Risk Continuums and the Pornography of Safety
When I’m looking at something- anything! I am assessing risk. It’s not a binary choice. It’s an inherently unstable and flawed spectrum of not-guaranteed-accurate choice, because I cannot possibly have all the information.
Nothing is truly totally safe. Nothing guarantees safety. Yet we can be led to believe, very easily, that something does. A pill. A product. A law.
Actions have reactions, and they may not be obvious or even known.
Life is risk. Part of responsibility is evaluating and responding to risk as well as you can.
If any information that, something generally believed to be safe (say, car seats) is not perfectly completely totally safe at all times and in all ways, there is a moral dilemma… tell people this, and risk their never using car seats again?
A whiff of something having any kind of an associated risk even a tiny one, may put people off it FOREVER.
Or so we fear.
People’s risk assessment is often based on how scared they are of something, rather than how likely something actually is to happen.
Say, for instance, you are afraid of bats getting caught in your hair.
Even if you had known- accurate statistics for how often bat-caught-in hair had happened to anyone in the world for the last hundred years, and how many hair-flying bats were in your neighborhood, that would not necessarily change your decision to wear a hat when you went out at night.
Wearing a hat is faster than doing research. Especially if you have already made up your mind.
So.. that is you. How about other people? Should everyone wear a hat? How can we decide? Do we need laws?
We have different tolerances for risk and different criteria for assessing it.
Risk assessment is a very, very personal process.
The idea that we should standardize it is frightening.
Science can provide certain useful information: our current best guess, a preponderance of current evidence: a trend or direction of inquiry.
A definitive answer isn’t possible. Scientific answers change and always will. Our ability to study changes our understanding.
The pornographers of safety offer ABSOLUTE safety if you will just act now.
Usually they are marketers, and they are wielding science like a blunt instrument.
“So and so protects YOUR KIDS from such and such…get some today and breathe a big sigh of relief!”
Sunblock. Toothpaste. Flu shot.
What’s complicated is…. so and so may do, under some circumstances and for some people, what it says it does…. and yet it may also do something we don’t know about, possibly something dangerous, and that isn’t announced, measured or detected.
Yikes. I am already making a big decision.
(marketing is involved in an ASTONISHING number of medical decisions)
What I don’t need when I am making this kind of decision is hype, fear, or emotion inflation.
(stock in trade of marketing)
What I need is data (so my guess can be informed by a preponderance of evidence) self-responsibility, and self-examination (In some cases, such as vaccination or other medical decisions, I will live with this decision forever, and I may question it, or regret it, later.)
Pornographers of safety are not who should advise me as I research, create and evaluate my personal risk continuum.
Yet they do.