Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Safety is an Illusion

Maslow rates safety and security as fundamental needs, just above basic physiological needs of water, air, food, sleep, etc. This makes sense. If we don't feel safe, it's very difficult to function.

However, there's a reality of risk we take in everything we do. And there's almost a bit of a delusional state we need to live in to get by. If I thought about all the ways and chances we could get in accidents on the freeway, I might never put my kids in a car. But that just won't work. Sure, there's good, reasonable safety precautions, like car seats, seat belts, car maintenance, and safe driving. But bad things happen despite all of those things. And they happen every day.

In the aftermath of shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando and gorilla and alligator encounters with children, there are a variety of outcries focused on how somebody did something wrong that could have prevented these tragedies.

We need good, honest, critical thinking evaluations of what can truly prevent bad things from happening when possible.

However, I think a lot of the debate is not that. I think much of it is an attempt to self-soothe by saying, "It would never happen to me" because of the many things I would do differently. I had that reaction with the kids situations, putting myself in that position and telling myself it would never happen to me. But then I realized my "logic" was really just a reaction of fear, not wanting to acknowledge the horror of the situation and not wanting to consider that it could happen to me.

In order to do that good, honest, critical thinking evaluation of safety, we need to be able to face tragedy and horror in its face, recognizing that it's not that far away and not somewhere else. Many arguments about safety I've heard over the past months won't actually improve safety; they'll improve people's feeling of safety. Those are very different things. Feeling safe is fine. Again, I think we need a bit of a delusional quality of life (this is actually reinforced by research indicating that the negative view of the world in depression is actually far more accurate than non-depressed "normal" states). However, we need to consider the consequences and recognize the illusory quality of some things that we do.

When it comes to guns, for instance, do they actually make us safer societally, or do they make individuals who carry them feel safer? Since we can't systematically study them well in this country, that's a difficult question to objectively answer--what I hear are mostly single anecdotes on either side of the debate, but you can always find an exception to any evidence.

And then when we determine something makes us safer, we have to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. We don't want to acknowledge this, either, but we do it all the time. We turn down a variety of safety measures, including air bags, seat belts, helmets, home alarms, distractionless driving, etc. Most of these just impact us individually, but we also need to consider the safety impact of decisions on others.

Just because something makes us safer individually, does it make other less safe? Driving in a car full of spikes could be a good example of this.

When we think of safety, we need to move beyond the feeling of safety into evidence of actual safety, and not just for us individually, but as a society.

And sometimes bad things happen no matter what anyone does.

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