The reality of security is mathematical, based on the probability of different risks and the effectiveness of different countermeasures. We can calculate how secure your home is from burglary, based on such factors as the crime rate in the neighborhood you live in and your door-locking habits. We can calculate how likely it is for you to be murdered, either on the streets by a stranger or in your home by a family member. Or how likely you are to be the victim of identity theft. Given a large enough set of statistics on criminal acts, it’s not even hard; insurance companies do it all the time.
We can also calculate how much more secure a burglar alarm will make your home, or how well a credit freeze will protect you from identity theft. Again, given enough data, it’s easy.
But security is also a feeling, based not on probabilities and mathematical calculations, but on your psychological reactions to both risks and countermeasures. You might feel terribly afraid of terrorism, or you might feel like it’s not something worth worrying about. You might feel safer when you see people taking their shoes off at airport metal detectors, or you might not. You might feel that you’re at high risk of burglary, medium risk of murder, and low risk of identity theft. And your neighbor, in the exact same situation, might feel that he’s at high risk of identity theft, medium risk of burglary, and low risk of murder.
Or, more generally, you can be secure even though you don’t feel secure. And you can feel secure even though you’re not. The feeling and reality of security are certainly related to each other, but they’re just as certainly not the same as each other. We’d probably be better off if we had two different words for them.
February 28, 2007
The Psychology of Security
[In a large part this is the battle gun rights activists are fighting. The probabilities are on our side and to a large extent the anti-gun bigots have a lock on the feelings. As you read the essay you realize why it’s so important to make guns familar and common. Part of Boomershoot is making the public comfortable with guns and thus help people reduce their negative feelings towards firearms. Do your part and come out of the closet as a gun owner.–Joe]