurora Massacre and why it is important not to let “fear cloud our reasoning” in the wake of terrible events.
Schneier points out that a terrible event like the mass shooting that took place at the Aurora cinema a few weeks ago, can be “catalysts for social and political change.” However he also points out that fear can often cloud our ability to reason and therefore causes us to focus on the specifics of the incident rather than the broader issues in question.
So in the case of the Aurora massacre, where masked gunman James Holmes opened fire at random on movie goers at a crowded screening of the ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, there is now talk about introducing metal detectors at cinemas.
As Schneier puts it; “Novelty plus dread plus a good story equals overreaction.”
In reality though, there is nothing to say that the next lone gunman who will carry out a massacre of this kind, is going to pick a cinema as his venue.
Rather than feeling as though movie theaters are more dangerous places than they were before, Schneier said it would be more important to focus on the standard of mental health care in the U.S, as improving that, is more likely to prevent other massacres like the one in Aurora from taking place.When it comes to deciding what things to be afraid of, the average human brain is not very good at probability and statistics. We focus on the highly visceral, spectacular stories, the ones that dominate the news; that are all over the papers, on the television and plastered all over the internet.
Schneier said: “People tend to base risk analysis more on stories than on data. Stories engage us at a much more visceral level, especially stories that are vivid, exciting or personally involving.”
Because of the dramatic nature of catastrophic events like that which took place in Aurora, we suddenly become scared of going to the movie theatre. In reality, you are probably more like to die by choking on a piece of popcorn, than you are to get shot by a crazed gunman!
It is much the same thing with airplane crashes. Because they make the news and car crashes rarely do, we are much more afraid of flying than we are of getting into our cars each day, even though the risk of a car crash is much greater than of a plane crash and we have probably heard this statistic several times before.
Schneier believes that despite our tendency to overact in the wake of events like the Aurora massacre we can still learn valuable lessons. For him, what is important is that we look at the broader issues common to similar events and make sure we don’t focus on the specifics.
In layman’s terms, you shouldn’t be afraid of going to the cinema – it’s still safe there, but you should be wondering how a mentally unstable young man can get his hands on such an extensive arsenal of lethal weapons with relative ease.
Drawing the Wrong Lessons from Horrific Events (Via CNN)