What The MiB Film Can Teach Us About Government Reactions to Terror Attacks

A customer at work yesterday complained that David Cameron was "giving terrorists ideas" by talking about possible things they could do. I've heard similar sentiments before. I tried explaiming that poisoning water supplies, breaking internet and phone lines etc was not IS's MO.

IS and their fellow bands of deeply unmerry men (and some women), like gun fire, explosions and other flashy modes of mayhem. Sure, cutting internet lines will cause disruption, but it's not showy and it's not scary to anyone but a few millenials.

Poisoning water supplies is fairly difficult work, and not at all showy. It also risks killing Muslims. IS doesn't want to accidentally kill random Muslims. It wants the West to do that, to drive Muslims to hate the West, to return to the Middle East if they left, to join IS.

Cameron knows this. Cameron knows IS et al are unlikely to listen to him and go "wow, what a good idea, let's try that instead of blowing ourselves up!"

So why did he say it? Why have Western leaders been saying these things for years?

To scare us.

To make us afraid.

To terrorise us.

To make us look to them for protection and welcome any privacy invading, freedom squashing measures they want to bring in. This terrorist stuff works for everyone with a smidge of power.

Surely not, you say. Surely they're just trying to make us aware of the dangers. Nuh huh.

There's a scene in the first Men in Black film when Will Smith's character, Jay, is demanding the world be told about the giant battle cruiser about to blow the planet to dust. Tommy Lee Jones' character, Kay, explains to Jay why that's a dumb idea.

Kay: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!

Jay: Man, we ain't got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don't know whether or not you've forgotten, but there's an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that's about to...

Kay: There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!

I reiterate; the only way we these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT.

Right or wrong, this is how public safety and security forces act. In an emergency situation the public is fed as little information as possible. It's a paternalistic approach, but in many instances it does save lives. In others it just makes people's jobs easier.

Why is this? Let me quote Kay again; "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals."

As a group, we are terrible. We make snap decisions and we have really poor judgement. We are greater than the sum of our parts, in a way; we are way dumber than even the lowest common denominator.

Leaders, emergency services and security forces all know this. Information is carefully selected to ensure a) panic is reduced and b) people do only what you want them to.

If there's a fire in a public building people are told to evacuate, and that is all. They are not told why, or if they are then the level of the problem is not revealed.

"Just come this way sir, nothing too serious, just taking extra precautions..." as a raging inferno takes down anther part of the building. Everyone trundles along, no one panics, there's no stampede and everyone is saved, probably.

This is opposed to someone yelling "Fire! FIRE!! EVERYONE GET OUT!!!" This is followed by screaming, running, the trampling of old people, the dropping of babes in arms... bad things. Lots of bad things.

This is one of the reasons that emergency services don't like reporters. The people may have a right to know, but they are probably going to do something stupid with that information. The emergency services try to reduce death and maiming, not cause it (discussions on police violence another day).

Again, Western leaders know this. Cameron does, May does, Hollandè does. They know that telling people about all the ways that someone could kill us en masse will induce fear. They can use that fear. More CCTV, more snooping at our internet usage, more tracking of our whereabouts.

It's a human rights free for all! Take what you can, give nothing back!

Why has Obama not talked about what terrorists could do in America? Why is he talking about being strong and not succumbing to fear? Because he's out in a few months and has no desire to let the next government be Republican. He doesn't need to create panic and fear. He can try to scupper the Republicans, who are fear mongering, with talk of strength, unity and courage. He's pandering to people's desires to feel big, while other leaders are trying to make people feel small. Or he might actually be a really good person and actually only looking out for people, like the MiB. Who knows?

Whatever his motives, I hope he succeeds.

Everything a politician says in public is planned (maybe planned badly, Donald Trump, but planned nonetheless). They are always, always pandering. We just have to work out what they are pandering to and what reaction they expect. Then we can turn back the spin.

They may well be telling the truth, but only part of it. Only as much as they think will get us to do what they want.
blog comments powered by Disqus