Beyond Policy and Law

International Journal of Applied Philosophy 28 (1):1-17 (2014)
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Abstract

In recent decades governments around the world have been increasingly concerned about terrorism and have introduced new laws and policies in an attempt to combat it. I examine here the weakest link in chains of security management: what I call the realm of “the informal,” where neither law nor formal policy is at work, but where stereotypes, traditional sayings and jokes, social ideals often promoted by mass media, etiquette requirements certainly are. This realm is so dangerous precisely because of its deceptively innocuous appearance. First, I explain the kinds of things that function in the informal realm, revealing that it is more extensive than might first appear. Secondly, I describe three real-life examples where some informal factor plays a vital role in a catastrophic outcome, to show that such seemingly trivial matters can acquire tremendous practical significance in critical situations. My focus is on the influence of some informal factor on individuals who are in no way trying to threaten security, but rather intend to maintain or enhance it. Their roles call for that commitment. Finally I consider one of the three examples more carefully and illustratively, to demonstrate some of the key points raised. Currently, thinking about the dangers informal factors pose is routinely reactive (rather than proactive), often prompted by a catastrophe that has already occurred, but this means we miss some of what could be learned from the catastrophe. We need a far more proactive approach to those factors in the informal sphere and we need a much stronger focus on individuals who are responsible for and committed to maintaining security. Otherwise threats to security will remain are more serious than is typically acknowledged.

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