Friday, November 26, 2010

Sidenote on TSA Issues, War, Building, Education

I've noted a couple times in the hullabaloo over the TSA scanners/pat-downs a meme contrasting American approaches to European or Israeli approaches.  I think I'd summarize things this way:
  • Americans tend to rely on machines, whether in airport security, in warfare, or whatever.
  • Europeans tend to rely on people.
This is probably all wrong, particularly since it doesn't account for most of the world, like Japan with its robots and China with its people. But this is a rambling set of thoughts.

But I remember a conversation with a civil engineer major at college who relayed an observation by one of his professors.  It went something like: Americans tended to design big and simple structures while Europeans tended to design more complex ones.  In America building materials were always abundant while labor was expensive, so the designers had different constraints than in Europe where labor was cheap and materials were less abundant. 

In warfare, at least beginning with the Civil War, military historians theorize that we rely on the weight of material to wear down the enemy.  We don't admit it, but valor and great generalship don't play that much of a role in our history.  For those conservatives who doubt me, read James Q Wilson's "Bureaucracy", which uses German small-unit cohesion and tactics as one example of effective bureaucracy.

In education, we are awestruck by the latest innovation in technology, whether's it's filmstrips and overhead projectors back in the day, my day, or "clickers" and Powerpoint today.  Similarly, we tend to trust the technology of testing over the power of personality. 

Just thoughts.

So my impression is that Israel, for example, depends on people interviewing people, while we trust machines.  Does it follow that we don't trust "faceless bureaucrats", while maybe other societies do?

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