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Jeez, louise. All the David-haters should read or re-read Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff." That book dealt with a not-dissimilar mass psychological reaction to a systemic danger.

To summarize: fighter pilots testing the latest and greatest technology died at an alarming clip, in many and sundry ways. The fighter pilot ethos did not acknowledge the possibility of "system failure" in the craft they flew, but correlated survival to having a skill -- "the right stuff" -- and death to some kind of personal flaw. "Any of us survivors would have....[insert option here, punched out, not punched out, bailed on the approach, not worn earbuds, worn brighter clothing, whatever.]

The point is that there are massive psychological forces for individuals to deny that they live in inherently threatening systems, and it takes a lot of gumption to point out the thing that everyone is denying for their psychological health.

People may find this a shrill comparison, but imagine you are a seal living on the Farralon Islands or in South Africa. Every day to feed you have to leave the safety of the shore and risk being eaten by a shark. You might tell yourself that every day you survive is because you have a special skill at navigating the system, and that the bloke who got eaten had some kind of fatal flaw that was regrettable but there we are. This approach would give you psychological calmness (don't worry, I also remember you're a seal).

But if you admitted that every time you went out to eat you had a statistical chance of being randomly consumed by a Great White, that would be a very stressful idea to carry around.

I'm not really comparing cars to great white sharks -- though the idea amuses me -- or even to suggest that seals have any policy levers to reduce the risk of being eaten by sharks -- but as humans we have a certain measure of control over the systems we inhabit, and hopefully a little more awareness than seals about ways we might get out of the systems we navigate every day.

by jnb on Dec 2, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

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