Whose Risk Should Rule?

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Some people think anyone who sky dives (or rides motorcycles) must be crazy; those who do sky dive or ride motorcycles, on the other hand, think the potential risk involved is small compared with the enjoyment they get from doing those things. They might argue, credibly, that their way of recreating is in fact less “risky” than the lifestyle of obese, sedentary couch potatoes eating their way to the coronary care ICU.

The question is — well, used to be — whose decision is it?

Under the old American ethic, long ago trampled into the mud, the answer was that such choices were properly the individual’s to make, according to his best judgment — the enjoyment (and consequences) to be born by him.

We were, once upon a time (and not so long ago) free to determine for ourselves what risks were worth taking. It was what we used to call “live — and let live.” And that defined America. And Americans. What your neighbor did for fun or otherwise was conceded as his business — no matter what you thought about it personally — provided he wasn’t harming anyone else in the process.

But the new American way is much like the old European way of sticking your nose in your neighbor’s business — insisting that he conform his life to your way of thinking. Pressure groups — typically comprised of a shrill minority of “activists” — dominate our public discourse, lobbying and emoting their views into laws — forcing everyone else to live by their rules.

The list of Thou Shalt Nots continues to grow:

In most states you must now wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle (even though a helmet, by itself, does nothing to prevent the rest of you from being mangled in a crash).

You must also “buckle-up” for safety (even though the risk of not buckling up is entirely your own).

You must submit to random “sobriety checks” — even though you yourself have given no reason whatever to even suspect you’ve been drinking.

New cars must have air bags, stability control and back-up cameras, tire pressure monitors, black box data recorders. . . even though these systems have their downsides as well as their upsides.

The choice, increasingly, is no longer ours to make.

They are made by others — who, it must be pointed out are just people too. Not gods. Not even superior men. Often, they are inferior men (and women) whose sole claim to authority is that they have acquired it.

Some would say this is all to the good. “Society” has a stake in our choices, too.

But if that’s the rationale, the list of forbidden activities will soon be endless — unless of course we wish to be completely arbitrary about it. If, after all, the unbuckled motorist is to be fined on account of the heightened risk his actions may impose on the broader public, then surely the unbuckled motorist has every right to insist that fat people be the object of tickets, too. And in turn, the fatties have every right to demand that sky divers and motorcycle riders pony up.

Or shall we limit the intrusions of the state to only those “risks” deemed politically incorrect? In that case, we can dismiss the whole enterprise as a random tool of mob tyranny that has absolutely nothing to do with the stated rationalizations — and any claim to a “greater good” is a bad joke.

On us.

Rather than chew on each other this way, why not return to live — and let live? Leave us each free to assume whatever level of risk we consider acceptable. And if our choice ends up costing us somehow, so be it.

That’s how it used to be.

And could be, again.



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