Sunday, 10 April 2011

Our Defences Against Disaster Weaken Over Time

Maintaining the Thames Barrier?
There's an interesting post at Zero Hedge speculating on the core theme behind the meltdowns in the debt markets, Gulf of Mexico and Fukushima:
"The bottom line is that if we continue to let the top 1% - who are never satisfied, but always want more, more, more - run the show without challenge from the other 99% of people in the world, we will have more Fukushimas, more Gulf oil spills and more financial meltdowns."
Yet danger lurks in positioning the lack of critical thought as the fault of the "top 1%", since that presumes the rest of us are even thinking at all, let alone critically or correctly.

It's not only 1% of us who fail on the critical thinking front. And not all people at the top of large organisations fail to think critically or act responsibly. There are plenty of yes-men and flunkies ready to act without question, while others genuinely and honestly believe it's their job to simply do what they're told.

However, given the devastating impact of recent disasters and the broad range of scenarios, the fact remains that our large-scale organised defences to key threats do seem to weaken steadily over time, regardless of the adequacy of the initial defensive position. We can also see that process at work in, say, the construction of the RMS Titanic, or the state of the New Orleans flood defences or the failed attempts to implement tsunami alert systems ahead of the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004.

It's easy to blame cost-cutting itself, and management greed or short term shareholder expectations as its source. Or perhaps even a general human tendency towards complacency. It's easy because such 'causes' let 99% of us off the hook.

But surely that's the root cause of the problem. We all know that our society's defences to major threats weaken over time, but we lay the blame elsewhere instead of each bearing some responsibility to constantly question the readiness of those defences - whether as staff, parents, investors, taxpayers or voters. We are not powerless victims. The rise of the Internet, the empowerment of individuals and all the ensuing bottom-up changes those trends have wrought demonstrate that.

Image from Carbon Based.
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