Greece and debt ceilings: the normalization of deviance

Like most other people, I am watching with bewildered apprehension as our fragile economic recovery faces incredible, if hard-for-me-to-understand challenges. Greece threatens to default on its debts, peeling off its rock face and dragging the linked rock climbers of the Eurozone down into the abyss.  All their chock stones have long since slipped out, and their fingers are getting tired....

The Eurozone was set up by people who told everyone they were really smart. I never got what big advantages the Euro was supposed to bring to people, but I'm not a politician. The system was set up with certain rules about debt and spending that were supposed to make it safe. Then they started violating those rules. Nothing bad happened. So they let things slip a bit more.

Meanwhile, here in the US, everyone is playing chicken with the debt limit.  The S&P 500 doesn't seem to even remotely reflect the terrifying possibilities. It seems routine, just another bit of partisan game playing. Stuff like this happens all the time.

This is the result of what Dianne Vaughan, in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, called "normalization of deviance". You get used to violating tedious and annoying safety precautions. Nothing happens, because safety events are rare. So you violate them more, and start ignoring important procedures. Nothing happens for a long time. You relax. This is great. You have a lot more free time than you thought. Stupid rulebooks. What do those guys know?

Then the crisis strikes. Your reactor gets hit by a tsunami. Your shuttle blows up. People lose their jobs, their savings, their support from their government.  We're supposed to be smarter than that. But, of course, we were smarter than that in 2007.  And in 2001. We still bought houses or

It's hard for science fiction to catch this kind of thing. SF is about smart people. And smartness is defined as acting on events in such a way that they change in a favorable direction, and then detecting and feeling proud of that change.  If you are a smart individual, what do you do now? Sell all your stocks and make sure you have enough bottled water? Chain yourself to your Representative's desk until he or she helps in a solution? Write a sternly worded blog post?

I live in a science fictional universe, but am not a science fictional hero. I don't know.