Monday, December 29, 2014
Nor does it help to be among those who respond to such events as part of their job. Inevitably, the police, security agencies, politicians and the media see things differently from bystanders free from vested interests or responsibility.
I wonder why this event has attracted so much public attention, concern and outpouring of emotion. It strikes me that humans have emotional as well as physical muscles, for which they seek regular exercise.
When we don't have enough emotion-stirring events in our lives we seek release mainly through fiction, including crime fiction, but nothing beats the real thing.
When we express great interest and concern about the tribulations of others - when we buy flowers to lay on an impromptu shrine - we see this as heart-warming proof of our empathy and sensitivity. Our humanity. We're proud of ourselves - we care.
Sorry, but I'm sceptical. What occurs to my hard head is that had two people been killed in a car crash on the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the same time as the siege, this would have attracted little interest and no sympathy.
Why would the reaction to the events be so different? One reason is the siege's greater novelty. People die on the roads every day. Another is its greater suspense. It took 16 hours of continuous TV broadcasting by the new, just-keep-talking "breaking news" industry before the outcome was known.
And from the moment the gunman produced his black flag it became possible to jump to the conclusion the siege was a terrorist attack, as almost everyone did. This lifted the event to a new level of menace and excitement, something even people in other countries were interested in.
But to me this sounds more like entertainment than compassion.
It proved to be the criminal act of a disturbed individual seeking notoriety. Yet so invested in the spurious link to terrorism had so many individuals and organisations become that many sought to keep the terrorism theme going. Somehow a common criminal was still a terrorist.
Rather than seeking the views of security consultants and anti-terrorism trainers, I'd like to have heard more psychologists and sociologists explain why we react so emotionally to such events.
Why, since the death of Princess Di, we've taken to displaying our grief so conspicuously. I feel sorry for the families of victims - of course I do - but I don't feel I have to demonstrate it with flowers.
Being in the business, I'm conscious of how many institutions see a buck to be made, metaphorically or literally, out of heightened concern about terrorist attacks.
"Security" must surely be one of our fastest-growing industries, whether within government, in the private sector or private contracting to government. Every time we give ourselves a thrill by imagining a terrorist threat we create the conditions for more ill-judged spending on security.
Humans are well known to overestimate the likelihood of low-probability events, and fear of terrorism, or even criminal sieges, is the classic case.
After the thrill come the inquiries, the righteous indignation, the recriminations and hindsight wisdom. This is where the politicians come into the frame. You can be sure their primary motive will be to shift any blame to others.
The more they push the blame on to the police or security agencies, the more those outfits will demand more resources and more power to intrude on the rights of citizens. And don't think the taxpayer won't be forthcoming.
Politicians will promise to redouble their efforts to make us all secure. The one thing they'll never admit is that it isn't possible to ensure no one ever gets through the net, no matter how tight you make it.
Nor will they admit that, once you've covered the basics, you quickly get into diminishing returns - you have to spend more and more to achieve less and less.
But spend more they will. Why? So they've got something to point to should a genuine incident ever slip through. Making it harder for people to get bail will punish many innocent people and greatly increase prison overcrowding and costs.
Pollies love creating the appearance of action. Rushing through Parliament laws giving the security agencies powers they already have is a favourite trick. So is proving you're on the job by annoying people at airports.
We enjoy a good release of emotion, but don't doubt there'll be a tab for taxpayers to pick up.