It’s a Fun, Challenging, Part of Life

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Risk is fun – and risk is part of life. Otherwise, we’d never get out of bed. No, rewind some more. We’d never leave our mother’s uterus.

This idea that risk – note, not recklessness, not irresponsibility – just “risk” – is something to be stamped out at all costs is perhaps the most cancerous notion of our era, right behind egalitarianism and democracy.

Columbus accepted some risk when he set sail across the ocean sea. It would have been much safer, I suppose, to stay home. But then we’d not even know his name – much less celebrate a day in his honor. Those bold men who strapped themselves into a tiny capsule mounted on a very large Saturn V rocket and rode it all the way to the Moon took a risk, too.

Risk is rightly viewed as synonymous with challenge – which necessarily entails the possibility of failure. One does not seek it, one is aware of its possibility. But one accepts the possibility as the necessary price to be paid in order to meet the challenge. To strive, to achieve. To be competent rather than complacent. To do – as opposed to not doing. Risk is the very thing that makes human progress possible. To refuse to act – or to limit action – until and unless all risk is removed is to negate the possibility of acting. It is to embrace stasis – and even that amount to a false sense of security, since failing to act out of fear of risk can itself be lethally paralyzing. Think of the prey animal that freezes rather than bolts at the sight of a predator.

Yet risk-avoidance has become the cornerstone of the red giant phase American police state, whose lurid glare we all live under today. Every new authoritarian measure is proposed – is justified – on the basis of risk-avoidance, no matter how infinitesimal the risk. Any risk is too much risk. No price too high, no imposition too extreme. If it makes us safer. If it reduces some risk.

Recently, for example, the government issued a ukase that all new cars will have back-up cameras as standard equipment – even though the number of children (and others) run over by a backing-up car (more precisely, an incompetently backed-up car) is too small to even be described as a fraction of a fraction. During the past ten years, the government claims about 650 flattened toddlers. A tragedy for those involved, certainly. But does it constitute a national epidemic – a risk so great that it justifies forcing every single person in a nation of 310 million people who wishes to purchase a new car to also purchase a back-up camera? Do the math. What is the ratio? The percentage? Let’s call it an even 1,000 – out of 310 million. Oh, yes. I forget. If it saves even one life. That is the mantra.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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