22 March 2013

The Army, Crowds, Battleship, and Doom Scenarios

Meandering through the Incheon Airport toward Gate 115 (it's a really big airport), heading home from training with the ROK Army, I was pretty fascinated with how well airports work.

Any airport is a complicated organism. A behemoth like Incheon is almost a wonder of human precision. I don't presume to know what it takes to manage an airport, but watching the crowds of passengers find their way pretty effortlessly to where they need to be reminded me of something I wrote in Nine Weeks about  lines and crowds:
It’s natural to want to find the most efficient route through any circuit, but futile in any Army one. Whatever time is saved finding paths of less resistance is lost waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. Moreover, our NCOs displayed a compulsive desire to try to manage any movement of troops, when usually the randomness of the crowd would otherwise find the smoothest configuration. The free market versus a command economy was Basic Training. Everything was centrally-planned, and all power was held by those managers that allocated resources. No trust whatever was afforded to the individual to make a wise decision, and something as important as getting people in the right lines was too risky to leave to the collective judgment.
I think, outside of strict training environments like Boot Camp and OCS, the Army understands this. It takes more resources controlling a crowd than it is worth, especially when that crowd will do what you want if you leave it alone, most of the time.

Then, on the flight, I gave in to the temptation to watch Battleship, which was a lot better than I expected. But one scene fit in with the thought above. When the aliens had attacked, news clips narrated a tale of earthlings in panic...societies in chaos-- even in areas that weren't under attack.

Prof. Sean Lawson contributed to the literature debunking the myth of social chaos resulting from disaster. His paper is about cyber doom scenarios, but the pattern is the same: when normal life is interrupted (by an earthquake or an extra-terrestrial invasion) central planners, military types, and others with a stake in the public safety/ security business think everyone will start looting and killing their neighbors.

But that rarely happens. People pretty much do what they need to do, most of the time. It's a good paper, so I think I'll write about it more in another post.

Right now, I'm excited to get home to my wife and kids and tell them all about my Korean adventures. 

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