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Luther and the availability heuristic.

I just got finished watching season three of Luther.  British shows like Luther and Sherlock Holmes are great in that they don’t pull any punches.  They aren’t gory, but they have little compunction about going too far.  I came to Luther via Idris Elba & the Wire.  I have not been disappointed by the further work of Mr. Elba.

The hilarious thing about John Luther is that he solves about half of London’s murders in some seasons, and those murders are all done by a handful of villains.  The show is nonstop danger and audio-visual cues of doom.  It is also all about bad architecture. The horror of the concrete and metal apartment blocks and modern high rise architecture is what drives criminals to depravity.

Luther is all about a violent world with only the police between the people and chaos.

Kind of like the nightly news.  If it bleeds, it leads.  We cannot take our eyes away because death and crime are so uncommon in our daily lives.  The ancient Greeks used to find death funny under the right circumstances.  Death was more common then, so the reaction to seeing someone else die was relief, not revulsion.  We are horrified by death because it is so rare.

But not if you think the nightly news or CSI or whatnot is reality.  Not if you believe Luther.  Of course that seems silly on its face, but I catch people from time to time talking about “the way things are today” and I wonder, where are they getting their information?   Which “today” are they living ?  Then I realize that they have begin to believe the images projected on their platonic video wall.  They really think that murders and crimes are more common than ever befroe.  They see them every day, after all.



I have lived in the murder capital of the US three times in my life.  I have a knack for living in these different cities and somehow not getting murdered.  I lived in one of the higher crime neighborhoods in Atlanta, and have walked, unarmed, through high-crime neighborhoods in Philadelphia, carrying a laptop and a camera.  As high as crime was in those places, I was never mugged, always safe.  The majority of people and interactions, even if the least safe parts of America, are peaceable.  Fear is an illusion we choose.  Act like you belong, stay out of BS, and you’ll do a lot better than if you cower with visions of murderplums dancing through your head.  Neighborhoods are full of people, not automatons of alien outrage.  Everyone has their reasons, and those reasons don’t often involve crimes.

People are not very good at acting and believing according to risks, but they are very good at acting in reaction to what they see.  If they see people die one way, they will think people die that way all the time.  People will dread school shootings or terrorist attacks, when they should worry about taking a shower or driving their car.  Unexpected death by another’s hand, for no reason, is certainly more horrific than dying in the shower or on the industrial shop floor of the roadway.  It is also incredibly unlikely.  One would probably do better to wear a Faraday Cage to avoid lightning strikes.

Today is less dangerous than almost any time in history.  We are more terrified of what we dread than what is actually a threat to our well-being.  We act more on what we dread  than the real threats.  We are easy to manipulate in this dread.  We would save a heck of a lot of money,  sanity, and basic rights if we realized that.


Luther, happy      (c) BBC 2012.