The Dangers of Safety

The scene: Afternoon. Driving along a six-lane highway to a nearby town. The sun shines like a beacon making visibility nearly limitless. Traffic is minimal. A grass median at least twenty feet wide separates my lanes from oncoming traffic. The speed limit is a paltry forty-five miles per hour. Driving this stretch reminds me of ambling along a Sunday sidewalk in Centerville, Iowa. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Half the vehicles headed my way have their headlights on. If your response is, “Of course, that’s for safety. They are more easily seen,” stop reading now and scan your immediate walking area for banana peels.

Today’s working triumvirate of mandatory conditions for optimum living are convenience, comfort, and safety. We are obsessed with the latter, safety. It has become an end in itself rather than a precaution. If we are safe, and comfortable, what’s left?

Now, begins my litany, a long and somewhat tedious recital of items that demonstrate the absurd conditions we deem prudent and safe. That such a recitation can become tedious goes to show the extent of the problem. We begin with the six-year-olds looking like refugees from a midget remake of The Wild Ones.

dangers of safety

There they are, our children, drifting around the front driveways in expensive bicycle headgear. This is to little effect other than the emotional fix we receive from knowing that our children are safe. If they try to negotiate a sharp turn at two miles per hour and tumble, their cutting edge Razor V-17 Child Multi-Sport Helmet will protect them.

Next, some time back, I excitedly told a co-worker about the raccoons that came out of the woods into my yard the previous evening to finish off the cat food left from an earlier feeding. The response? Wow, how big were they? Or, how long did they stay? Maybe, how did you avoid scaring them off? No, safety first, with imagination completely out of the picture. The reaction was, “Better watch out, they might be rabid!” I mean, here was wildlife that somehow avoided being flattened on the highway to become the all too common road kill, and the only comment concerned their presence as a danger, a threat.

More. Examples of safety-centered thinking appear like overdue bills to a spendthrift. Working in a high school allowed me to witness the reflection of the safety trend in teenagers. Yes, it has filtered down that far. Students would walk around at lunch toting bottled water, having paid the same as they would for a coke or an apple juice. The news is spreading about the bottled water racket but not fast enough to appreciably slow the millions of dollars flowing into the corporate vaults of water barons. Not even the well-known fact that the plastic releases harmful toxins can blunt our one-dimensional safety thinking.

And then there’s diet soda, the stronghold of artificial sweeteners. Diet, right? We’re actually fatter because aspartame suppresses seratonin and makes us crave carbohydrates. It’s addictive, and the ingredient aspertame make it poison, as well. Gee, that’s quite a claim. Will I back it up? No, I won’t. You do some research. I’ve done mine. The Internet is full of information supporting the above statements. I’ve a couple friends who swore off diet drinks and feel better because of it, and they are beginning to lose weight.

The next item requires a bit of historical perspective. Years ago, in the late nineties, the Internet was filled with interesting places. Hype was at a minimum. People were excited to throw up a website and put whatever they wanted on it. Yes, a lot of it was trash, just as today’s content is, but free programs floated around like small gems. Then, the “computer virus” became a household phrase. By the early years of this century, Melissa, Love Bug, and Nimda had terrorized the cyber world into reaction, and the computer safety industry was born. May I complain that as a class, the anti-virus, secure email, ad-prevention group has the overwhelming attention of major download centers? Safety-R-Us is the marketing motto of most software developers. Oh, and our software increases productivity . . . an afterthought.

Seat belts. You will have trouble seeing my problem with this item, but when I told someone that I despised wearing them, he said he would pray for me. I might have said, I’m going to rob a mafia casino and gotten the same reaction.

Ok, how about this? You shove in a DVD and see something like:

The views and statements expressed in the film do not necessarily reflect the views of the producers or any other person involved in the making and distribution of the film.

I mean, this precedes Bambi, an Autobiography. An exaggeration, but not by much. The legal system has always cashed in on lawsuits, but today an army of lawyers centers all its efforts toward not stepping on toes. What if Bambi refused to eat wild strawberries? Don’t we have to think about a defamation suit from the California Strawberry Association? So, go ahead, Bambi, tick off the corporations. We’re safe.

Marijuana. Not touching that one. It’s reads like the history of a political scapegoat. My greatest problem is with the health misinformation industry, namely, the little germ. Only laziness and lack of research has prevented me from writing an article entitled “Germs Get a Dirty Deal.” The heading of this article is “The Dangers of Safety.” Little has been said about danger directly, but much has been implied. The problems with diet drinks, the over-emphasis on a child’s safety at the possible expense of his learning about life’s hard knocks, the loss of spontaneously sharing computer information, though the fight is on with the GNU general public license concept championing open source programs. The art of instilling fear into computer users as a marketing ploy for selling bloated and ineffective anti-everything software dominates the Internet sales landscape. Those boring disclaimers that precede movies indicate the socially dangerous move away from innovative risk-taking.

The poor little germ? Man, talk about a misguided effort. Does the concept of building immunity to disease ring a bell? The series “Evolution” from PBS devoted a segment to this topic. A researcher from Switzerland visited a large, family-owned farm, standard in most respects. Cows, horses, some chickens, and pigs, I think. The film showed the young son of the family going about the daily chores in the stalls, the milking, the cleaning, and so forth. The boy, exposed to more germs each day than the average suburbanite encounters in a year, was in perfect health, never became ill, and was uniquely happy. How is this possible? Simple. His body was allowed its natural function of creating immunities to whatever harmful environmental factors his body was exposed.

Now a couple zingers. Peanut butter contains the antiviral substance resveratrol. Yes, that’s the same resveratrol that is currently being publicized as an anti-oxidant to extend our safer-than-thou life spans. At the same time, this quite healthy snack has seen a rise in the number of dangerous, allergic reactions. More to my case here is that the allergic reaction to peanuts is caused by an immune system malfunction. Ok, you’re thinking, now he’s going to tell us that this has something to do with our recent obsession with cleanliness and an overall decrease in our immune systems. Yep, he is. I can’t recall peanut allergy being much of a problem in the dirty 1950’s.

Zinger number two. This one is way out there. Some evidence exists that the plague that cursed 14th century Europe resulted in about 10% of its present descendant population being totally resistant to AIDS. Again, more PBS stuff. Hey, are they sponsored by the Germs Are People, Too Society? Maybe. My writing is sponsored by the notion that fear freezes us in our tracks, making safety a first priority. How is that dangerous? The real question is this. Can an overemphasis on choosing the safe path co-exist with the opposite, riskier attitude of innovation. Can a culture remain healthy when caution stems originality, even at the expense of safety?

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