html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: 100% Thermonuclear Protection.

Friday, March 02, 2007

100% Thermonuclear Protection.

I was late today. I had to wait for the plumber at home and then set things up with him. I left him there; he said he would close up when he was done. Chris recommended him, I liked the looks of him, and I want to trust him.

I want to trust people and I don’t want to be scared or suspicious. Being low level scared would be a constant drain. It would cost me some slight mental processing to be assessing risk. It would take energy to feed the nervousness. It would be weigh slightly on the don’t-do-things side of the scale, where sloth and inertia are already plenty heavy. Years ago I decided that I am not scared. I believe in probabilities, I decided, and scary people are rare.

Living without fear requires that I choose my information. For one, I never watch the news or tv. I only read the politics and sports sections in the paper. I skip any story about crime, and I am not pleased that all the papers can talk about this week is the new Zodiac killer movie. I once made a horrible mistake; I looked up my zip code on the Megan’s Law website. I felt sicker and weaker for two or three days after that and I won’t do it again. I hang out with people who have the same attitude. When Ali and I talk about going running at night, we might not because of cold or because I worry that I’ll turn my ankle if I can’t see uneven sidewalk. But fear of strangers has never once been a mention.

I think part of not being scared is that Ali and I aren’t little. She is tall and gorgeous and a natural athlete. I’m about an inch shorter than the average American man. I had a little roommate one time and she was scared all the time. She wanted all our doors locked all the time and didn’t go out at night. Ali noticed last week that the back door was standing open and neither of us could say how long it had been ajar. I love that. In the summer my front door is wide open if I’m home, welcoming my neighbors and sharing my music with the world. I once had a very drunk man wander in, but he left when I told him he was in the wrong place. The rest of the time we enjoy the breeze through the house.

I bet some of you are right now composing letters to tell me that my careless ways put me in DANGER of being RAPED. I’ve gotten those every time I’ve written that my tkd experience gives me confidence. I have a couple questions for you. First, why do you think your risk assessment is more accurate than mine? Yours is likely biased by disproportionate news coverage of crime. Second, why is it important to you that I be scared? The ostensible reason is your concern for my wellbeing, but the way that conversation devolves to descriptions of the things that could happen to me feels more like bullying. Like somewhere below the level of your mind, you need me to be scared and you’ll remind me of the details until I am. What do you get out of that? I know what I get out of being not scared. I get to walk on dark streets and look up at Orion and sometimes see owls. I get to leave my home with a nice plumber, so I can go to work. I get to talk with strangers and tell you their stories. I get to ride my bike out when the cars have gone home and the streets are wide and open.


Blogger joeo said...

I agree. It is silly to be going around scared all the time.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't we already have this exact same argument? How is this any different from you saying if something is too dangerous, then it's perfectly acceptable to ban the activity?

Like, driving without a seatbelt? If I look at the odds, and I'm comfortable with them, why should anyone interfere with my decisions?

Certainly your risks have social implications as well. There are costs all of us have to pay if you get raped in your house, or robbed walking alone at night.

And, what's this nonsense of you live without fear? Remember your whole post not too long about about global warming, and how you were scared and pissed?

So, really, people badgering you about things they find too risky isn't any different from you insisting it's society's job to protect people from themselves when people are doing things you find too risky.


3:19 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

But I'm right about the things I think are high risk, like not wearing a seat belt and climate change. (You should picture me grinning as I write that.) I only meant that I'm not willing to be scared of crime. I'm plenty scared of real risks, like car accidents and floods.

And I was good with people who aren't loved by anyone doing risky things. I'll change my risk thresholds when I have kids.

And extreme sports aren't also functional parts of your daily life, like walking across your town in. Deciding not to go climb a waterfall doesn't confine you to your own house at night, the way being scared to walk alone after dark does. (Although I do acknowledge that some of the riding my bike after dark is just for fun.)

And I don't write descriptions of what it would feel like to fall to your death.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're all just probabilities. Crime is as real a risk as a car accident. What are the odds that you're going to get mugged on the street?

And, you could still live a very normal life while keeping your doors closed and locked, and driving to and from your destinations.

No you weren't good with people who aren't loved by anyone doing risky things. You had a lot of complaints about Touching the Void, remember? You had this whole thing about how selfish they were for taking those kinds of risks when they have family and friends.

You've argued that it would be ok to restrict things I like doing because my risks even affect you, and if I died all that would be left were links to ice climbing boots. Remember?

Obviously you have friends and parents, and a sister, and your sister's kids. I'm not sure how you think your risks are more justifiable than others?


4:17 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Crime is as real a risk as a car accident. What are the odds that you're going to get mugged on the street?

See, I think crime is a WAY SMALLER risk than a car accident. Which is why I think I am only being a little hypocritical.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The risk I worry about most on a daily basis is getting hit by a car while biking. Probably rarer than getting in a fender-bender, but you don't have a couple of tons of steel to protect you. All it takes is one driver sailing through one of the zillions of hard-to-see stop signs scattered around midtown.


4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I have to confess I worry about crime too, but that's precisely because I don't let it affect my behavior much, and am thus in shady areas at night a lot.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

When I was in law school, people said it was nuts for me (5'0") to take a shortcut through the deserted Divinity School parking lots and knock five minutes off my walk home. "Stick to Beacon; it's wider and well-lit and has more people around." But I didn't feel like being afraid, so I didn't listen to them, and I walked where I liked. And as it turned out, there were zero assaults in the Div School while I lived there, but several on Beacon. Some of the additional people were muggers.

People's risk assessments for women are whacked. You should do what feels right for you.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course it's hypocritical. When you're taking unnecessary risks, you see it as being carefree, and independent, and strong.

When others take unnecessary risks you see it as selfish, and pointless, and something that is your business.

You're clearly living outside the norm in what you're doing, and people are telling you that they find your risk taking unacceptable.

It's something to keep in mind the next time you think you need to save people from themselves. While the risk may be unacceptable to you, to them it's clearly not. We each have our own sense of risk, and our own tolerance of risk. And it's not just some simple scale.

And Amber: "People's risk assessments for women are whacked."

People's risk assessments for anyone but themselves are whacked.


5:39 PM  
Blogger jens said...

You should NEVER leave a plumber alone in your house to work!

They go through a LOT of trouble fitting the pants just right for maximum crack, and if nobody is watching that effort is unappreciated.

7:41 PM  
Blogger matt said...

As a smaller guy that tends to do what I feel like, despite others' perceptions of risk, I think I am often subjected to the same types of comments that you mention, Megan. For instance, friends frequently try to convince me that running in the wee hours of the morning isn't safe -- but a) I live in the middle of farm country, where there is very little traffic to start with, and it's quite easy to avoid what there is, b) even when I am in big cities, such as Chicago, were I to look at when most crimes occur, I don't think it's 4 or 5 am, and c) that's usually the only time I have to run.

That said, I agree with Justin that everyone has their own sense and tolerance of risk. Most of my friends would never do anything at 4 or 5 am unless it was somewhere they saw as "safe." I try to respect that, even as I may disagree.

I'm curious as to what, if any, objections family members may make to any of the "risky" behaviors you mentioned, and if your refutation differs any from the one you've given here.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Nice post Megan :) I have friends who are scared of ridiculous things (e.g. one who is scared of going to London because of terrorist attacks) and have met so many people who are terrified that if their children are alone for 10 seconds they'll automatically be abducted. Drives me mad - probabilities, people! It's not difficult.

And yet the friend who's scared of London doesn't have her small children in decent car seats - there's a far higher probability that she'll be in a car accident than a terrorist incident! I just don't understand why people are so irrational. (Because I am as right as you Megan :) )

I once mentioned on the internet that I left my two children outside tiny local shops sometimes when they were in a double buggy which wouldn't fit through the door. "But aren't you afraid they'll be abducted???????" I was telling my parents, and my dad answered, "No, I'm a mathematician." Which pretty much sums up my feelings.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous mith said...

First, why do you think your risk assessment is more accurate than mine? Yours is likely biased by disproportionate news coverage of crime. Second, why is it important to you that I be scared? The ostensible reason is your concern for my wellbeing, but the way that conversation devolves to descriptions of the things that could happen to me feels more like bullying.

Careful, Megan, your libertarian is showing.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Great post - and I think the libertarian thing is getting off track from what I took as the key point, "What do other people get out of women being afraid?" I think a lot. Women's restricted mobility and independence leads directly to the need-a-man syndrome. And if you need something just to survive, you're unlikely to complain too much if it leaves the toilet seat up. So men get a lower standard of behavior. The right to exist as themselves. And women stay one-down.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plumbers have no need to steal anything from your house. They have a knack of taking all your money legally ...

But seriously, I fully agree that living in constant fear is pointless. It's so common too; consider all the people who are just terrified of Muslims, or the overprotective parents who are afraid to let the children play outside because of kidnappers and molesters. Both of these fears are wildly exaggerated yet very common. Constantly living in fear simply diminishes one's quality of life.

It's also somewhat amusing that women tend to be fearful of crime, yet men are much more likely to be victims.

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt...I would really like to meet a mugger who goes out to "farm country" at 4-5 AM to find victims. That is one industrious and early-rising mugger. Actually, a rural area at 4-5 AM is about the safest possible place and time to go running that I can imagine.

The big danger in running in rural areas is roads with no shoulders and lots of curves, combined with people out joyriding. Few of those at 4 AM too.


12:27 PM  
Anonymous mith said...

The big danger in running in rural areas is roads with no shoulders and lots of curves, combined with people out joyriding. Few of those at 4 AM too.

You can probably take solace in the fact that the ones that are out at 4 AM are probably drunk.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

So, uh, am I the only one here who has actually been mugged because I was walking alone at night in the dark in a quiet part of town?

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your attitude is awesome megan.


9:55 AM  
Blogger jens said...

Dubin, you were probably a target of opportunity.

Most muggers are not going to be happy spending their night in a quiet part of town just hoping for a victim to show up. But if they happen to be passing through anyway, and somebody shows up....

One case doesn't make a statistic, but if you ARE the case it might make you wary!

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

How does one properly assess risk for others under your care? Young children, say. I seem to have a different risk assessment model than those around me and I'm wondering if my rationality is somehow deficient.

Let's say your toddler has a helmet for riding his tricycle, which you feel is totally ridiculous. But all the other toddlers wear ridiculous helmets too. So should you make him wear this helmet on the off-chance that he'll bump his head while riding his tricycle? (And I notice none of these kids were kneepads, despite the very real chance that they'll scrape their knees riding his tricycle!)

How about leaving the kid in the car seat while you go put the grocery cart back? This takes 30 seconds, which is apparently enough time for kidnappers to take the kid, according to random passers-by who accost you for your neglect (and never mind the fact that you, who put him in and out of the carseat every day, can hardly undo the complicated seatbelt in 30 seconds).

How about these things that fit over the toilet lid so that the kid won't fall in and drown himself? But won't he be just as likely in 6 months when we start toilet training him and take the toilet lock off?

Are these real risks and I am somehow oblivious to the very real likelihood that these things will happen? Or are all these helmets, locks, and refusal to ever leave children untended for even a few seconds some sort of mass hysteria that only I am immune to?

7:29 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

I haven't done helmets for toddler trikes, or scooters, but if I did, it would be only to get them used to helmets for bike-riding later. (I have no idea whether helmets actually help or not - I have read anecdotal stats saying they make car drivers less careful of you on the road, but my kids aren't riding on roads most of the time anyway.)

The other two - paranoia, imo.

You could always lock the car - except then you have the "car spontaneously bursts into flames and you faint (or something) and no one can find the keys" scenario. IME, that's the sort of thing that overprotective parents who only have one chld like to feel smug about, that they never leave their child alone for a single second. They never consider the parents with twins, or small kids close in age, for whom such manoeuvres would be difficult and probably more dangerous.

Toilets? Keep the door shut? Teach him not to play in there?

But then, I've left my babies outside shops, so I'm clearly a monster! :-D

8:10 AM  
Anonymous W. Lotus said...

I feel the same as you. I have enough mental work to do battling my inner demons and living in the moment to be low-grade scared 24/7. I have a friend who seems to be low-level scared all of the time, and to me she doesn't seem to be really happy or relaxed in life. While I admire her in many other ways, that is one way I am glad to not be her.

9:09 AM  
Blogger justus said...

I have friends who are scared of ridiculous things (e.g. one who is scared of going to London because of terrorist attacks)

I think this thread would be more interesting if there were more examples of ridiculous fears like this.

A coworker's wife is terrified of compact fluorescent light bulbs because one caught fire once in their house. (There was no damage done.) She refuses to have them in her house, doesn't like staying in hotels that use them, and thinks she is clever when she tells you (as she tells everyone) that "CFLs save money by burning your house down". No, I don't know what that is supposed to mean.

They did, however, go to Israel last year and visit all of the stops along the life of Jesus.

Slightly more on topic: a friend lives in Southie -- the notorious part of Boston home to race riots and the Irish mafia -- and his girlfriend worked as Mass General as would frequently get home from work quite late at night. It is a 10 minute walk from the subway to the condo and sometimes people (generally people who didn't live in cities) would express amazement at the "risk" she was taking, walking home alone so late at night in such an allegedly seedy part of town.

12:22 PM  
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11:40 PM  

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