The Airport/SimCity Paradox

The Airport Paradox aka the SimCity Paradox refers to the fickle and inconsistent nature of human beings and how they are never happy regardless of the lengths one goes to in order to please them.

Years ago, I was playing SimCity. I built myself a nice little (obsessive-compulsively symmetrically) town and it was doing well. I pulled up the mayoral summary to see how I was doing with the citizenry. The report indicated that I was mostly pretty popular with the Sims, except that they were demanding (yes demanding) an airport. So I built one.

I let a little time go by so that the Sims could enjoy their shiny new airport. I pulled up the summary again and saw that I was still doing well and the Sims were mostly happy except that they were upset about there being too much pollution and demanding (yes, the Sims are very demanding) that I do something about it. So I opened the pollution graph to see where the problem spots are, and where do you think all the pollution was coming from? Yup, the airport. It was solely responsible for the pollution problem. I demolished the airport and the pollution went down but, perhaps not surprisingly, the Sims complained that they wanted an airport.

I loosed the Godzilla.

(Technically, in the case of SimCity, you can have an airport and low pollution by surrounding it with tons and tons of parks—I guess in Simland, it’s perfectly okay if children, families, and pets choke on jet fumes, so long as the parks absorb the pollution. The point is that humans are never happy and always demand more.)

Technology Breeds “Patience”

Last night, CBS news did an article about the recent increase in airport security due to the attempted Christmas bombing. The anchor went to on to say how people have been okay with the extra wait times and delays that the increased security checks have created because passengers are more patient and understanding; that they are willing to put up with the extra wait times because they know that it is for their own good and safety, and that they are cheerful because it is the holidays, so they are in better, less rushed moods. Unfortunately the news team got it completely wrong.

The reason that people are more willing to put up with down time and delays these days, not just at airports, but everywhere: on the bus, at work, at the the DMV, in coffee-shop lines, etc. is because of technology. In the past, people disliked having to stand around and wait because it was such a waste of time. Having to stand or sit around and twiddle your thumbs, or at best read a book was really frustrating. Now however, with iPods, iPhones, PSPs, laptops, netbooks, Kindles, and so on, wait-time is no longer down-time, but break-time. Thanks to all of the varied gadgets and devices, we can now spend those two minutes here, 10 minutes there actually doing something useful, be it work or play, instead of waiting around, bored out of our minds.

The Causes of Crime

Common sense combined with education (biology, chemistry, psychology…) and observation (statistics, history…) points to three root causes of crime. Crime is usually if not always a function of one or more of money, hormones, and mental defect.

Money is an easy one. The vast majority of crimes are due to money. Robberies, theft, muggings, embezzlement, extortion, kidnapping, the list goes on. Nobody is immune to it either. The poor are susceptible to money-crimes because they need it and don’t have it (desperation). The rich are prone to money-crimes because they have a taste of it and want more (greed). It is not generally treatable other than with money. Unfortunately, society is not likely to vanquish hunger, homelessness, and such anytime soon since it is just too pervasive, so until Star Trek replicators are invented, this will continue to be the most common cause of crime. “Money is the root of all evil” indeed.

Hormones are pretty easy too, they are the second leading cause of crimes. Rape, adultery, pedophilia, assault, battery, manslaughter. Again nobody is immune to hormone-crimes since we all have them and frankly there is no defense against them; they affect our brains directly. Usually they are caused when a person has too much of a hormone, although a deficiency can also cause it. There are two kinds of hormone-crime, sex and violence which can even be combined. Hormones are the best candidate for treatment. They are not something that is overwhelmingly widespread like money, nor is it a permanent condition like mental defect. When properly diagnosed in time, the right medications or therapy can help treat or even cure hormonal imbalances and thus prevent hormone related crimes.

Mental defect is rarer than the other two. Mental defect-crimes are popular material for books and movies because they allow for unusual characters and an edgy and uncomfortable scenario. Crimes committed by people with mental defects don’t really have a tangible motivation; they commit them because the act itself gives them satisfaction—the act is the goal not the tool to achieve something else. Serial killers, people who delight in the torture and maiming of people and animals, pyromaniacs, kleptomaniacs, and the like all have some sort of defect in their brains that causes them to behave in an abnormal and destructive way. Mental defects are not usually curable. Like height, gender, skin color, etc. they are just part of who the person is since the brain cannot currently be “re-wired”. Unfortunately those who are “criminally insane” are more or less condemned to being put away in a state hospital for life. “Crimes of passion”, those done for love can be caused by either mental defect or possibly just a hormonal imbalance (ie, temporary insanity). A less movie-worthy cause of crime due to mental defect is when a person simply does not understand what they are doing is wrong because they either do not have the mental capacity in general (a “mentally-handicapped” person) or they have a defect that prevents them from understanding why it is bad (eg a sociopath who cannot relate to their victims).