Being Risk-Free Is Too Risky

By | April 8, 2019 | 1 Comments

A prominent characteristic of America today is the quest for total freedom from risk. This quest is doomed to failure – risk is a necessary feature of life. I learned early in my training that whatever doctors do for patients may have side effects. Rarely, even aspirin can cause death. But doing nothing also isn’t safe. If I sat and watched TV all day, my patients might die of neglect. Nothing I could do – including nothing – was risk-free.

So when I hear the latest scheme to make our lives risk-free, I ask, “Is it too risky?”

Airliners were made “gun-free zones” to reduce the risk of hijacking. Before 9/11, we didn’t allow flight crew to carry guns, and air marshals were few and far between. What about the risk that without armed defenders, the way is clear for terrorists? We should have learned that painful lesson on 9/11. Did we?

● Schools also were made “gun-free zones.” But what about the risk that without armed personnel, the students and staff are defenseless?

● Terrorists bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. We responded by firing a few cruise missiles, in an effort to minimize risk to our military. But what about the risk that this feeble response encouraged the terrorists?

● Suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole and killed 17 sailors, but we did nothing, in an effort to reduce the risk of further attacks. But what about the risk that by not responding, we emboldened our enemies? And then came 9/11.

● Opponents of the death penalty point to the tiny risk that innocent persons may be executed. But what about the much greater risk that murderers may kill guards or other prisoners, or may be released or escape and kill police or members of the public? Moreover, there is evidence that the death penalty deters homicides. The question is, whose lives would we rather risk – convicted murderers or innocent citizens?

● Environmentalists banned DDT, because of risk to birds. But less effective insecticides allow malarial mosquitoes to kill millions of Africans, mainly children and pregnant women. The question is, whose lives would we rather risk – birds or Africans?

● Environmentalists push for small cars, though they are less safe than larger cars. The question is, which risk do we prefer, the possible risk to the environment, or the real risk to motorists?

● Devotees of “natural” foods strive to eliminate any trace of pesticides. But what about the risk of contamination by rodents, insects, or molds? A mold that grows on peanuts produces a powerful carcinogen – but it is “natural.”

● Environmentalists block drilling for oil, mining coal, damming rivers, and building nuclear power plants. But this would leave us dependent on foreign oil. What about the risk that this dependence involved us in Middle East wars? How much human and environmental damage did that cause?

● Schools are forbidden to post the Ten Commandments, because of the risk of lawsuits. But what about the risk that without a basis for ethics, many students will feel free to do whatever they please? Those who claim that we can pass ethical principles down the generations without any religious basis are asserting a belief for which there is no historical evidence. What about the risk that this belief is false?

● Schools eliminate dodge ball and tag, in an effort to eliminate the risk of injury – and, of course, lawsuits. But what about the risk that kids will be prevented from finding excitement in legitimate ways, and will find it in drugs or gangs?

● Kids are forbidden to play cops-and-robbers, because of the risk of teaching “violence.” But what about the risk that we are raising a generation that is incapable of fighting criminals or terrorists?

● Kids are told, “I don’t care who started it, you’re both going to the principal’s office,” because of the risk of teaching “violence.” But what about the risk that we are raising a generation that tolerates bullies?

● Kids are punished for making a “gun” with their fingers, or even for drawing a picture of a gun, while ROTC programs are eliminated, because of the risk of teaching “violence.” But what about the risk that only criminals and terrorists will have knowledge of weapons – and the will to use them?

● Young kids undergo sex education, in an effort to reduce the risk of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But teenage pregnancy was rare when there was little sex education, and it increased as sex education increased. What about the risk that good intentions are being confused with good results?

● Tobacco companies and gun manufacturers are sued for huge sums, in an effort to reduce the risk of premature death – and, of course, to enrich lawyers. But what about the risk that people will learn that they are not responsible for the consequences of their actions? Who can calculate the risks of living among millions of irresponsible people?

“Toxic” masculinity is condemned, though not clearly defined. But what about the risk that boys will grow up believing that all masculinity is wrong? Then who will defend us from terrorists abroad and criminals at home? Who will serve as role models for the next generation? Women are already complaining that they cannot find men to date or marry, only boys.

● Judeo-Christian values are condemned as too restrictive and judgmental. But what about the risk that without the warning signs and guard rails they provide, young people ‒ and our nation ‒ will run off the road and over a cliff?

Adults recognize life’s risks and make choices accordingly. Young children are unaware of danger and act impulsively, then rely on adults to rescue them. The delusion that life can be risk-free is infantile and narcissistic: “I get to do what I want, and mommy and daddy will take care of me.” But the role of parent is being usurped by government, which tends to be a controlling, overprotective mother and a domineering, abusive father.

Risk is the catalyst of progress. In a risk-free world, dinosaurs would still rule. How can we learn from the mistakes of ourselves or others, if mistakes have no consequences? Risk is the price of free will.

Before we entrust government with eliminating all risks, we should be sure that it can distinguish important risks from trivial ones. Four firefighters died in a forest fire. Help from water-dropping planes was delayed because the water came from a river containing endangered fish. Human lives ‒ including two young women ‒ were at risk, but bureaucrats worried about the risk to fish.

If we tolerate a government that protects fish while allowing people to burn to death, we deserve that government. But who will speak up for us if bureaucrats decide to endanger our lives for equally dubious reasons? The more we obsess about trivial risks, the more likely we are to overlook serious risks.

Governments pass new laws every year in an effort to remove every imaginable risk. But what about the risk that a government powerful enough to eliminate all risks will be powerful enough to enslave us? In order to eliminate all risks, a government must control every aspect of life. The effort to make the world risk-free will necessarily lead to a too-powerful government, which – as history clearly shows – is the greatest risk of all.

And what about the risk that this government will be so obsessed with the risks of second-hand smoke, minute traces of pesticides, and endangered fish that it overlooks huge risks like international terrorism? Isn’t that exactly what happened on 9/11?

Concentrate on big risks. Don’t try to eliminate all conceivable risks. It’s just too risky.

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