Monday, December 2, 2013

Threat Alerts Of The Future, Or, Friends Don't Let Friends Spend Time Quietly At Home

Maybe a rating system of 0 - 6 meerkats would be better.

Remember the "Terror Alert Level," AKA the Homeland Security Advisory System, with codes up at the top consisting of red "SEVERE" and orange "HIGH"? Did you remember there was a blue level for "GUARDED"?

Did you know it was phased out and replaced with the National Terrorism Advisory System, partly because the color scheme was considered too ridiculous? 

Now that those colors aren't tied down to terror, maybe we can use them for some other important threat alerts.

-- The Consumer Rationality Alert: YELLOW = ELEVATED

We all know that in a modern society, economic growth is the new categorical imperative. But for many modern consumers, it makes no sense to keep spending. Poor people have no money, and thus can spend only by borrowing against their best interests. Better off people already have tons of stuff, and do not need more things.

The only way forward is through the familiar consumer manias that induce people to buy against their interests. It is well-known that these manias typically function at peak capacity around the holiday season, with consumers saying things like "My TV from last year is in beautiful, perfect condition, but this one is bigger and better."

But sometimes consumer rationality begins to rear its ugly head, prompting citizens toward unpatriotic activities like "making dinner" and "going for a walk." This year we're seeing some early warning signs, which is why the alert is ELEVATED. Remember, friends don't let friends spend time quietly at home.

-- The Tolerance and Openness Alert: GREEN = LOW

Fear is essential to an obedient, and thus peaceful, populace. In our modern complex world, fear, like so many things, has become less easy to control and direct. Back in the day, obvious enemies and threats like the USSR and "communism" could be trusted to reliably work everyone up into a frenzy.

Things are changing. With same-sex marriage on the rise, more and more mixed-race and ethnicity people being born, and a tendency to see people in other countries as "just people," good unifying sources of fear and hate may seem to be on the wane.

But a quick glance at virtually any unmoderated internet comments discussion will reassure anyone: fear and hatred are doing fine. A special shout-out here to Quebec for its ban on religious symbols in the workplace that allows "discreet cross pendants" or "star of David rings" but not Sikh turbans or other head scarves -- a classic expression of the "we know what we don't like when we see it" doctrine.
The Solidarity Alert: BLUE = GUARDED

Compared with other alerts, the issues here are complex and experts are divided over how likely threats from attempted solidarity are. On the one hand, ever since Governor Walker and his "Wisconsin budget repair bill," there's been an assumption that anti-solidarity legislation is working. In support of this, anti-solidarity forces point to high profile victories, such as the dismantling of the Occupy movements.

Other caution, however, that complacency is never the right response. Given the way the internet facilitates communication among people hoping to band together for common purposes, outbreaks of solidarity can never be far from us. Our rating the Alert Level at BLUE is a compromise among these divergent and opposite opinions.

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