Tuesday, March 10, 2020

At Any Speed

"The absolute and complete absence of the potential to come to harm" is a poor definition of "safety." But it seems to be the one that much of our society has settled on. And this unrealistic expectation is now biting society at large, as people attempt to ease their anxieties about the COVID-19 outbreak, through doing something, whether or not they actually understand how efficacious (or not) their actions are.

Fear, as in the feeling of alarm and/or anxiety caused by the anticipation or perception of danger, is adaptive. After all, the utterly fearless are likely to find themselves overmatched, at times with fatal consequences, by certain life circumstances. Lions and tigers and bears have many more natural weapons than we humans do. But fear is neither necessary nor sufficient when it comes to actually taking action to either forestall or alleviate danger.

But fear is motivating, and that is, perhaps, why it is so prevalent in our society. Prompting people to fear has proven itself to be an excellent way of driving change, especially for those people who are insulated from the collateral damage that may also occur. And because the difference between feeling safe and being safe is difficult to discern, responding to fear in a way that removes it often feels like having done something concrete and productive, even if, objectively, nothing is different.

Perhaps a broader understanding of a reasonable level of "safety" would serve to reduce the role of fear in day-to-day life, but that's only a guess. And it may be an impossibility in any event. Because society's fears have bitten it before, yet each time, society manages to forget. Perhaps because "safety" is simply a label that is applied to a sufficiently clement situation, rather than a genuine state that people are motivated to work towards.

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