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Monday, January 3, 2011

Normalcy Bias

This is a new term for me.  I knew "it" existed, but didn't know it had a name.  From Wikipedia - please read the whole definition -
The normalcy bias refers to an extreme mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of the government to include the populace in its disaster preparations. The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred that it never will occur. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.
 It's the Pollyanna Syndrome.  When I first read that definition, I thought of my mom, bless her heart.  She's up in her years, and has no desire to even approach the idea that things might not be all Green Shoots and fluffy kittens.  She's comfortable now, and that's how things will stay.  Period.

She can't even comprehend of the idea of going down to Safeway and not being able to pick up some coffee and a bit of candy.  Something special for one of her Old Ladies Bridge groups.  Maybe a little splurge and pick up some prawns and a filet.

The idea of her IRA, Social Security, pension and annuity becoming worth-less is simply inconceivable, in the truest sense of the word.

I guess it's the opposite of the Chicken Little syndrome.  Perhaps that's what I've got.  No one wants to be a doom-and-gloomer, but to consciously ignore what we see happening around us is, well, disingenuous.

I remember during Y2K, I was called a Pollyanna by some because I fairly shouted at the top of my lungs that I knew nothing significant was going to happen when the clock struck midnight.

But that belief was grounded in fact and experience.  I was the CIO of a small bank at the time, and I had run hundreds of tests - myself.  I had participated in dozens of simulations with other banks and processing centers.  We did everything in our power to get the computers to seize up.  Couldn't do it.

If something major had occured, I would have been shocked beyond belief.

What we're going through now, and what I think is coming is, I think, as equally grounded in fact and experience, if not history.

I guess there's always the possibility that by purposely devaluing our dollar it could help to drag us out of our economic tailspin.  I guess by burying ourselves in an unrepayable national debt and unfunded liabilities, we could end up more prosperous.  It's never worked before - in the entire history of the world - but we could be the first.

It could be true that ObamaCare will save us money by increasing the cost, but I just don't see how.  I'm sure that when the government stops or curtails payments being made to the Dependent Class for food, housing, clothing, spending money and college, there may not be civil unrest and riots.  Like those we've been seeing throughout Europe over the past few years since austerity became their new buzz word.

It could all turn out just peachy-keen, hunky-dory.  I just don't think so.

So I prepare.  I practice.  I store food.  I store water.  I save money.  I reduce debt.  I buy precious metals.  I learn new skills.  I make plans.  I make back-up plans.

I evaluate.  I estimate.  I read.  I write.  I store data.  I listen.  I absorb.

And I pray to God I'm wrong.

I would like nothing more than to have a party in 10 years with the rest of my "prepper-freak" friends where we dig out our caches and laugh our asses off about how wrong we were.  "You bought HOW MANY rolls of toilet paper?!"  How we missed this one by a country mile.

"It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts...For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it." 
--Patrick Henry
I think I'll take the same road traveled by Mr. Henry.

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Anonymous said...

You are absolutely correct about Y2K. There was some unknowns but in general the people that worked in those areas where there were likely to be problems knew they could be addressed and corrected as they came up. On that subject I worked for years for a electric utility and I worked as a consultant to the largest electricity generation organization in the U.S. The fear that is often put out there that our grid will go down and never come back up is totally false. There are things that could harm the grid, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. But within an hour of any disaster an army of utility workers will be out there fixing the problems. This is the one piece of technology that we really understand quite well and have ample ability to repair it. There are some components that would take longer or would require a "work around" to fix. But it would be fixed.

suek said...

I liked Rumsfeld's statements to the effect that you have known problems you have to address, and you have the unknown problems. When addressing the unknown problems, you have the known unknowns (how many, how much etc) that you know you need to figure out, but the ones that'll get you are the unknown unknowns. You can't seek info about those things you don't know exist.

I think the Y2K problem was a blend of the two - that is, most people suddenly awoke to the fact that technology could be a major problem, but didn't have enough knowledge or background to evaluate the reality or seriousness of the problem. It's easy to say "don't worry about that" from a position of intimate knowledge with the facts, it's entirely another to say "I won't worry about that because I completely trust you know the facts and aren't concerned".

One of the big issues for me concerning the muslims is the concept of taqiyya. I find the idea of lying being moral to be really frightening, and moreso because I hadn't really appreciated how deeply our culture is built on the expectation that the people we deal with daily generally are truthful and trustworthy. Mostly. Now I've come to the conclusion that most deeply committed Progressives are equally untrustworthy - that lying is OK for them if it moves them closer to their goals. And that terrifies me - because many of them are responsible for our governance. And you can't trust them to tell you the truth.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, regarding electrical grid: I've read/heard that our biggest soft spot has to do with transformers. Apparently, none of them are made here in the US, and if they get fried from an EMP/solar flare, we're screwed? Any insight?

Sue: Great points about the dishonesty, although I'd expand it to not only include those listed, but most political groups. They feel that the ends justifies the means.

Be it a "little white lie" or a bald-faced lie, if it advances their agenda, they'll do it. They've got the self-granted moral justification that whatever they're doing, they're doing in our best interest.

I'm a big believer in the adage, "If their lips are moving, they're lying."

suek said...

I disagree with your inclusion of "all" political groups. I can't disprove it, but I think that the fact that Repubs are found to be guilty of violations and are then kicked out is an indication that their actions are unacceptable. Dems are found to be guilty of violations and nothing happens to them. That says worlds to me.

There will always be corrupt dishonest people - it's the acceptability of the corruption and dishonesty that indicates a problem.

Chief Instructor said...

Sue, well, I'm not going to argue that one party is less corrupt than another. They both lie incessantly, they both occasionally get caught and tossed out of office. Perhaps the Dems are better at not getting caught. I dunno.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of a handful of very high voltage transformers all of our transformers use technology that is about 100 years old. The large high voltage transformers simply weigh more. In facvt because of their design they are really quite simple to rebuild and any utility company with an overhead crane could rebuild one. We do not rebuild them at the utility level today simply because it is more cost effective to buy them new or rebuilt from the factory. But the capability is there. In fact if you were to watch a typical large high voltage transformer being built up you would be suprised at it's simplicity. The real question is what would we (individual utilities) do? Would they simply wait for a new transformer or would they take the inititive and rebuild them. I can tell you with confidence that about 20% of the utilities and power generation facilities would attempt the rebuild themselves and once they were successful this practice would spread to 100% of the utilities. Keep in mind that since this is not the norm today it would require that someone break out of the mould and take action. But also be aware that about half of the electrical engineers at a utility tend to be hands on people who are unafraid to try new things. And most utility workers are "can do" people who know how to fix the system and will get the job done. By the way, no slight intended. The other half of the electrical engineers tend to be conservative "thinking" people rather then hands on and it is generally thanks to them that many distribution systems have many redundancies and safeguards. It is interesting to be in the same room with these two types when a problem comes up or a new idea is floated. They could argue for days but generally the meeting ends and the hands on guys go do what needs doing while the cerebral ones go back to their desks and come up with two or three good options to deal with the problem long term. My guess is we need both types.

suek said...


You seem knowledgeable in the field... Question for you, if you happen to know about it as well...

We have a lighting store in California. As you may be aware, our legislators have put in restrictions mandating that fluorescent ballasts for lamps over 13 watts must now be electric. Previous to this legislation, it was not uncommon for our customers (mostly commercial/industrial handymen) to bring in 15-20+ year old ballasts for replacement. Since going to electronic ballasts, the lives seem to be about 5-7 years. Is that consistent with what you know, or would you consider it to be less than ideal productions in what is still fairly early technology?

We see the failures - we have no way of knowing what percentage of usage results in replacement. We also can't tell when the ballasts were made any more - they manufacturers are putting "run" serial numbers on them instead of decipherable date info. We have to guesstimate based on the handyman's knowledge of the probable time period when the fixture was installed, and then call the manufacturer to see if it's still covered by a warranty (usually 3-5 years)

MasterPo said...

Regarding Y2K - I work in IT and I worked on several Y2K fix projects. The many reason overall very little problems occurred with Y2K was because the problem was clearly defined and the fix, though massive, was clear and unquestionable just as the evidence to prove the fixes worked were clear and unquestionable. By comparison to what is being done to America economically (QE2, etc) there is no evidence ever in human history that it will work and plenty of evidence that it won't.