Tail continues to wag dog

I may have imagined it, but I am sure once upon a time the media reported news that happened rather than created the news all by itself. If they ever did exist, those days are gone now.

This week we saw yet another example of how the public, inspired by various media outlets begging for 24 hour news items, are gullible and (generally) selfish. Part of me honestly wonders if democracy is really the best way for a nation to govern itself – the selfishness of individuals is so strong that, over a nation, it really cant be a good thing.

The latest example is about Petrol (Gasoline) again. Earlier in the week we were fed lurid headlines about the impending Shell delivery drivers strike and how “1 in 10 forecourts would run out of petrol.” Set against this, the government kept saying “there is enough fuel, don’t panic, what ever you do, don’t panic buy.”

Seems fairly reasonable. The drivers have a right to strike (even if I think they are already grossly over paid – they earn twice what a nurse or teacher does) and I wish them all the best at getting a pay rise. Likewise, the government are correct. Four days of no deliveries to Shell garages is not going to impact the average person. If it came close to that, there are measures available to restore the balance (although rationing would be harsh). All in all, it is almost a non-news-event. Yes, there will be a strike but so what?

Now, we factor in the “human” element. By human, I mean ill-informed, fearful, ignorant and selfish. Proper “human” traits (*). As I see it, the thinking goes like this:

The news keeps showing how 1 in 10 forecourts will run out of fuel, so there must be something to worry about. The news keeps interviewing other “average people” who are worried, so I should worry as well. More news items about which petrol stations will be the most affected, so I should be worried. The government keeps telling me nothing bad will happen, now I am really worried. I rush out and panic buy as much fuel as I can get my hands on. I queue up for a while, cos there are lots of other people panic buying today. But I get loads of fuel and drive home.

Relaxing slightly, with my full tank, I turn on the news. After a day of people panic buying, wow, some petrol stations are running out of fuel. The news was right and the government lied to us again. I was right to buy loads of fuel…

Yes, it seems crazy, but this is what has happened in the UK. Despite all the assurances, people panic bought fuel (often despite not having any planned journey to go on…) and, as the media predicted petrol stations ran out.

The lessons I take from this are:

  • People are so truly selfish they no longer realise the effects of their actions. Listening to radio news yesterday there were dozens of people interviewed claiming they were filling up their cars and spare jerry cans (despite not planning to go anywhere) just in case. They wanted to make sure if there was a shortage other people suffered not them – no matter who may have greater need.
  • People are ignorant. Rather than think about the situation, people allow the 24 hour news outlets to feed them any nonsense and it is taken at face value. This is strange, given the number of times media organisations have been show to have falsified things to make news…
  • Which leads me to no one even comes close to trusting an “official” or “government” spokesperson. I actually think this is understandable, given the degree to which we are lied to on a daily basis, however sometimes they are telling the truth. Why the government spin doctors are “less trustworthy” than heavily biased media organisations’ spin doctors is beyond me.

Most frustrating of it all, is that the inevitable chain of events has done nothing but re-inforce people’s crazy ideas. Despite the government’s promises, petrol did run out (albeit hardly anywhere), so people add it to the list of times the government has lied. The media predicted it, so people add it to the list of things the media were correct. The selfish people are reassured that their selfishness was justified.

What is to blame for this? Has a generation been failed by the lack of a “proper” education? (I doubt it), are people inherently lazy and obedient? (again, I doubt it), have two decades of political lies and mismanagement of the public created a wary, scared public who feel they need to look after themselves because no one else will? (hmm).

Answers on a postcard to Number 10 Downing Street….

* sometimes I worry I am becoming sociopathic. Then I worry that writing things like that in a blog will count as a pre-crime and have me arrested. Then I relax because that line of crazy thinking means I am as mad, and human, as every one else…….. Wait, is that a helicopter overhead……… Why is it painted black? …….

Who funds the cost of terrorism?

On the BBC there is a news/vote item about the “spiralling costs” of airport security. Apparently the airports industry is complaining that complying with the security restrictions imposed by the government (or the US government in some instances) is destroying their profits and they want the Government to contribute to offset some of the burden. The BBC writes:

The aviation industry has said it can no longer afford the spiralling costs of security at Britain’s airports.
Costs have risen by 150% since new security measures were brought in after the 11 September attacks in 2001.

Security now costs a quarter of major airports’ income. Airports cover all security costs themselves, but say this is simply not sustainable.

The industry now wants the government to contribute, but ministers insist the aviation industry must foot the bill.

Since the 11 September attacks, the government has introduced restrictions on hand baggage, a ban on liquids on board and, more recently, measures to move vehicles further away from terminal buildings.

It is interesting that the airports feel having to abide by government legislation is not something they should have to pay for, it strikes me as being the same as if car manufacturers decided to make the government pay for seatbelts, but that is a debate for another day.

Likewise, the idea that losing a bit of profit to improve upon safety is a “Bad Thing” is open to all manner of arguments – you could easily complain that airports only spend a quarter of their income on security…, but I will leave that as well.

Oddly, I will also avoid the farcial nature of the security measures – they are, by and large, pointless and designed for nothing more than pandering to peoples crackpot fears, but I will rant about that another time. (Phew 😉 ) I will even leave the nonsense comments alone today.

The main thing which piqued my interest, were the options in the vote. Before you shout at me, I know these “votes” are more for fun than anything else, I haven’t taken it seriously – however, the news debate on TV, Radio and online seems to realistically consider these three choices as the only options.

Who should pay for airport security?
The aviation industry
The government

The survey has most voters saying “The Government” and this has been reflected by the TV news coverage and the comments attached to this news item. Personally, I would have said it is the aviation industry’s responsibility but I am used to holding a minority viewpoint.

The issue I have with the choices here, and this is something which is often reflected in public debate, is the crazy idea that the Government has “money” in any realistic sense.

It strikes me that people seem to be massively unaware of the fact that making the government pay for something (even the constant stream of “Public Inquiries” we seem to need now) actually means everyone pays for it. If, for example, the UK government is forced to subsidise the airports, the money will either come from reducing other sectors of public funding (so we get worse hospitals or roads for example), cutting back on the money given to local authorities (so we pay more council tax for example) or by increasing the basic tax rates – so we pay more. What ever the option, it is the population of the country who will lose out.

Comically, the airports are on shaky ground here, as they do not bear the full costs of airport security really. Since 2001, the charges levied on airlines and travel operators has increased to offset the costs of anti-terror methods – which in turn has the effect of either reducing their profits or translating into higher travel costs. So in effect, the passenger has already been paying for the costs and now the airports want more.

Really, there are only two choices as to who bears the costs – the public as a whole, or people who use air travel. Personally, given that choice, I think it realistically has to be the people who chose to fly. Shame really. I fly a lot. 🙁

Annoyingly, despite some of the claims that all the measures are in response to demands by the UK government this is not the case. In some instances they are extra measures that the US government has demanded, in some they are demanded by international organisations. So, in effect, we have to subsidise the fears (real or otherwise) of foreign nations. Such is life, post-Empire…

[tags]Philosophy, society, culture, air travel, Security, Terrorism, Government, Industry, Taxation, Airlines, Airports, Flight Safety[/tags]