This author is a New York University sociologist who came to his subject after watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He describes himself as drawn to promoting a "sense of humanistic shared responsibility" through which we might re-establish our sense of security -- but this was the road not taken in the past decade as we instead declared the "war on terror." So Molotch has brought sociological, anthropological, urban studies, design and architectural research to bear on a list of arenas in which we have lately tried to shore up our feeling of security. These include public bathrooms, subways, airports, and the City of New Orleans under threat of further hurricanes.
Here's a distillation of the author's description of his project:
Some of what Molotch comes up with is fascinating. I was particularly taken with his descriptions -- based on embedding among them -- of how New York City subway workers make a run down, poorly designed and ill-maintained system hobbled by bureaucratic management function in spite of its flaws. Attending to their successes is one of his suggestions for improving "security."
If that comes across as awfully abstract, I'd agree. Much of this book is like that. But I sure do concur that paying attention to the people who do the jobs to make systems work might help. His solution to flight security is similar: trust the in-air crews and passengers more:
Molotch is no fan of our country's choice of violent responses to security anxieties.
He enumerates what he considers the largely spurious expedients we adopt in the name of security: "guns, machines, dogs … [plastic] jersey barriers, chain link fence, [concrete] bollards, and commanding signage." He doesn't believe that further proliferation of such measures is going to make us feel secure. At least part of what we need is a greater capacity to admit that perfect security is impossible, that we must "accept loss."
We're not going to achieve perfect security so instead of chasing the impossible, we need to ask what quality of life we want while living together. That seems right to me. I am heartened by the Pew Center poll after Boston that showed that most of us have come to understand that occasional acts of terrorism will be simply "part of life" for the foreseeable future. That's a prerequisite for learning to avoid panicked behavior and choices in the future.