They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Benjamin Franklin
In the classic 1947 science fiction novelette whose title this column shares, Jack Williamson predicted the perils of the nanny state by depicting a future world infiltrated by self-replicating robots who volunteer to do every dangerous job free of charge; only after the lazy humans have allowed the “humanoids” to take over all police and other “protective” functions do they discover that the machines have their own standards of “safety” and will not allow humans to do anything which carries even the slightest risk.
The problem, of course, is that nearly everything worth doing carries some danger, and ofttimes the greater the risk, the greater the reward. When we allow others to absorb the peril we gradually lose the nerve to take exciting, profitable or even necessary chances for ourselves, and when we allow “authorities” using the excuse of “safety” to dictate what we can and cannot do we lose the greater part of what it means to be human and become nothing but domestic animals owned and controlled by the State. Big Brother says that some activities are just too dangerous, so they are prohibited and those caught doing them are punished by having their goods stolen and their bodies violated or confined, but kept biologically alive in a condition the State defines as “safe”. And if some people are killed in the process of establishing this worldwide nursery, well, you know how it is with omelettes.
The War on Drugs is the most widespread and monstrous realization of the campaign to “protect” adults from their own choices, but the War on Whores is nearly as bad. Once we were branded as “degenerates”, but for the last century (especially the last two decades) there is a growing tendency to characterize laws which restrict the sexual freedom of adult women as attempts to “rescue” us from our own choices; trafficking fanatics, neofeminists and proponents of the “Swedish Model” paint us as imbeciles and emotional basket cases who suffer from “false consciousness” and are unable to make decisions for ourselves. Self-proclaimed moral authorities even demand that porn actors be protected from their own informed decisions. And in a world of smoking bans, seat belt laws, gun control, Gestapo-like “child protective service” tactics and lawsuits based in the idea that individuals are not responsible for their own safety, paternalistic anti-sex work arguments seem very credible to the average spineless American.
In the ‘40s, the watchword was “victory”. In the ’60s, it was “freedom”. But by the ’90s, it had degenerated into “safety”. Americans once recognized that there are some things worth dying for; now we encase our children in bubble-wrap and cry like little girls at the slightest risk. Our great-grandparents dared unknown frontiers, while we sit in our playpens content to watch the world go by on television, or to waste endless hours in “virtual worlds” when there’s a wonderful REAL universe waiting to be discovered. People aren’t like this naturally; most of us are born with a yearning to explore the world, a zest for adventure and a thirst for knowledge, but these are ground out of children in factory schools, frightened out of them by “authorities” trying to create a race of docile, frightened sheep and squeezed out of them by overprotective parents who imagine “child traffickers” and “sexual predators” around every corner, despite the rarity of these criminals. One of my favorite non-sex-work bloggers, Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids, uses the term “helicopter parents” for those who are always hovering over their kids, watching to ensure that nothing “happens to them”…and in the process squelching their growth and destroying their ability to act or even think independently.
Skenazy understands that safety is not and should not be such a paramount issue that it instantly trumps everything else, and though her concern is primarily with the mollycoddling of children into dull-witted, complacent obesity, she does occasionally touch on the way the “Safety First” mantra affects adults as well. She recently mentioned this 2009 essay by Mike Rowe of the TV series Dirty Jobs, and it impressed me so much I’d like to share it:
My husband works on the oilrigs as a well tester. We watched you folks do so without any eye protection! Are you crazy? Drilling a hole with no protective eyewear? Between him, a well tester, and me, a workers’ compensation lawyer, we’re cringing! Somebody could LOSE AN EYE! Seriously – Safety First, fellas! I would expect better from the Discovery Channel!! — suzemommy
I sincerely appreciate your concern for me, and agree that stupidity plays an ongoing role in my professional and personal life. But believe me, I have no wish to be injured on the job. However, it is not the objective of Dirty Jobs to conform to any particular set of safety standards, other than those dictated by the people for whom I happen to be working at the time. I take my cues from them, and I assume whatever risk they assume, for the most part. In the end, we hope to capture an honest look at what life is like for the workers in a particular venue. We do not aspire to set an example, or be a poster child for OSHA or any particular industry. I realize that my sound controversial, but it’s the truth, and not nearly as inflammatory as what I’m going to say next.
Of all the platitudes automatically embraced in the workplace – and there are many – there is none more pervasive, erroneous, overused, and dangerous, than “Safety First!” in my opinion. I have heard this slogan countless times. I have seen it emblazoned on banners, T-shirts and hats. I have sat through mandatory briefings and slideshows and presentations designed to “protect me from the hazards at hand.” And I have listened as safety officers and foremen have run down list after list of OSHA requirements, all apparently construed to remind me that nothing is more important to the employer than my own well-being. What a load of unmitigated nonsense. In the jobs I have seen thus far, I can tell you with certainty, that safety, while always a major consideration, is never the priority.
Not even once.
Is it important? Of course. But is it more important than getting the job done? No. Not even close. Making money is more important than safety – always – and it’s very dangerous in my opinion to ignore that. When we start to believe that someone else is more concerned about our own safety than we are, we become complacent, and then, we get careless. When a business tells you that they are more concerned with your safety than anything else, beware. They are not being honest. They are hedging their own bets, and following the advice of lawyers hired to protect them from lawsuits arising from accidents.
You are correct to suggest that wearing safety glasses would have made the task at hand safer. But why stop there? Wearing a helmet would have made it safer still. And wearing a steel mesh shark-suit would have made it really, super safe. I know that sounds glib, and I know that many will wish to scold me for appearing cavalier. But really, I’m not. In a car, I wear a safety belt. On a motorcycle, I wear a helmet. Not because it’s the law, but because it seems a reasonable precaution. And ultimately, the only one responsible for my own safety is me. (Besides, if the government were really concerned with my safety above all else, wouldn’t they drop the legal speed limit to 30 miles an hour and make cars out of rubber?)
Again, you’re right – I probably should have been wearing safety glasses, not because safety is first, but because I like to hedge my bets. We can always be safer. We can always assume less risk. But if safety were really first, I wouldn’t travel at all, or engage in any activity that required me to assume any risk. And I certainly wouldn’t be hosting Dirty Jobs.
Thank you so much for saying that, Mr. Rowe. The same goes for hookers; though we would like the government to stop making our jobs more dangerous than they have to be, and though we take all the reasonable precautions (such as condoms, screening and call-ins) we can, in the end making money is more important or else we’d all just be working at “safe”, boring, low-income jobs. Each person must determine how safe is safe enough for himself, and each person has to decide whether he will go forth into the world as an active adult or just sit in the nursery with folded hands.
One Year Ago Today
“The Love-Hate Relationship” attempts to explain why Americans seem to love whores as fictional characters, while persecuting us in reality.