The Origins of Safetyism

  • January 25, 2024

Why the seemingly sudden obsession with “safety”? Placed within air fingers quotation marks because it’s not really about safety – in the sense of reasonable aversion to excessive and unnecessary risk. That is not Safetyism, which is what we’re talking about here. The latter being a neurotic fixation on “staying safe” – whatever the cost – when there is minimal risk.

As for example driving (or riding in) a car without “buckling up” for . . . “safety.” Most people do this now reflexively, chiefly because so many people haver been conditioned to regard not doing it as “unsafe.”

At least two generations – the Millennials and Gen Z – have been raised this way. Which is to say, they know no other way. They were taught fear from their earliest years. Of cars – and driving – in particular.

They have no fond memories of running out to the family car and jumping in to go for a ride. They were strapped in for the ride, a process that’s very much akin to what is done to unruly prisoners in that both are restrained. The difference being the prisoner has the dignity of knowing it’s being done because they are afraid of him.

Millennials and Gen Z were taught to be afraid. It’s an important distinction. Cars were not  – for them – a cool toy that adults got to play with and which they looked forward to playing with themselves when they became adults in their turn. Which – in the case of their older brother and sister (or mom and dad) Gen X’ers, when they were kids, happened when they turned 16 – at which point they were eligible for a driver’s license that endowed them with the same rights and responsibilities as an adult. They were legally free to drive anytime they liked and anywhere they liked (assuming they had a car and assuming it was okay with their parents). The point being the government did not treat them like children for the next several years – until they turned 18 and (finally) got an an adult driver’s license and were free (at last) to go wherever they liked, whenever they liked.

By then, of course, the damage had already been done – and years before then.

Many never developed much interest in driving and so never got a driver’s license – and so remain children even though they’re over 18. They still depend on adults to drive them where they need to go. Those who do drive are afraid to, many of them. This is understandable. Wouldn’t you be afraid of a thing you’d been taught to fear as dangerous from your earliest memories?

Our memories – those of us who grew up before this business of restraining kids only occurred in reform schools or other such facilities – are entirely different. Many of us were fascinated by cars but only a very few were afraid of them. Almost none disliked them, on account of not being treated like a package when placed into them. If you’re a Millennial or Gen Z, try to imagine opening the door and climbing in, yourself. At the age of eight or so. Like the grown-ups, up front. Maybe you were in a station wagon and wanted to ride in the back. So you clambered over the back seat and fell back into the cargo area behind there. Maybe you rolled around like a log in the curves. Or just sat rearward facing and watched the road unfurl behind you.

When you got tired of that, maybe you clambered back into the seat behind the driver – your dad or mom – and pulled yourself up close to ask them something or just to see the road from their perspective. You probably sat in mom or dad’s lap when you were smaller – and they let you steer. This was kind of like flying commercial back in the day, when the door to the cockpit was open and kids were often allowed to come forward to meet the captain and watch him fly the plane.

Those days are, of course, gone. And so also the days of kids sitting on mom or dad’s lap while they drive they car – and clamboring around in the back seat. Or lying flat on a road trip to take a nap, the steady low rumble of the road and engine making you feel both sleep and safe.

Maybe it was a bit less so – if mom or dad ran into something or something ran into mom or dad. But if was understood to be uncommon and – in those days – most reasonable people didn’t morbidly worry about if to the exclusion of everything else.

Including the joy of being alive – and just going for a drive.

. . .

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