This thought-provoking article by the late philosopher Mary Midgley challenges our ideas about "security.":
"During a series of colonial wars in the nineteenth century, the British army gradually changed the colour of its soldiers’ uniforms from the traditional scarlet to khaki. Its reasons for doing this are perhaps fairly obvious, but the innovation was sharply resisted. Regiments who were still dressed in scarlet sneered at their transformed colleagues, disgustedly calling them ‘khakis’ (the word was well-known to be a ‘native’ one, the Urdu term for the colour of dust or mud). ... The public, too, had a scandalized sense that it was no longer being properly protected. Thus in 1892 a columnist in The Pall Mall Gazette wrote in some alarm, “Khaki is not showy enough, except when it is new and well-made-up. If worn constantly, it tends to promote slovenliness.” As we know, in the end practical considerations prevailed. All armies now wear khaki, often with the even less dignified addition of camouflage. But it is worthwhile to think for a moment about the kind of reasons which disturbed the protesters so deeply. Colourful uniforms did, of course, originally have a good practical point: they made it easy to distinguish friend from foe – which can be quite important in fighting on an open plain. But this was surely not what mainly worried the protesters. They seem to have been moved chiefly by the powerful symbolism involved. The bright colour looked bold and vigorous; it suggested a confident nation that faced its enemies readily, a belligerent one that had no need to skulk in hiding. Khaki did not have that meaning at all. And behind that symbolism there lay another emotive factor which was perhaps still more powerful – the influence of habit. Scarlet uniforms were habitual. They were normal. People were used to them. ‘Business as usual’ always tends to seem more practical, more realistic, than these fanciful new schemes we’re not used to. So scarlet was what made the public feel safe.
"Indirect factors like this, which we seldom think about and never mention, play a huge part in deciding what we put our trust in, and therefore what we understand by Security. Among the many dangers in the world, we pick out a few which we find specially alarming at the time and we concentrate on certain selected precautions against those dangers. We don’t easily notice how the balance of risk may be changing. Nor do we easily see how that balance may look to other people in different situations. ... We see dangers that seem to threaten ourselves clearly and sharply; but the dangers that other people see us as posing them are often quite invisible to us. For instance, the huge arsenal that has been built up in the West during the last half-century does not seem to those who own it to be alarming at all. We call it defence, and it strikes us as something quite static, innocuous and unthreatening. As is often said, it is just an umbrella, a fire-extinguisher, an insurance policy. It is merely the necessary guarantee of our Security.
"To people who don’t own it however, it looks surprisingly different. The trouble arises from a profound psychological quirk about the way in which we interpret threat. There is an immense difference between what may be called the front view and the back view of any weapon. Weapons are not just tools. They are powerful symbols, carrying messages that go far beyond the conscious intentions of those who wield them. This is why what is meant as deterrence often turns out to act as provocation. The owner who is, so to speak, sitting quietly behind his machine-gun, sees it merely as a comfortable defensive shield. He just innocently puts it (as it were) in his front window, and sits down behind it to read Proust. But the passers-by who come within range of it don’t see it in the same way at all. They tend to assume that if he has taken the trouble to buy the thing he probably has a use for it, and that he may already have some idea what that use will be. The owner can of course tell them reassuringly that the gun actually doesn’t mean anything at all, that it is just a harmless, neutral ‘umbrella’ of a kind that everybody needs. But in so far as the passers-by believe this they are liable to imitate him. They may then go off and order umbrellas for themselves, thus giving rise to a lot more misunderstanding."
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