Friday, October 31, 2008

What is Security?

I've heard various definitions of security. The best one I've read or heard is "prevention of loss". In other words, security is a form of insurance. Everyone hates paying insurance because it's money that could be better spent on something else. However, insurance is a hedge against unanticipated or unknown risks. Security should be seen in that light as well, be it IT Security, National Security, Financial Security, etc. All too often though, security is used as a psychological weapon to frighten people into buying a product or service they don't require or that they could obtain more cheaply if they accessed their risks better. It also comes down to trust. We human beings trust each other and make the assumption that each of us is doing their best to do their job. But we've just seen that assumption tested to the extreme with this financial meltdown haven't we? Alan Greenspan assumed that bankers would be responsible executives and take care of their businesses, shareholders and investors. Many of them weren't, and unfortunately all of us will pay the price for that folly. My question is, "Where did the money go"? A few had to win for so many to lose. After all, that's how millionaires and billionaires are made. It's the rare person who makes something that is so useful that everyone benefits and no one loses.

Humanity will have to make some decisions shortly about what is important and essential. People assume that the population will double again in the next 50 years. This is a fallacy. The oceans are already stressed and many fisheries have not recovered. Fish protein feeds a lot of people and animals. The world is one big set of feedback loops and they all interact. One organism's waste is another organism's food. Every animal and plant is some other animal or plant's food, but usually only the sick or weak or unlucky are taken. Nothing is wasted. Mankind takes all - the best animals and plants for either trophies or food. This is not how Nature works. Evolution selects for the fittest - those most capable of surviving.

We are setting ourselves up for famine, and worse. Greed is not good, is never good. What good is it to guard a bank if the vaults are emptied by the greedy and the incompetent? What good is it to guard borders if one's country is falling apart internally? Of what use is a military, if there is no government or country to defend? What use is a home if one can't heat it? Of what use is money if it's worthless? What use is a gun without ammunition? One's security is dependent upon other human beings ultimately. This is why society invests in roads, bridges, planes, tanks, bombs, guns, police, firemen, and what not. But we are also dependent upon the environment. Civilizations fall when they run out of food. Famines result from a degradation of the environment or unforseen climate changes. Populations weakened by starvation are culled by diseases and malnutrition. We've seen one tipping point and that was with a manmade construct called money and its derivatives and electronic constructs. Nature is even more difficult to model, much less understand.

As we've seen voluntary regulations don't work. Laws need to be created with the right incentives in mind. In other words, a law should be almost an afterthought because people are doing the right thing anyway. A law is supposed to stop those individuals who do something to the detriment of others or society. No law can guard against ignorance or incompetence. This is why it is so difficult to make things foolproof, because fools are so ingenious and the Universe is perfecting them as well. This is why we have education and parenting - to limit the damage of fools. I don't know what the future holds, but leaders will have to really be leaders and create rules and policies that will create some sort of secure future for Humanity and the rest of the planet, or we will all be poorer, or worse, for their lapses in judgement. And as we have seen, security is mostly an illusion unless everyone is doing their part.


Hi John

With today's election of Obama my feeling of security is somewhat better.

I think/hope that the world, from Europe, Russia, China and the Middle East etc, will see light at the end of the tunnel. After Bush's aggressive style there was the risk that McCain would reignite the Cold War in which he had previously suffered as a mid-level naval acor. But the spectre of WWIII for that old man is passed.

Obama's own mortality will always be a sensitive security issue but hopefully the fringes of society will learn to tolerate Obama just as they have tolerated most other Presidents.

Dear Pete,

I'm hopeful as well. The euphoria the Democrats are having should be tempered and cautious, but it's not. There was the same euphoria with Bill Clinton and to say that the Clinton Administration let everyone down is an understatement. The country can't afford to marginalize this President. The only concern I have is that he'll disappoint the Left-wing Democrats. He's very much a compromiser and a Centrist which is pretty much what one has to be to get anything done. I'm not sure what the Republican slander machine will do, but if they spread their manure on fields instead of in papers, they'd feed the world several times over.

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