Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Safety First

There are so many innocuous-sounding rationalizations for tyranny, and I fear "safety First" is fast becoming another one.  The prevalence of  the "even if one life is saved" hyperbole is a bit of evidence that more freedom is being set up for abridgment and the most tenuous risks are the likely target of the safety above all movement.  Obviously at least one life would be saved if we banned alcohol and cars and kitchen knives and instituted curfews and many would be saved if we simply locked up males between the ages of 15 and 50, but anyone who envisions that is probably paranoid. Anyone like me who has been following the attitudes of  the self-righteous safety nerds since the days of Ralph Nader and the anti-car movement, of movie censorship and the Comics Code, has cause to worry.

The current golden age of American cars has, it seems spurred the development of self driving cars, starting with cars that automatically apply the brakes when the on board computer gets spooked.  For skilled and vigorous drivers the fear is that the Safety Software will decide to jam on the binders just as you hit the apex of a decreasing radius downhill turn and kill you.  We have motorcycles advertised to prevent you from doing a wheelstand or banking over too far or locking up a wheel and besides the fear of some gadget taking over the controls, the elimination of the need to learn (and take pride in) skills is horrifying, but with the ever increasing desire for absolute safety it won't stop there.  It seems obvious that the goal is to eliminate driver-controlled cars.  There's talk of pilotless airplanes.  Safety First.  It's better to have a helpless, dependent population than to risk injury. Lets just assume we're all irredeemably incompetent invalids and confine us to wheelchairs -- self driving wheelchairs of course.

I wonder how much of this fear contributes to the boom in TV shows about surviving in the wilderness or to living off the grid.  How much of the boom in gun sales is related to the sense of forced helplessness from having our safety and welfare the exclusive provenance of the State. Rational fear or not, people are being pushed toward fear of being monitored, restricted and limited to having all life's adventures only in Virtual Reality where you can be charged a fee to pretend you're free.

Perhaps it is irrational to fear that not only will I have to drive a vintage car to be able to have a manual transmission, but to have a car that allows me to drive at all, but humans are not rational creatures and as long as we have to listen to the constant litany of dangers that can be avoided by submitting to shoes that don't let us walk too fast and cars that drive themselves at the posted speed limits and refrigerators that order our food for us based on someone's idea of an ideal diet, we're going to see the Matrix as not just another cheesy Sci-Fi cliche' but as the pit at the end of that slippery slope.

You'll have to pry the steering wheel and the handlebars from my cold dead fingers along with the salt shaker or the bag of French Fries and you can keep your robot hands off my freedom!

No comments: