More thoughts on The Illusion of Safety

A while ago, I posted ‘The Illusion of Safety’, and I left it feeling it was somehow incomplete.

A survey in Britain early in the epidemic revealed that fully 50% of the population believed that 1% or more of the British population had already been killed by Covid. That’s about 667,000 deaths. The true figure was about one fiftieth of that figure. I doubt if the figures for Australia would differ greatly – both societies have succumbed to institutionalised hypochondria.

My own experience of polio, in 1977, when that disease was supposedly eradicated, has given me an experience of hazard which is increasingly rare in the developed world. Few people need less convincing than me that viruses can do really nasty things to you. Logic would dictate that, confronted with the arrival of another nasty virus, I should be the first under the doona. Yet to me, the response to Covid-19 has been wholly disproportionate to the real threat that it poses to individuals.

And this leads me to wonder – are Westerners becoming risk-deprived, and is it driving them mad? Such a hypothesis would certainly account for the demented risk-aversion which has characterised our response to Covid.
For the vast bulk of its existence, mankind has had to contend competently with risk, and, since individuals with innately superior senses of risk versus reward would tend to out-perform, out-survive and out-procreate their less well-equipped rivals, it’s reasonable to suppose that a sense of proportion in the face of risk is an inherited characteristic. But what if we find ourselves leading lives from which risk is all but absent?

Hamlet soliloquised about “The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” , but since Shakespeare’s time, that burdensome inheritance of misfortune has all but disappeared from the everyday experience of inhabitants of the developed world. It has done so with accelerating rapidity. In the 20th and 212st centuries, marked decreases in risk-exposure began taking place within single generations, meaning that no evolutionary adjustment could possibly take place. While objectively a Good Thing, I do wonder whether our innate sense of proportion is a use-it-or-lose-it trait, such that, when we finally do encounter a genuine hazard, like Covid, we have absolutely no idea how to deal sensibly with it?

Tom Forrester-Paton

2 thoughts on “More thoughts on The Illusion of Safety

  1. Fascinating theory, and not one I’d considered before. If our ability to risk assess has somehow become warped through lack of stimulus then humanity really is in even worse trouble than I thought.


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