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December 29, 2010

We're a Nation of Wusses Because We Postponed a Football Game?

At Hot Air, a minor story continues drawing attention.

I don't know if Rendell is right. To the extent he's right, he's right in the wrong way.

Rendell speaks about courage and pioneer spirit with regard to driving to a football game in the tall snow. Is that right? Would taking an unnecessary risk in the service of being a spectator at a trivial entertainment demonstrate one's courage or pioneer spirit? If that's courage, what do our troops demonstrate? If that's pioneer spirit, what did that teenage girl who tried to sail solo through an ocean possess?

But driving in snow in an SUV with lots of emergency rescue vehicles available is courage? Or an indulgence? Especially since any use of emergency services is costly and, in an emergency situation, may cause delays in getting aid to others?

Perhaps he means this is just a symptom of the loss of courage and pioneer spirit, rather than this itself being an example of a loss of courage and pioneer spirit.

There's little doubt that risk-taking is, often, a good thing, and Americans have lost a lot of their risk-taking spirit. But to just frame this so simply -- taking risks for no particular reason is good! -- makes an untruth out of something sort of true.

Because a lot of teenagers take an awful lot of unnecessary and dumb risks in the service of excitement and entertainment, and we don't judge them worthy for doing so. We say they're callow and stupid.

To the extent he's right, I'd say this is less about courage and more about the loss of individual responsibility and judgment. Risk-taking is only justified if the payoff is big enough. Driving to an Eagles game in bad driving conditions, when the game is available on tv... I don't know if that's anything like a sound appraisal of risk and reward.

If we're talking about manfulness -- and I think we are, essentially -- I don't think the rule is "take risks whenever possible" so much as "make sound judgments about risk and take risks when justified." And the problem here might be that as a society we're so insulated against real physical risk we've lost the ability (generally) to make sound judgments about them.

I mean that a hunter might get lost in the snowy woods in pursuing his recreation, and, having gone through that ordeal, with the real chance of permanent maiming by frostbite or actual death, would have a proper appreciation of risk/reward in snowbound situations. Since most of us haven't faced that, we sort of blow that off as a possibility. It doesn't seem real to us as it's outside our experience. Intellectually, we might note that, but sort of as an asterisk under the category of "Things That Can Never Really Happen."

When it comes to calamity, most people acknowledge it as a risk but don't really acknowledge it in their guts. Calamity is too big a concept for most people to think about, and so they just note it as a possibility, assign it a risk of 0.00% of happening, and blow it off as a real, genuine concern.

And since we're a nation of idiots when it comes to such things, Big Daddy Government figures he has to come in and specifically forbid us from doing them, or cancel a game so that we're not overly tempted to stupid doom.

And maybe that's where I sort of agree with Rendell -- if we still (all of us, instead of a tiny fraction of us) possessed basic survival sense and an appreciation for the havoc that natural forces can cause, we could all make independent, personal decisions about whether it's a hot idea to bundle up our kids in the child seats and drive out onto snow-paved roads, and they'd be sound, in the main.

But we don't, we've lost that basic appreciation for danger, so we get the nanny treatment. And if we were a livelier, more daring people, we'd be more accustomed to risk, and calculations of genuine risk versus reward, and that wouldn't happen.

Where I can't get behind Rendell is in his assertion that just assuming a risk for the point of being a spectator is itself manly. Watching other guys do manly things is not itself manly.

I think the sound decision is not to drive in blizzard conditions, unless it's necessary. But being able to make that decision with a proper appreciation of risk and reward -- perspective -- is probably something a lot of us have lost.


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posted by Ace at 10:51 AM

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