Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Myth of a Risk-free Life

Tibor R. Machan

Skiers sometimes die, as do mountain climbers and motorcyclists and
bicyclists, because what they do routinely is dangerous, risky. Indeed,
there is very little in human life that does not entail some measure of
risk, even fatal risk.

When I moved into Silverado Canyon in Orange Country, CA, I did so with
full knowledge that the place is exposed to certain serious
hazards—earthquakes would hit harder because the houses are on steep
slopes, fires would spread faster because vegetation is abundant, even
mudslides are likely because after a fire the ground is ready to move
around quite freely. But let’s face it I liked the area a lot. The Sierra
Madre atmosphere, the funkiness of the neighborhood, the rustic abode in
which I would be living meant enough to me to take on the risk of living
there. The region was also near enough to more populated and developed
areas so that one wouldn’t be out in the boonies like a hermit.

So, I decided that the risk of my home burning down wasn’t great enough
to override the benefits I would gain from living there. And to this day,
even after the fires that may still consume my home, I would insist on
this. But California Senator Diane Feinstein and her cohorts disagree with
me, think the risks of living in places such as Silverado Canyon are too
great and no one ought to be permitted to assume them. You might ask,
“The risks to whom?” Well, the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission, created
following the 2003 wildfires by Gray Davis and which included Senator
Feinstein, held that "habitat preservation and environmental protection
have often conflicted with sound fire safe planning" and "[b]rush
management is not allowed in coastal sage scrub during the California
gnatcatcher nesting season, from March 1st through August 15th. This small
bird only lives in coastal sage scrub and is listed as a threatened
species by the federal government. Any harm to this bird could result in
fines and penalties."

So the risks are not only those faced by people but those that some bird
or other must endure. And this cannot be allowed. Others in government
insist that they are trying to shield mostly people from the risk of
fires. All in all, what all these people appear to prefer for
everyone—although only their own behavior would show if this includes them
as well—is a risk free life.

Does that mean that Senator Feinstein & Co. would rather not have us
drive to work and home? Does this mean that visiting our parents or
grandparents should be prohibited if it involves driving or riding in a
car? Do they also wish to ban hand-gliding, skiing, mountain climbing and
all those jobs, sports, and games that teem with risks?

I doubt it. What I seriously suspect is that all this supposed worry
about risks to everyone, including birds, is nothing more than posturing
and catering to the fears many people have at certain times in their
lives, vis-à-vis life’s hazards. By pretending that the risks of ordinary
life in their jurisdictions can be erased with the stroke of a pen,
provided enough politicians want that, these people are engaging in gross
deception. Of course, they couldn’t do it without the cooperation of
their constituents who, sadly, have come to expect the impossible dream
that’s being promised to them. Indeed, a great many citizens appear to
believe they are entitled to such a life, at the expense of other
citizens. This political round robin of economic cannibalism is now
routine; so it is no great surprise that millions have bought into it even
when the prospects of satisfaction are completely mythical.

In life there are risks. Sometimes the better you want to live, the more
interesting you want life to be, the greater the risks. The task of the
law of a free society should only be to make sure that those taking the
risks bear the cost of any loss they encounter in the process. Let no one
be able to dumb the loss he or she incurs on others who decide to live
less risky lives. But trying to ban risk taking is futile.