It is Saturday morning around 10 AM. I am driving my car, heading home after a brief last-minute grocery shopping, for a gathering at home later in the day! I am driving along the main road in the center of town. It is a rather wide road, with two lanes of traffic in each direction and sees heavy traffic most week days. Today the traffic is relatively light, which has given me a chance to relax a bit and look around, in addition to the constant stare at the road ahead. Have you ever noticed the electric cables running over head across the street? Intent on watching the road and the busy traffic, we tend to miss these myriad of above ground network of cables. Next time, just take a look and you will be amazed to see the number of wires crisscrossing the road above head in so many of the New England towns, thanks to their century old electric grid.
Suddenly my attention is gripped with this rather full size, well grown squirrel dashing across the street, along one of the electrical wires hanging over head, squarely across the street! Here I am moving in the car at about 30 MPH and right above, over my head is a live squirrel dashing across the street, precariously clutching to the live electric cable. Some how, the squirrel must have figured out that it is safer for it to cross the road overhead along the cable, rather than cross the road on the land, with the perennial risk of being run over by the passing cars. I wonder how the squirrel or other animals for that matter make such choices. How do they take such calculated risk? Is taking risk a natural behavior or is it an acquired habit?
My mind starts wandering on the other risks around me. While the squirrel is perched on the over head electric cable, I am sitting in the car on top of a gas tank that carries 10 to 15 gallons of highly flammable gasoline! There are many such vehicles around me, each with a driver with their own habits and choices. Each and every one of them is sitting on a gasoline tank! How is this risk any less than that of the squirrel precariously perched on top of me in the electrical cable? Of course it is the suburban squirrel that encounters the choice between crossing the busy street on the ground or across through the over head cable! What impelled me to ride on top of a tank of gasoline: the industrial world?
It would appear that for every form of progress that happens, also implies accepting and dealing with higher levels of risk. The squirrel may have made its choice largely based on its natural instincts and acquired behavior. It may be easier and faster to get to the source of food on the other side of the street, with little or no regard for the potential risk for its limbs and life. One thing is absolutely certain: the choice to drive the car (ride on the top of a gasoline tank) is mine and mine alone. But, taking the risk to ride on top of a tank of gasoline also implies a collection of rules and regulations at work, agreed upon by the society or community as a whole. This includes proper safety standards in the design and manufacture of the vehicle, proper rules and regulations to train and qualify the drivers, proper rules for periodic inspection of the vehicles for their safe condition and strict standards to enforce the rules of the road, etc. In other words my taking risks in the industrial world are a logical outcome of a set of regulations and their enforcement. unlike the choice by the squirrel perched in the over head cable.
Our choices on risks are not mere matter of course. Living in the industrial society does not imply an involuntary acceptance of continuous accumulation of risks. Should we not accept risk as an outcome of reasoned choice? As we get closer to the November elections and as we debate choice of candidates and policies, which support or oppose regulations and over sight, it might be worth remembering that we do make conscious choices on the risks we take. There is an implicit pathway for such risk taking. It is called the regulatory process of the local, state and Federal Government. The involuntary and common place nature of risk taking begins with the voluntary and conscious choice of candidates we elect. These elected officials at all levels, develop, set policies and enforce them, for the kind of risks, which we later on accept as a matter of course, like riding on the top of a gasoline tank! It is a long list of risks we take for granted if we start including safety at home, safe schools, safe roads and bridges, safety in deep water drilling an yes, even safe behavior at the WS to prevent another financial melt down. It is not a matter of small government or big government. It is a matter of better government or poor governance! There is a lot riding on every election and this election in particular. So, please do vote, unless you want to be the squirrel precariously perched on the electric cable over head and across the main street of the industrial society!
The reasoning or analysis which leads to discrimination between appropriate actions that must be followed through and inappropriate activities which should be given up; between fear and fearlessness; between bondage and liberation – such is the REASONING or wisdom arising out of the tranquil mind – BG 18.30