Tags: Risk-Free | Nation | Too | Risky

A Risk-Free Nation Is Too Risky

Thursday, 20 September 2001 12:00 AM

I learned this lesson early in my medical studies. Whatever I did for a patient might have undesirable side effects. In rare instances, even an aspirin can cause death. More complex treatments often have more frequent risks. But doing nothing is also not safe. If I sat and watched TV all day, some of my patients might die of neglect. Nothing I could do — including nothing — was risk-free.

The habit of weighing potential risks against possible benefits helped me evaluate proposed courses of action in the political sphere. More important, this habit prevented me from becoming so locked into an idea that I was blinded to the harm that might result.

So when I hear the latest proposal to make our lives utterly free from risk, I ask not only, "Is it logical?" but also, "Is it too risky?"

Adults recognize life’s risks and make choices accordingly. Young children are often unaware of dangers and act impulsively, then rely on adults to get them out of trouble. The delusion that life can be risk-free is fundamentally infantile and narcissistic: "I get to do what I want, and Mommy and Daddy will take care of me."

The problem is that the role of parent is being usurped by government, which tends to be a controlling, overprotective mother and an abusive father — one who bullies his own kids, but remains passive when confronted by hostile strangers.

If this seems harsh, compare our government’s response to the allegation that illegal guns were kept by the Branch Davidians at Waco — where we burned them out — and the response to the hole blown in the USS Cole and the 17 dead sailors — where we did nothing. Indeed, we didn’t even pretend to do anything.

To a secular person, risk is the catalyst of progress. In a risk-free world, dinosaurs would still rule. And how can one learn from mistakes, if mistakes have no consequences? Why would anyone have developed fire-resistant materials or new medicines, if houses never burned down and we never got sick?

To a religious person, risk is the price of free will. Because Cain had the freedom to kill his brother Abel, he also had to risk the consequences. A life free of risk would be a life in name only — it would be the existence of a puppet, which is never at risk because it does only what the puppeteer dictates.

Before we entrust government with eliminating risks, we should first be sure that it can distinguish important risks from trivial ones. Recently four firefighters died in a forest fire. Help from water-dropping planes was reportedly delayed because the water would come from a river containing endangered fish. Americans’ lives were at risk, but bureaucrats seemed more concerned with 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 some dubious reason? The more we obsess about trivial risks, the more likely we are to overlook — and increase — real risks.

Federal, state, and local governments pass new laws and regulations every year, and repeal almost none, in an effort to eradicate every imaginable risk. But what about the risk that a government powerful enough to eliminate all risks will be powerful enough to enslave us, or worse?

To eliminate all risks, a government must control every aspect of daily life. The effort to make the world risk-free will necessarily lead to an all-powerful government, which — as recent history 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 politically incorrect speech that it overlooks immense risks such as international terrorism — which appears to have happened?

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

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I learned this lesson early in my medical studies. Whatever I did for a patient might have undesirable side effects. In rare instances, even an aspirin can cause death. More complex treatments often have more frequent risks. But doing nothing is also not safe. If I sat and...
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2001-00-20
Thursday, 20 September 2001 12:00 AM
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