Monday, January 4, 2010

"You are in Control": The Unorganized Militia, Terror and the Fear Factor in a Disaster

Dutch filmmaker Jasper Schuringa led the effort to subdue the would-be bomber.

John Robb of Global Guerrillas has a great piece today on the passenger response to the underpants bomber, commenting on a Time magazine article by Amanda Ripley. He also references her book "The Unthinkable." Below you will find Robb's comments, Ripley's article and Robb's review of her book. Much food for thought here. I intend to get the book today and will likely review it myself.

Mike
III


YOU ARE IN CONTROL

Posted: 03 Jan 2010 05:39 PM PST

There's a great article in TIME magazine by Amanda Ripley (I wrote a review of her great book, "The Unthinkable" in the City Journal) on one of the most under covered security lessons of 9/11: that an aware citizenry can defend itself. It ends with this telling para which depicts the government reasserting its authority to prop up its legitimacy:

After the passengers [heroes] of Flight 253 deplaned in Detroit, they were held in the baggage area for more than five hours until FBI agents interviewed them. They were not allowed to call their loved ones. They were given no food. When one of the pilots tried to use the bathroom before a bomb-sniffing dog had finished checking all the carry-on bags, an officer ordered him to sit down, according to passenger Alain Ghonda, who thought it odd. "He was the pilot. If he wanted to do anything, he could've crashed the plane." It was a metaphor for the rest of the country: Thank you for saving the day. Now go sit down.

The same spirit of being in control, regardless of government inaction/incompetence, should be true for other aspects of our lives under a similar assault by a global system run amok.

What am I talking about? Our economic and societal future. If it's not clear to you already after seeing a global economic meltdown caused by the gluttony of financial parasites, it should be. But it's worse than that. The entire system has failed to produce anything resembling improvement in our lives for years:

* Median male incomes today are the same as they were in 1974 in the US (and likely all over the western world). No progress has been made despite a doubling of productivity and massive top line GDP growth. Worse, given that female incomes aren't on par with male incomes yet, the typical American family makes much less per hour worked than in 1974.

* All of the requirements for entry into the middle class are now private expenses. From health care to a college education, if you can't afford the minimum (let alone high quality versions), you aren't allowed entry. Worse, those expenses are spiraling out of control at rates many times the rate of inflation. Nothing is being done to address this.

* The system is geared to make us fail. Not only has outsourcing/off-shoring just started (everything that can be moved offshore to take advantage of the arbitrage opportunity in wage disparities between western and workers in developing countries will be) we are being laden with un-repayable debt. To wit: there's been NO job growth in the last decade (despite tens of millions in population growth) and total debt from all sources is still near ALL time historical highs.

To add insult to injury, efforts to correct any of the above through governmental or regulatory reform have failed miserably (the government and both parties have been captured by transnational business interests): from endless bailouts to industries actually writing the legislation that covers them to guarantee rich profit growth while solving nothing meaningful (as we saw with both the recent health care and finance bills). We are at a dead end.

So, take control.

NOTE: My solution is to form a tribal layer. Resilient communities that are connected by a network platform (a darknet). A decentralized and democratic system that can provide you a better interface with the dominant global economic system than anything else I can think of. Not only would this tribe protect you from shocks and predation by this impersonal global system, it would provide you with the tools and community support necessary to radically improve how you and your family does across all measures of consequence. Of course, this may not be the right solution for you, but if it is...



http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1950576,00.html

The Lesson: Passengers Are Not Helpless

By Amanda Ripley Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009
Since 2001, airline passengers — regular people without weapons or training — have helped thwart terrorist attacks aboard at least five different commercial airplanes. It happened again on Christmas Day. And as we do each and every time, we miss the point.

Consider the record: First, passengers on United Flight 93 prevented a further attack on Washington on 9/11. Then, three months later, American Airlines passengers wrestled a belligerent, biting Richard Reid to the ground, using their headset cords to restrain him. In 2007, almost a dozen passengers jumped on a gun-wielding hijacker aboard a plane in the Canary Islands. And this past November, passengers rose up against armed hijackers over Somalia. Together, then, a few dozen folks have helped save some 595 lives. {See the top 10 inept terrorist Plots.}

And yet our collective response to this legacy of ass-kicking is puzzling. Each time, we build a slapdash pedestal for the heroes. Then we go back to blaming the government for failing to keep us safe, and the government goes back to treating us like children. This now familiar ritual distracts us from the real lesson, which is that we are not helpless. And since regular people will always be first on the scene of terrorist attacks, we should perhaps prioritize the public's antiterrorism capability — above and beyond the fancy technology that will never be foolproof.

Instead, we hear this blather from President Obama: "The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season." He forgets that Americans have never really wanted the government to do "everything in its power" to keep us safe. That would make this a terrible place to live. And yet, after eight years of paternalistic bluster from President George W. Bush, we have grown accustomed to the cycle of absurd promises followed by failure and renewed by fear. Bush liked to say that the authorities have to succeed 100% of the time and terrorists only once. The truth is, authorities never succeed 100% of the time at anything. And they never will. {See a report card on Obama's first year.}

By definition, terrorism succeeds by making us feel powerless. It is more often a psychological threat than an existential one. The authorities compound the damage when they overreact — by subjecting grandmothers to pat-downs and making it intolerable to travel. Even though the Christmas bombing suspect had been stopped, stripped and cuffed before the plane landed, we still talk like victims. "[This] came close to being one of the greatest tragedies in the history of our country," New York Congressman Peter King said on CNN, criticizing Obama for not holding a press conference sooner.

When Obama did speak, three days after the incident, he first listed all the security reviews to be conducted while the rest of us sit tight. Only then did he briefly acknowledge reality: "This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist."

Here are some things Obama did not say: He did not propose that we find ways to leverage the proven dedication and courage of the public. He did not call for Congress to cut spending on homeland-security pork and instead double the budget of Citizen Corps — the volunteer emergency-preparedness service that was created after 9/11 and that most Americans have never heard of. He did not demand that the government be more open with us about the threats we face. He did not discuss the government's obligation, as homeland-security expert Stephen Flynn puts it, to "support regular people in being able to withstand, rapidly recover and adapt to foreseeable risks."

Karen Sherrouse was a flight attendant on the jet that Richard Reid tried to blow up. When one of her colleagues tried to stop Reid, Sherrouse rushed to help. But she couldn't get down the aisle because so many passengers had already joined the melee. "They were instantly on him," she remembers. "It was a group effort." And so it should be. The flight attendants can't be everywhere at once. Nor can TSA officers or the FBI.

After the passengers of Flight 253 deplaned in Detroit, they were held in the baggage area for more than five hours until FBI agents interviewed them. They were not allowed to call their loved ones. They were given no food. When one of the pilots tried to use the bathroom before a bomb-sniffing dog had finished checking all the carry-on bags, an officer ordered him to sit down, according to passenger Alain Ghonda, who thought it odd. "He was the pilot. If he wanted to do anything, he could've crashed the plane." It was a metaphor for the rest of the country: Thank you for saving the day. Now go sit down.



http://www.city-journal.org/2008/bc0621jr.html

John Robb

Fear Factor

Surviving a disaster often depends on self-control.

21 June 2008

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, by Amanda Ripley (Crown, 288 pp., $24.95)

I’m living, breathing proof that you can survive a disaster. I’ve lived through two airplane crashes (“catastrophic mishaps” in Air Force jargon), one at the start and one near the end of my Air Force piloting career, as well as a countless number of close calls in between. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to understand fully why I was so successful at navigating disaster and others in similar circumstances weren’t. There hasn’t been a source of solid thinking on the subject until now. Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Unthinkable, is a riveting exploration of the factors that dictate whether you will live through or perish in a disaster—if you’re ever unlucky enough to confront one.

Based on my experience, the top objective in all catastrophes is to move to a safe zone and take as many people with you as you can. While this goal may seem simple, achieving it during the onrush of chaos isn’t. Thinking clearly during a crisis is tough, for reasons more complex than we realize. Ripley shows us what stands in our way as we navigate what she calls the “survival arc,” which consists of two phases: denial and deliberation.

Denial keeps you from realizing that you are in danger. It’s rooted in bad risk assessment, overconfidence, and a lack of relevant experience. Bouts with denial can delay your response, as Ripley illustrates through the testimony of Elia Zedeno, who relates her painfully slow escape from the 73rd floor of Tower One on September 11. Once you realize the extent of the peril, though, fear might take over. Deliberation requires overcoming fear to regain the ability to think clearly. Ripley tells the story of U.S. Ambassador Diego Asencio, taken hostage by armed assault on the Dominican Republic’s embassy in Bogota, Colombia. His experience put him through Ripley’s survival arc, and it was only through a period of “self-talk”—in which he realized that he was more worried about dishonorable conduct than death—that he overcame his mind-numbing fear. Asencio’s initial passivity is also common among groups. Contrary to popular understanding, group behavior during disasters is rarely panic-driven, but more often extremely docile and overly polite. Getting a group to respond and act effectively often requires aggressive behavior, like barking orders.

The book’s best parts are Ripley’s explorations of the roots of fear and how to overcome it. Fear is a deep evolutionary response that changes our biology so that we can respond to danger. It’s regulated by a part of the brain called the amygdala and catalyzed by the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Unfortunately, as the amygdala takes control, it deprives us of our higher mental functions and can induce everything from tunnel vision to time compression to extreme dissociation (out-of-body experiences). In short, in complex disasters, the biological-fear response can slow thinking so severely that it can kill you.

We can counter fear, however. The best method, FBI trainers say, is to get control of your breathing. “Combat breathing” is a simple variant on Lamaze or yoga training—breathe in four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, and repeat. It works because breathing is a combination of the somatic (which we control) and the autonomic (which we can’t easily control) nervous systems. Regulation of the autonomic system deescalates the biological-fear response and returns our higher-level brain functions to full capacity. So one of the best ways you can prepare yourself to overcome fear in a crisis is as simple as a meditation, Lamaze, or yoga class.

Fortunately, in many disasters, someone is often biologically and psychologically well-suited for dealing with the chaos. Such people typically are the most likely to survive or to shepherd a docile group of survivors out of a disaster zone. What makes them different? Some have a natural psychological buffer that allows them to bounce back from extreme stress. Examination of people who always perform well in extreme circumstances has shown high levels in the blood of “neuropeptide Y”—a compound that allows one to stay mentally focused under stress. It’s so closely correlated with success in pressure situations that it is almost a biological marker for selection into elite groups for military special operations.

If you’re lucky enough to have someone like this in your group during a disaster, your chances of survival are much better. But even those of us not so disposed can, through training and experience, manufacture a workable degree of self-confidence.

This discussion only scratches the surface of Ripley’s fascinating book. For those curious about how and why people react to stressful situations in the ways they do, or are looking for pointers on how to survive a disaster, The Unthinkable is the place to start.

John Robb is a writer, entrepreneur, and former USAF pilot in special operations. He is the author of Brave New War (Wiley) and runs the blog Global Guerrillas. He was named one of Esquire’s Best and Brightest for 2007.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not really on topic, but I felt that Obama should have mentioned (by name) the hero of the Christmas Day flight when he gave his "SPEECH" about the incident 3 days after it occurred.
The best thing about this whole incident is that people are waking up to the fact that we must be involved.
Thank you for your blog. Also, on a website called usofearth.com is a video game based on Obama cancelling all future elections.

Anonymous said...

Would have been nice for the Pilot to tell the Servant to Go to Hell Punk I was the Pilot who Are You Scum an Illegal Immigrant or a Nazi who needs to Lose His Nazi Scum Intimidation Expert Job.When he initiates force helping him to the Ground would be Appropriate and hopefully it would not be necessary to break his arm or kill him ,as these Scum do to Old Ladies Protesting Abortion,etc,...Then Suing his estate and his Nazi Bosses AS INDIVIDUALS not official scumthugsandMurderers would be Quite Appropriate ,if a bit late in the game. Come and Get it NaziScum

Unknown said...

As I said in my comment about "the next time" the power is with the people. Had passengers just stood up to the FBI or whomever was holding them after deplaning there is very little they could do. If they shot a passenger it would likely trigger a mass stampede or some sort of resistance. Could 200+ passengers overwhelm the few people detaining them? You bet. That's where the III'pers come in. We know that there were people who took action on the plane. Had they thought it necessary, they could have done so on the ground as well. But it does take courage for an unarmed, tired, scared passenger to face down armed federal agents.

Dedicated_Dad said...

I generally respect Mr. Robb and his writings, but then he suddenly deviates into nonsense.

As example:

"...Median male incomes today are the same as they were in 1974... given that female incomes aren't on par with male incomes yet, the typical American family makes much less per hour worked than in 1974..."

The **FACT** is that women with truly equivalent jobs, education and experience are paid ***MORE*** than their male counterparts.

MORE.

Does anyone here believe a woman who works in a nail-salon should be paid the same as a man who risks his life building skyscrapers? If all else was equal and women could be hired for 25% less, who would ever hire men?

Look at the FACTS. Women CHOOSE their jobs, and are inclined to comfort and "personal fulfillment" in their choices where men are almost always driven by the need to maximize their incomes - which increases his chance of mating because IT BENEFITS WOMEN.

Don't take my word for this - do your own research, but look CAREFULLY at what you find. The biases are ridiculously obvious know what you're looking for.

"...Not only has outsourcing/off-shoring just started (everything that can be moved offshore to take advantage of the arbitrage opportunity in wage disparities between western and workers in developing countries will be)..."

Unions and Government have conspired to force businessmen to choose between offshoring or bankruptcy - in either case the jobs are gone.

I worked in a GM auto plant. The sickness that pervades the UAW is STAGGERING. Daily, deliberate sabotage of the company.

At the core of The Enemy's philosophy is that there's some sort of limited pool of prosperity, and anyone who rises to the top did so by somehow robbing those below of their just due. The FACT is that those who rise to the top pull countless others along by giving them jobs they wouldn't otherwise have.

The combination of legalized sabotage and extortion that unions create and the crushing burden of out-of-control legislation makes it impossible for anyone to create a product at a profit -- so the company chooses survival by moving offshore. Who can blame them?

The most idiotic part of all of this is the fact that the regulations - ESPECIALLY environmental - cause MORE pollution when jobs are moved to China or India (who have no environmental controls at all).

Since our water and air are going to be polluted in any case, wouldn't it be better to reduce regulations, allow SOME necessary pollution (still only a fraction of what will be created overseas) and keep the jobs here?

"...To add insult to injury, efforts to correct any of the above through governmental or regulatory reform have failed miserably (the government and both parties have been captured by transnational business interests)..."

GOVERNMENT IS NOT THE SOLUTION, IT IS THE PROBLEM. Capitalism is not the problem, it's the solution. We don't need more regulations, we need LESS. We need to focus on balancing between prosperity with preservation, which requires SOME tolerance for SOME enviro-impact.

All the stuff we no longer build here is still built elsewhere - with exponentially more environmental damage.

Lastly, four decades ago a man could have a factory job and earn enough cash for an adequate home, annual vacation, education for his kids, and a decent pension - all while allowing his wife to stay at home and care for their children.

Today two incomes are needed to provide the same relative standard of living, and most (myself included) will be eating dog-food upon retirement.

Every PENNY - and more - of the second income goes to increased burden of taxes, and pensions no longer exist.

Our biggest problems are parasitic unions and government who continue to feast upon the corpse of US industry.

Both should be excised like the cancer they are...

DD

III more than them said...

"Such people typically are the most likely to survive or to shepherd a docile group of survivors out of a disaster zone. What makes them different? >>>Some have a natural psychological buffer that allows them to bounce back from extreme stress.<<<"

I've seen people adapt quickly to pressure via exposure to it, and in anticipation of the next stressor. While some surely are naturally prone to success in pressure situations, those that are not might be trained through practice.

It is important to identify any in your group that need to "man-up", not to stuff them aside and keep them in a box, but to provide them with opportunity to overcome through exposure. Make a man out of them, as they say. Best to do this early, and have them ready to contribute those desirable qualities that made them a good group choice to begin with, than to waste your other investments into them.

Additionally, and sadly, there are some that just can't cut it, for reasons beyond their control. If they still have something to contribute, find some other way for them to do so, and don't expect more from them than they can humanly contribute. Some parts of the machine simply are NOT interchangeable.

Anonymous said...

The government reaction was 180 degrees to the wrong. Instead of reacting by promising more intrusive, time consuming passenger processing, they should have stated that the public is the best in-flight security and because of that, TSA screening is unnecessary. Now they have encouraged more airline terrorist attempts. The promise of swift passenger action is a great deterrent. Well, I can dream, can't I?

Anonymous said...

"Could 200+ passengers overwhelm the few [legitimate authorities] detaining them?"

No. The passengers have already been defeated by propaganda on the mental/cultural battleground, and thus cannot seriously contemplate that plan of action. If they could, then they would already have voted libertarian, and we wouldn't be in this mess today. You are fantasizing that electoral voting works to protect minorities, while six million dead Jews in Germany proved that law-abiding minorities won't even stand up for themselves.

The 3% never grows larger than 3%, this is the reality. Now please get past your denial and your fear, and start deliberating. Darknets of and between tribes seem a fine place to start. Switch from Windows to Linux. Create the Sipsey Street Speakeasy inside TOR.

Anonymous said...

"Create the Sipsey Street Speakeasy inside TOR."

Last time I looked TOR wasn't encrypted, it is just anonymous and it doesn't do that very well either.

Anonymous said...

"Last time I looked TOR wasn't encrypted"

Correct, the web site needs to be over a secure connection (https), too.

"it is just anonymous"

The major purpose of TOR is to make it impractical to trace traffic back to a physical location and a particular server.

"and it doesn't do that very well either."

It is way better than nothing. No flavor of security is proof against every attack, security simply slows attackers down. But you take the trouble to lock your house and car doors, right?