Security Culture

See it. Say it. Sorted.

Anyone who’s travelled by train in the UK lately will be all too familiar with this slogan – see it, say it, sorted. ‘If you see something suspicious, contact British transport police on [unintelligible numbers apparently spoken through a fan].’

The message itself, on the level of semantics, doesn’t seem too troublesome. An unattended bag that sounds like a grandfather clock might be something to tell someone about, after all. But hearing this so repeatedly begins to feel a bit threatening. There’s an amorphous enemy out there, among you, and you’d better keep your eyes peeled.

The youtuber Philosophy Tube has a great examination of security culture:

The hypothetical enemy, as he points out, is just that – hypothetical. And because they’re hypothetical, there’s always the justification of ‘better safe than sorry’. There’s always a need to remind people about reporting suspicious behaviour, because if the security is relaxed, and then something happens…

The always non-zero possibility of an attack justifies the reality of the obnoxious, intrusive, threatening security culture. Because the risk can never be eliminated, security can only increase.

The security slogan announcement begins to feel more common than announcements about the actual trains. ‘Constant vigilance!’ Mad-Eye Moody tells us. The transport police aren’t that on-the-nose about it all yet, but security culture does nudge us to further vigilance, to (highly racially charged) suspicion of our fellows, to building ourselves a panopticon.

Having armed police standing around a station is even worse: as said in the video, it feels more like an occupation than protection. Who are we being protected from, exactly? The momentary flicker of fear they inspire (why are they here? Is something going on?) serves to justify their presence. They create the very fear that they are supposed to take away.

If advertising is meant to create ‘an anxiety relievable by purchase’, security culture creates an anxiety relievable by continued security. Better safe than sorry.

But we are never absolutely safe. Countless everyday objects can be used as weapons, any location could be bombed, any car could be driven into a crowd. I could have an aneurysm right now, but I don’t want a government drone popping round to give me statins, damn it. I’m safe enough. Safe enough should be enough. It should be possible to step back and remember that most people are not a threat.

If the goal of terrorism is political change through fear, our security culture is ceding ground. They put bombs in shoes, take your shoes off. They use liquid explosives, use this tiny bottle. They attack the Tube, we have to hear this damn slogan every five minutes.

I get why we can’t carry katanas in hand luggage. But I don’t get why we have to let so few people have this much influence.

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