The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Friday, October 31, 2003
Safety: Our Pride and Joy

A short while back, I made a flippant (at the time) comment over at Khan's Journal that honor and pride can be equated with cooperation and defection in the Prisoner's Dilemma (you can a description here somewhere). I didn't think much of it at the time, but the extent to which he's taken the analogy over the past weeks has me convinced that it is indeed true.

In short, if people let go of their pride, they will act honorably and thus cooperate with other individuals for maximum mutual benefit over the long haul. If people retain their pride and defect--rather, screw people over, or deny others the opportunity to fullfill their honorable duties--they eventually end up hurting themselves. It's a variation on the age-old Golden Rule everyone learns in childhood--but isn't suffiently brainwashed with, apparently--to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Based on this logic (and what sometimes surfaces as outright childish tantrum), I've concluded that personal safety is dishonorable. I'm not talking about self-defense here (though it may be argued). I'm talking about all the things people do to make the world a safer place to live--for themselves.

For example: automobiles. Modern vehicles have an increasingly insurmountable (is that possible?) number of so-called safety features: seatbelts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, and contact patches the size of a fat woman's thighs (thank you Neal Stephenson). That's just sticking to the simple things I understand. Now, likely these features are there to counteract increases in performance, traffic congestion, and human stupidity. So what is the result? People drive more wrecklessly, putting others in danger, because they feel safe.

Contrast this with my car. I drive a classic 1964 Dodge Dart GT, a big hunk of good-old American steel fabricated in my home town. The brakes are mechanical, meaning you really need to press that pedal, so tailgating is definitely out of the question. The exhaust sphincters aren't polished, so when you hit the hammer down, shit doesn't happen (thanks again). Fortunately, it came with the optional lap belt package so that only your face will smash into the airbag-less, steel steering wheel. Consequently, I am a very, very safe driver.

Oh, I forgot to mention something else. Many modern cars have the added safety bonus of being very, very large. This yields great visibility for them at the selfish expense of reduced--or negligible, in some cases--visibility for smaller vehicles. It also puts more distance between the driver and the wreckage.

"But Phlegm, some or all of these features are valid safety devices!" Sure they are, for the individual, and they would be for everyone if they didn't change peoples' driving habits for the worse. But they do. People rely more and more on technology to save them instead of their own skill and sense. This putting one's personal safety over the safety of others is pride. It's defection. It's breaking the Golden Rule. But is it ultimately self-destructive? Well, it can be, with the wrong attitude.

"Ah, but isn't relying soley on one's personal skill and sense also a form of pride?" Absolutely! "So, what's the solution, then?" Look, I'm not saying "no" to safety features. I'm saying "no" to the attitude they come with. Besides, I'm not just talking about automobiles here.

"But isn't it just another form of Darwinism? You know, natural selection? Survival of the fittest!" Sure, I guess, but survival of what? These so-called survival advantages aren't accidental genetic mutations; they're the result of human decisions, of memetics. They are memes that piggyback on our imprinted sense of genetic preserverance, and that's what makes them so successful.

You want to know who REALLY benefits from your personal safety?

I'll answer that, but for now just know this: it isn't you.