"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, December 23, 2022

Our Risk Averse Society–A Reformist’s Dream, An Individualist’s Nightmare

Camila Brown and her three sisters were convinced that they could control fate.  If one had yearly checkups, drank moderately, drove carefully, and avoided all occasions of risk, a long life was all but guaranteed.  The girls’ mother instilled this sense of caution and temperance in them.  Life was not about having fun but doing the right thing.  Decisions were made on the basis of reasonableness and durability.  She led an abstemious life colored within the lines in pale hues, chose her friends on the basis of resoluteness but lived only to sixty-five, taken off by a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving her three adult daughters to follow in her careful footsteps.

“Watch your edges”, Camila’s mother would shout, a warning that had meaning beyond sharp knives. Uncle Charlie got food poisoning from the China Garden kitchen. Wet roads are slippery, branches can fall on you in a storm.

Image result for Watch Your Edges Cartoon

Happily she died before COVID had backed her into a dark corner; but her daughter Camila inherited all her mother’s fearful obsessions and then some. Fun simply wasn’t in the cards.  Live was not to be lived but to be extended.  If one was careful, there was no telling how long it could be. In fact it could be endless.

That was the precious kernel that lay in the Brown Family granary.  All of them believed that maybe, just maybe, they could live forever, or at least a life projected beyond limitations.  It was a kind of faith, unique in reason and practicality.  Not only could all problems be solved with assiduousness and patience, but they might even be avoided altogether.

When COVID arrived in early 2020, Camila Brown was not overly worried, certainly not panicked, and convinced that Brown principles if properly applied would assure continued good health and general prosperity.

Yet the pandemic was startling in its rapid spread and seeming immunity from reasonable precautions.  People were coming down with the virus left and right, getting sick and even dying.  There were at the beginning to vaccines, so one was at its mercy; and only  through the institution of risk avoidance measures could one at least defer infection if not avoid it.  So Camila Brown was among the first to spray and sequester her mail, install industrial strength air purifiers in her home, scrub all surfaces with astringents and potent hospital-level anti-microbial agents, duct tape all doors and window cracks, order in all groceries, and never ever go out except to her little backyard English garden.  She saw no one, dealt with all friends and family virtually or not at all, followed the news hourly, and kept up to date on epidemiology, ‘the science’, and the evolution of the virus.

Image result for Watch Your Edges Cartoon

None of the news was heartening, and Camila retreated more and more into her sealed, isolated, dismal world.  Nothing was worth the risk of COVID, and so she remained, spinsterish in outlook and closeted tightly at home.  She scrambled for the first vaccine appointments but did not keep them.  The possible advantages of Pfizer and Moderna did not outweigh the dangers of the ghetto clinics where there was availability. If she stayed sealed, then she could wait out the pandemic.

The pandemic ebbed and flowed, and was joined by influenza and RSV, rushed through the country in another, final wave until finally becoming endemic.  It was never The Big One, the bomb cyclone, the Doomsday plague; but it could have been, or so thought Camila and thousand of other on the asymptotes of the bell curve – the perennial worriers, the Chicken Littles.  The pandemic only served to push them farther away from the center.  They, unlike their counterparts on the other end of the spectrum who had never missed a beat, managed to take vacations to St. Bart’s, and came through unscathed except for a sniffle or two, were hardened in their reaction to risk. 

For Camila COVID was not the event that shook her former emotional extremism, turned her, while not Gandhi, at least into a more realistic, open, and que sera sera persona.   On the contrary it hardened her resolve.  COVID was the very circumstance that proved the ‘watch your edges’ rule.  If it hadn’t been for people like her who took every precaution, followed every prescription, and were the militant epidemiological phalanx against the disease, it could indeed have been The Big One.  As COVID waned, she doubled her caution, reupped her vigilance, and refused to buckle under to que sera sera carelessness.

Image result for Cartoon images Que Sera Sera

She joined the risk-averse movement – the one which deescalated the danger of playgrounds, fought against bullying, and tirelessly worked to rein in the runaway devil-may-care indifference which made social progress, not to mention disease control, impossible.  It was a political matter after all – individual freedom was a conservative, meaningless ploy to stall progress; a renegade idea to blunt caring and compassion.  Individualism, a devil-may-care anti-social idea with no logic and no purpose other than self-satisfaction, was the problem, not just an offshoot of the Wild West.

The state, Camila understood, was to be the arbiter of social norms and the eradication of unnecessary risk was its hallmark.  The State was not the caregiver of last resort as the Founding Fathers intended, but the country’s caretaker in chief – a proactive, interventionist agent to assure reformist goals and to reduce or eliminate the risks caused by a lack of obedience and dismissal of community values.  The State embraced Big Brother codes of collective behavior, enforced groupthink, and legislated universal controls over antisocial behavior.  COVID mandates and soft-landing playgrounds  were just examples of this corralling of individual behavior.  Assuring universal compliance with the risk-neutral policies of communitarianism was the job of the state. Individuals cannot and should not be trusted.


Not such an easy assignment.  Individualism, borne of the Revolution and reincarnated again and again in the Wild West, Wall Street, and corporate America, is hard to neutralize.  If there is one characteristic that defines America, that is the draw for the millions of immigrants at the border, and the wet dream of all comers everywhere, it is the idea of individual liberties.  Free to do what you please when you please; an unalloyed freedom of expression and opportunity.  The most risk-averse societies are the most authoritarian.  Social control in the name of social reform is common to them all.  Individuals are the enemy, the destroyer of community, the counter-revolutionary guerrillas of the Right. Yet no nation except for the one or two international outliers have ever succeeded in weeding them out, of creating the faux harmonious progressive Utopia.

The heroes of COVID were not the compliers but the resisters, the individualists who refused to buckle under to every arbitrary mandate meant to reform and control in the name of protection and caretaking, the que sera sera determinists, the devil-may-care irritants.

Camila survived COVID and did her best to see that her children and her children’s children watched their edges.  Life went on without her, the turn of the screw went counter-clockwise and the age of statism soon ended.  A few pockets of idealists remained in j’accuse communities, but the communitarian juggernaut ever reappeared.

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