In the name of safety

I read a post by Alex Tabarrok today, regarding  school safety in his son’s school (via the Marginal Revolution blog) today. The post is really a letter that he’d written to his son’s school principal, regarding the introduction of security guards and cameras.

From the post (emphasis mine):

When going to school requires police, security guards and cameras how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds?

I live in Singapore, arguably one of the world’s safest countries.

In Singapore, each of us is assigned an identification number at birth. This number is used extensively to record our activities in both private and public services. I never thought much about it until I studied in Australia and realised they didn’t have such a thing there, and that it’d have been to them a serious invasion of privacy.

I thought it weird and inconvenient — how did they manage to live without one for so long?

We have cameras everywhere here.  Cameras mounted on street lamps (presumably to monitor traffic); in trains (one in each carriage) and train stations (five, six, or more, clustered together, each facing in different directions); and other public spaces — parks, elevators, shopping centers. And with citizentry brandishing phone cameras and car cameras and posting videos on errant behaviour, his monitoring goes on just about everywhere really.

But I don’t really notice them. Maybe I used to, but not any more. They make me feel safe. Like a drug.

We have gates. Lots of them. Almost all houses have them — those that don’t are the exception. Similarly, all apartments by default come with grill doors in addition to the main, heavy-duty, fire-resistant door. Apartments without grill doors, if any, tend to be situated in gated communities. And they have security guards.

It’s normal to have such security measures in place, isn’t it? At least I think so. It’s not like we have a decent police force and a generally low crime rate here.

Wait a minute. I think we do.

What Alex Tabarrok says is true. Though I feel perfectly safe in Singapore, it’s pretty much at the expense of feeling unsafe in just about everywhere else. How can I encourage myself to venture out into the unsafe when it goes against everything I’ve been brought up to believe? That even without these security measures in place, I will be safe?

In the name of safety I cannot say how many places I’ve been unwilling to travel to. Places people considerably more vulnerable than myself, but brought up in a different environment with a different perspective on safety, would go to at a whim.

Places I wish I could bring myself to go; things I wish I could do.

But it’s not safe.

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