Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Risk of not Risking our Children

How we measure risk fascinates me. Politicians get tough on violent crime even when the violent crime rate is down because people perceive there's more risk than there is. People want to buy guns to protect themselves, but very rarely think of stocking their home with a portable defibrillator even though they are more likely to need one to protect life than a gun.

Then's there's this timely piece, in which researchers conclude:
People don't only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous.
Which touches on a favourite theme of mine: Is morality found in the reasoning behind a law or policy, or in its results? In this case the question is: Is protecting children from rare harm with required constant supervision harming them more than the risk they'd otherwise face?

I love satire as a vehicle to reveal truths about our society and ourselves. Toward the end of the article one of the researchers (or the author -- it's a bit unclear) uses a satirical analogy:
Imagine that parents suddenly have a phobia that their children are going to fall down and hit their heads and die while walking, running, climbing or playing sports. When such an injury or death happens anywhere in the country, it is covered 24/7 by the media; shows such as CSI: Head Injury Unit and Law and Order: Running and Falling Down draw big audiences. Some parents decide that just to be on the safe side, they're going to require their kid to stay in a wheelchair all the time. Gradually this practice becomes so widespread that it becomes standard, and schools and camps start requiring all children to be in wheelchairs at all times for safety reasons. Eventually, it becomes so unusual to see a child not in a wheelchair that people start calling the police when they see a child walking around, and parents are charged with criminal negligence for allowing their child to take such risks.
While reading this I found myself thinking of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut named Harrison Bergeron. 

There's such thing as too safe.

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