The Trouble With “Balance” Metaphors “[…] Perhaps the most obvious problem with balancing metaphors is that they suggest a relationship that is always, by necessity, zero sum: If one side rises, the other must fall in exact proportion. Also implicit in balancing talk is the idea that equilibrium is the ideal, and anything that upsets that balance is a change for the worse. That’s probably true if you’re walking a tightrope, but it clearly doesn’t hold in other cases. […]

the familiar trope of “balancing privacy and security” is a source of constant frustration to privacy advocates, because while there are clearly sometimes tradeoffs between the two, it often seems that the zero-sum rhetoric of “balancing” leads people to view them as always in conflict. This is, I suspect, the source of much of the psychological appeal of “security theater”: If we implicitly think of privacy and security as balanced on a scale, a loss of privacy is ipso facto a gain in security. It sounds silly when stated explicitly, but the power of frames is precisely that they shape our thinking without being stated explicitly.

There’s a deeper problem, though: Embedded in the idea of the scales is a picture of a process for arriving at sound decisions—which if the metaphor is sufficiently pervasive we may come to think of as the only method for making sound decisions. […]

Obviously, we need to use shorthand terms like “privacy” and “security” to keep discussion manageable, but is it really especially illuminating to treat every proposed security measure as though its consequences can be reduced to quantity subtracted from an undifferentiated lump of privacy stuff, and a quantity added to a blob called security? The task of analysis is always aided when we can render heterogeneous interests more easily comparable by reducing them to some uniform measure, of course, but balance metaphors imply that we’ve already achieved this. This may be why so many legal opinions employing “balancing tests” feel so thin, and so many arguments about where to “strike the right balance” between competing values founder. The metaphor assumes a lot of analytic background work that hasn’t actually been done—and conceals the fact that it still needs to be.”