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Understanding how our brains work, and how they fail, is critical to understanding the feeling of security.
" "That's easy," I said, "simply ground all the aircraft." It's such a far-fetched trade-off that we as a society will never make it.
But in the hours after those terrorist attacks, it's exactly what we did.
It makes no sense to just look at security in terms of effectiveness. The additional security isn't worth it: isn't worth the cost, discomfort, or unfashionableness.
Move to another part of the world, and you might make a different trade-off.
When we didn't know the magnitude of the attacks or the extent of the plot, grounding every airplane was a perfectly reasonable trade-off to make. " Bulletproof vests work well, and are very effective at stopping bullets.
And even now, years later, I don't hear anyone second-guessing that decision. But for most of us, living in lawful and relatively safe industrialized countries, wearing one is not a good trade-off.
Given a large enough set of statistics on criminal acts, it's not even hard; insurance companies do it all the time.
We can also calculate how much more secure a burglar alarm will make your home, or how well a credit freeze will protect you from identity theft. But security is also a feeling, based not on probabilities and mathematical calculations, but on your psychological reactions to both risks and countermeasures.
You might feel terribly afraid of terrorism, or you might feel like it's not something worth worrying about.
You might feel safer when you see people taking their shoes off at airport metal detectors, or you might not.