Friday, February 28, 2014

You can never be too careful

At this point I would like to refer to that smelly waste material that large bovines excrete from their bowels. Because, like so many truisms, this one simply isn’t true. It is abundantly self-evident that taking too much care can have very negative consequences.

It’s very dangerous to be in a vehicle on the road. I would be much safer if I never placed my backside in a car or any other form of motorized transport. However, the inconveniences and difficulties that would arise in my life (and the lives of those around me) were I to follow this path would far outweigh the risks I take by being on the road. We make the less careful (but more sensible) choice almost every day of our lives.

Eating is very dangerous. Anything I eat may poison me (accidentally or through the malice of others) or choke me. I never know for certain that the food I am about to eat is entirely free of contamination. However, if I choose never to eat again, I could possibly be accused of being ‘too careful’. Until I no longer have any need of food at all.

These are clearly trivial examples. They do demonstrate, however, that we can, indeed, be too careful. The point is that there are forces everywhere urging us to err (too far) on the side of caution.

Billion dollar industries are built out of making us fearful. Insurance is a perfect example. We are educated and indoctrinated to be terrified of all the unforeseen events that could overtake us. Fear makes us take out that unnecessary extended and more comprehensive warrantee. We put up signs everywhere warning of dangers… and protecting us from the vague and insubstantial fear that we might be sued if something goes wrong and we didn’t have a sign in place.

Governments, the military, and security services thrive on our fears and insecurities. This is a form of terror-ism. ‘Better to be safe than sorry’ is their other motto. No. Sometimes it’s better to be sorry. We expend too much energy and resources on preventing ‘bad things’ from happening… and have little left in the tank when they continue to happen anyway, despite our efforts. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is another ally. Yes, sometimes it is. But sometimes the steps taken to prevent something of low likelihood from happening are far more burdensome and restrictive in the long term than the ‘something’ we are seeking to prevent.

None of these sayings is absolutely and invariably true in all circumstances. Nevertheless, they can be used in the name of protecting me from any number of nebulous threats. They can be used to sell me all kinds of unwanted goods and services.

The other side of ‘being careful’ is the delusional belief we maintain that we can make the world safe. No matter how much care we take, accidents will continue to happen; unexpected calamities will still strike. From this point of view we can never be careful enough, that’s true. We can never be so careful that we will exclude the possibility of anything bad and unforeseen from occurring. Someone will always be able to appeal to the fear that resides in that crack between ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’.

I refuse to live in the sphere of fear within which insurance companies, governments and other agencies seek to envelope me. I will take some care. I will take sensible and necessary precautions (as determined by me). I will, for instance, continue to look both ways when I cross the road, and make every effort to avoid putting bleach in my tea rather than milk. I will, however, be very careful not to be too careful.

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