Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lawn Darts

Do any of you remember lawn darts? Oh, now they are seen as a joke, or a horror story. "You really threw heavy, sharp objects up in the air around little kids? How dreadful!" But when I was young, they were just another toy.

Anyone remember Shogun Warriors? They had really nifty hands that shot off and spring loaded missiles we could shoot at each other. At least until around the year I turned 10 or 11, when there was an outcry against toys that could "put an eye out" and all the Shoguns were recalled and the fists and missiles glued firmly into place and the springs removed. (We kids knew exactly how to reverse this process, we just never told our parents.) The same was done to the Boba Fett action figures you got for sending in 5 proofs of purchase from Star Wars action figures. The first run had a little missile in his backpack that could really fire, or so ads said. But by the time I got one, it had been neutered by the safety mob and was just a red nub firmly affixed in place.

And then there are my great grandmother's tales of "going shootin' with the boys" when she was a very little girl, and the occasional -- and excitingly gory, at least to the little boy I was when she told me -- story about a mishap, usually ending up with someone down one or two fingers or toes.

I admit, I am young enough and grew up suburban enough that shooting real guns was no longer common when I was young. But we did have BB guns and pellet guns and -- when my uncle wasn't looking and we could steal it -- a blowgun with 6 inch long steel darts. Not now, of course. Such things exist, but suburban parent seem worried that Nerf darts might have tips that are too hard.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I wrote this. We seem to think the world is getting more dangerous, and, maybe, in some respects it is. Terrorism is increased, though it was pretty bad in the 1970s and 1980s too. No 9/11, but a lot more smaller bombings and hijackings. But in a lot of other ways, the world is much safer. We live longer. We almost never die of starvation, and a lot of previously fatal diseases are gone or treatable at worst. Crime is a problem, but you don't routinely get robbed by outlaws when you leave the safety of a city or town. Our woods are not infested with poachers and thieves. Compared to the remote past, this is utopia. And even compared to the more recent past, things are pretty good.

And maybe that is the problem.

Some comedian once joked about old people being overly cautious, wondering why the longer you lived, the more careful you became about your safety. If you have an accident at 20 you could lose 60 or more years of life. At 80, an accident could shave off just a few weeks. Yet, it is true. And the same is true of us. The more safe life becomes, the more intolerant we become of even the slightest risk.

For example, why did we play with lawn darts? Not because we thought they could not cause an accident. No, we knew that. But because we accepted that sometimes people would get hurt. It is a truth, and one we need to accept. After all, we do it daily when we climb in a car. More people die in cars than from a large number of other causes, yet we routinely ignore this. Gun control advocates print numbers about gun deaths and think they justify a ban, blithely ignoring that auto deaths far exceed gun deaths every year. But, while we can somehow ignore that risk, we are impatient of so many others, so impatient that we enact absolutely absurd laws, all out of fear of even the most remote risk.

Some will blame this on the lawyers, and they play a part, but don't forget the changes to how the law was handled made the lawyers possible, and those changes came about because the public wanted them. We were intolerant of risk, and wanted the courts to save us, and so we gave the power to lawyers to do what we now complain about. As I said, being impatient with even the slightest risk can lead to dreadful, often unintended consequences.

The other problem, and the bigger one, is that, not only are we intolerant of risks, but we are missionaries about it. It is not enough I remove a risk from my life, I have to remove it from everyone else's too. Thus, rather than let another decide the risk he is willing to accept, I tell everyone they must adopt the same policy I favor as I know best. And thus, those who were fine with lawn darts and Shogun Warriors can no longer buy them, because those who found them too risky decided everyone must abide by that decision.

And that is the real crime here. I still think we are too risk averse and excessively worry about trivial threats, but if you want to do so, that is your choice. However,  the opposite is not true. If you think something is too risky, and I do not, often I cannot make the choice for myself, as the state has stepped in and banned the option I would choose. And thus, because we insist on making everyone do "the right thing", people no longer can choose, and we must all live as if we were as risk averse as the most nervous among us.

And that is more troubling that any lawn dart game could ever be. And more dangerous as well.

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