(Nick Catrantzos — who has written for Homeland Security Watch before — wrote today’s post)
Events on the world or national stage must surely cast doubt over educator Ken Robinson’s assertion that we should not so much be asking how intelligent people are as how they are intelligent (K. Robinson, The Element, NY: Viking, 2009, p. 43).
Look at Greece’s economic meltdown accompanied with strikes and entitlement protests only making matters worse. Or consider sports fans like those rioting in the streets of otherwise sedate Vancouver because their team lost the Stanley Cup (not as in misplacing the trophy but as in being decisively outplayed by Boston). Then turn to the TSA’s latest ham-handed faux pas in a screener’s browbeating of an ailing, 95-year-old passenger who had to surrender her Depends undergarment or miss her flight.
How is this intelligent, indeed? Perhaps the better questions to ponder are, “How are we stupid? Or how are we this stupid?”
Next look at how TSA managed damage control on the foregoing story by crowing that they did not actually strip-search the woman or take away her undergarment. No, they just gave her options like not being able to make her flight unless she abandoned it (per CNN’s June 27 account at http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/06/27/florida.tsa.incident/index.html).
This public relations statement makes things better?
Now the questions become, “How stupid are we? Or, how stupid are we supposed to be?”
Toleration for stupidity is growing in proportion to its global spread, and there are common threads running through active practitioners of such stupidity. One of the threads is the tie between this kind of hostile behavior against innocuous targets and the power and status of those responsible for the stupidity in question. [For illumination on this subject, see J. C. Magee and A. D. Galindky, “Social Hierarchy: The Self-Reinforcing Nature of Power and Status, The Academy of Management Annals, Volume 2, August 2008, pp. 351-398.]
It is a safe bet to infer that the agents of stupidity have relatively little status in their respective worlds. Jobless anarchists, drunken sports fans, and even the vast majority of hard-working but eternally vilified TSA inspectors enjoy the relative status of whale droppings – which must be at the bottom of the ocean. Having no status in the public eye, some nevertheless retain a certain power to compensate.
It is the power of the small to take out their frustrations on people or objects unable to defend themselves. If you can’t win the game, you upset the checkerboard.
So these displays of maleficence, or stupidity, linger and proliferate, absent an injection of adult mind into the swirl of adolescently botched events. The situation recalls the favorite aphorism of my business law professor in an MBA program:
“This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.” –George V. Higgins: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
But wait. There is more. Could things actually be getting worse?
One New Yorker, in subtle refutation of the title of a New York Times reporter’s faith in The Wisdom of Crowds (J. Surowiecki, NY: Anchor Books, 2004) recently drew attention to the subtle trend for the benefit of responders.
Writing in Watchline (Issue 06.23.11), a weekly one-pager created for enhancing fire fighter situational awareness in New York that has since gone quietly viral in the response community, FDNY’s Captain Sean Newman had this to say about the phenomenon:
Researcher Determines that Stupidity is Contagious
An Austrian psychologist has released a study in the journal Media Psychology claiming that being exposed to “stupid” behavior, in this case reading a story about soccer hooligans, lowered a test groups’average test score compared to a control group, according to the Wall Street Journal. Students who read the hooligan story, and did not have mechanisms to distance themselves from the protagonist, scored 5-7 percent less than the control group on a “difficult” test covering geography, science and arts.
Assessment: Scientists have proposed the infectiousness of behavior (and ideas) since at least the late 19th Century. Gustave LeBon introduced the concept of contagion theory to describe crowd behavior, which he postulated was driven by the unconscious mind. Later, convergence theory took hold, claiming that participants share a common disposition in close proximity. These theories suggest that the crowd collectively accepts a new norm, which justifies behavior that they would not normally practice. Today, crowd mitigation efforts focus on the Elaborated Social Identity Model (ESIM), stating that temporary identity with the crowd becomes “salient,” or prominent. ESIM has caused a shift in crowd management away from aggressive police tactics, such as challenging mobs with riot gear, which may provoke the group, to more subtle forms of behavior modification such as crowd “self-policing,” identity transfer, and police/crowd education efforts.
What do all these events communicate to a security professional? Two things:
- Job security, for the essence of stupidity is that it will always stimulate the demand for protection from its expression.
- A rueful nod to this wisdom seen in Pike’s Place Market, Seattle, on a T-shirt for sale among tourist trinkets:
Stupid kills – But not near enough.