20 March 2009

The Pursuit of Safety

I learned a long time ago that one of the first questions people will ask us if I mention that we've lived in/want to live in/are moving to almost any part of Asia is whether it's safe to live there. I've got a variety of answers for that, but really, I'm tired of the question. It seems that there is an American fetish about safety.

I like safety. I like my children to be safe. Safety is a top priority, but it's not my only priority. And it seems that the pursuit of safety in the US is trumping common sense.

You can read about people who want library books pulled off shelves because of the possibility of lead in the ink, about laws that require all items sold to children to be tested for lead, proposed laws that would dramatically increase testing of food products sold in the US. We've been living with the Patriot Act and other related laws and regulations are designed to keep Americans safer. These laws probably do make us safer in some ways.

So if we close our borders, kick out any non-citizen that doesn't believe the right things, harass Americans who know too much about Afghanistan; if we test everything that our children might touch for lead, throw out old library books, and only eat government-tested food, will we really be safer? If we are, will it be worth it?

I'm willing to deal with a little extra perceived risk (and the perception is important- auto accidents are the number one killer of children, despite all the lead and terrorists apparently floating around out there) if I also can have Muslim friends get the visas they've been denied because they're Muslim. Or to keep innocent people out of prison who were arrested under the Patriot Act. Or to be allowed to grow produce in my backyard. Or to check out-of-print books out of the library. Because it seems to me that if we allow this level of regulation in our lives, the benefits won't outweigh what we lose.

But maybe publishers would reprint those out-of-print books if all the old ones have to be tossed.

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