Risk Management

I was watching the news – again – and it seems that a Navy jet has crashed into an apartment building. Considering how rarely such an event occurs, I would expect a certain kind of media spin. Perhaps something about how accidents are rare, and yes this is tragedy, but it could be so much worse. Naturally, the media is spinning it in the other direction, as it does with so many other stories. In aggregate, these stories almost seem to be directed at making us believe in a ridiculous myth.

Here’s the myth: “We should eliminate all risk from life.” And while we’re at it, “The best risk management system on Earth is the United States government. Those dudes will handle your problems, people.” We’ll save that topic for another day.

For now, forget that second part. The base of operations for the crashed F-18 has been there for a long time. It was once in the middle of open land which has since been packed full of development. If you choose to live under the daily flight paths of high performance jet aircraft, you are automatically, whether you consider it or not, assuming the risk that one day, one of these machines may fall into your living room. If you decide to build your apartment complex under the same piece of sky, better check your insurance coverage carefully. Seems pretty basic, right?

Well, that’s the thing. If you listen long enough, one of two things can happen. One, you can come to believe that life is as safe as the media and its glossy commercials tell you at every opportunity. Or two, you can think it through, understand that life is chock full of risk, and make your decisions based on what you can actually control. Just like women are bombarded with a standard that is virtually guaranteed to make them feel inadequate, all of us are hammered with a mythical message of a safe and secure life that only makes sense if you fail to pay attention.

Why? Paying attention reveals that the mythical message is far more insidious than simply selling us on an image. At the same time we are being told that such security is possible if we only trust in the right authorities, we are being shown a constant stream of fear. Terrorism, sexual predators, home invaders, and environmental disaster lead a parade of amorphous threats than can undermine us in a million ways. If we’re not very careful, we could, heaven forbid, take a hit on our 401(k), fail to collect the optimum number of miles from the dangling carrot of credit card rewards, or offend the cultural sensibilities of a person with an extraordinary collection of tattoos. Video games make our children fat and violent. Foul language destroys our very souls. Fear it! Fear it all! Then buy the thing that can miraculously fix it, whether the fix is Life Alert (I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!) or another bloated government program full of unintended or unpleasant consequences (TSA anyone?).

Paying attention can also reveal that it’s all bullshit (there goes my soul). Everything you hear through a media outlet has a purpose. It’s never just an altruistic desire to tell you what you need to know. Even this blog has a purpose or two. I’ll just go ahead and fess up. Yes, I want you to buy my books. Yes, I want you to tell your friends. Yes, I’d even like it if you click through on my Amazon links from time to time. But behind that is the reason that I write at all. If there is a common thread in all of it, it’s that I want us all to understand that we can think for ourselves, that despite the many messages with many agendas, we owe it to ourselves to take charge of our own rightful thoughts and beliefs, and to live as if he we have the right to make our own decisions.

So, risk. Life is risk. You can be attacked in the parking lot. You can be hit by a bus that rolled up on the sidewalk after the driver had a massive heart attack. You can die in your bed when a Russian satellite from the 60’s punches a hole in your roof. You can slip and fall as you hike the mountainside. Your children can grow up to be drug addicts. You can become the target of an insane arsonist. Literally anything is possible, but even if you add up all the risks you can imagine, the odds are still in your favor.

You can prepare, you can plan, you can make every reasonable move to protect yourself, but you cannot eliminate risk. No one can save you from it, so all I ask is that we stop trying to believe that we can ultimately be saved from every pain that life can offer. We do the best we can, and we keep moving ahead, no matter what happens. We mourn the tragedy, we make reasonable adjustments, and we recover to live another day.

To every talking head who is throwing out the question of whether the whole concept of flying jets around populated areas is something we should stop, I say the real question is, should we allow unbridled development around military bases with all their dangerous machinery? If we want the security of a strong military with well trained pilots and top-notch aircraft, then the obvious and unavoidable cost is to accept the minor risk that every now and then, something will go wrong.

14 thoughts on “Risk Management”

    • I’m sure either of us could expand that one word into entire books. The trick is how loudly you can yell it before people throw you in the loony category and stop listening. Yet talking heads can sell the same bullshit over and over, as long as it comes with heavy makeup and slick lower third graphics.

  1. Nice post, Jim. The title of this rambling could also have been, “Shit Happens”. Along the same lines, when I open my eyes I can see that Political Parties (government) and Religions (church) and Big Money (Wall Street,etc.) all use fear to keep the masses under their control. Wow, I sound like a Commie Pinko!

    I was roughly criticized on a hiking forum last year for guffawing about the US Forest Service closing the White Mountains to hikers after a hurricane. As an avid outdoorsman and long distance backpacker with 40 years of experience in looking after myself in the great outdoors I kind of thought it was amusing that a bureaucrat sitting in an government office somewhere was going to “protect” me from myself by not allowing me to access public land. I still think it’s amusing. Whatever!

    I prefer to think for myself, live my life my way, and leave the bullshit to the bullshitters! Keep up the nice blog, I enjoy reading it.

    • Thanks, hometownhiker. I wonder if the all the decisions we see, the ones that make no sense in terms of the quality of our lives, are all about control of the masses. I know I’m parroting a half dozen major schools of thought by saying so, but what if totalitarian control of our lives is the endgame? How far do we have to slide down that slope before the masses (you and me) understand that such an outcome is possible. How subtle does the game need to be to keep the masses from noticing until it is too late?

      I sideswiped this topic with a very good friend last night. He is in favor of more roadless wilderness, but I’m sure he would draw the line at zero access to hikers. In the age of runaway litigation, I can see how the bureaucrats are afraid to allow any risk that could turn around in the form of a lawsuit. In the age of funding crisis, I can see how they would knee-jerk into thinking about the cost of rescues in risky terrain. Out here in the PNW, all too many people are hiking right into a rescue scenario. Successful rescues still cost a fortune, and unsuccessful ones turn into grieving families looking for someone to blame – and sue.

      I doubt that the bureaucrats are all that worried about your protection. I’d guess they are more worried about the potential cost you represent every time you take to the trail. I don’t agree with their perspective. I’d like to think the public lands are available at our discretion, but I can see money, liability, and several more insidious motives in the mix. And unfortunately, your expertise doesn’t matter to a bureaucrat. They put more weight on the two-day certifications they award their own personnel than they do your 40-years of hiking experience. What do the mindless masses know about dealing with a fallen tree on the trail, right? Right?

      I’ll join you in ironic laughter.


  2. Excellent post Jim. As an EMT I deal with consequences of risk management daily. Most EMS personnel will agree that most people are too stupid to live. Its all just a symptom of the conditioning they have received as members of a nanny state society. I get called for flu symptoms and they want to go to the hospital. People believe that there is a special magic cure-all hidden at hospitals that will be granted to them if they only come now by ambulance. These are not children or elderly just average adults. If a pandemic ever does come the hospital is the last place to go.

    People want to mitigate the risks in their daily life but not their own risk taking behavior. Its the other guy that needs to curb his drinking, its the other guy who needs to eat healthy,the other guys need more exercise, and on and on. People need to wake up, look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable for their lives. people just need to pull their collective heads out of their asses for 15 minutes a day to gain some awareness of the reality around them and maybe things could get better. Who knows.

    • There’s another thing that belongs in the death and taxes category, and that’s insurance. Try to exist without it in any lifestyle above cardboard box. The reason it’s a problem is that insurance is behind both ends of the risk game. First off they know exactly what their financial risk is for any type of insurance in any pool of people of X size with Y characteristics. They base the premiums on the output of that math. Then they work really hard behind the scenes to shave away risk by shaving away things that we do that they have mathematically identified to add to their financial risk. Then they lobby for laws and regulations to decrease risk while raising premiums and fattening their own bottom line. They do well. I’d also assume that they have a hand in the social engineering that has taught us all that risk can be eliminated, and that risk reduction is akin to a religion-level law of the universe. If we forget the stupidity of thinking that risk can be eliminated, then we can start measuring behavior against risk. No, wait… No matter what our baseline beliefs say, there are two kinds of people who will always get slammed by risk. There are the “I’m screwed” people who expect bad things to happen all the time, and the far larger pool of “That only happens to the other guy” people, who can happily do risky stuff until the behavior does them in. What’s in the middle of those two groups?

      Thanks, Joe.

      • Jim said:
        There’s another thing that belongs in the death and taxes category, and that’s insurance.

        Bull shit. Golly.

        If the cost of insurance is related to risk we have a market, choice, free will. If you know for sure you are about to die why would you expect me to insure you?

        Insurance is supposed to be about what happens if everything goes bad quick.

        • Can you drive a car without insurance? Can you mortgage a home without insurance? Can you financially survive one major health crisis without insurance? I can’t without being phenomenally wealthy and/or breaking the law. To me, that makes insurance as unavoidable as death and taxes. It’s legally mandated in many cases, therefore not even remotely a free market choice.

  3. Insurance?
    Health, life, dental, auto, homeowners, liability, malpractice, boat, motorcycle, flight, credit card, pet care, FDIC (banks), and prenups (yes, a prenup is a type of insurance, it pretty well insures that the lawyer that drew it up for you, will handle your divorce).

    There is a whole lot I don’t like about insurance and there are so many kinds that well, lets just hit on the one that really really ticks me off.

    Auto insurance, yes, I do want everyone to have it and please people make sure you have the largest deductible that you can afford, it lowers your premium and your rating. They figure if you have $1,000.00 bucks in the bank you are less a risk than someone who is worried about having more than $100.00 bucks that you can get your hands on in an emergency. (Little side advice there.)

    But that’s not what I’m upset about…what I don’t like is the fact that if I get a speeding ticket or two or three, the law enforcement agencies squeal to my insurance company and my rates go up. Even, even if I have not had a damage claim ever..ever.
    Also my insurance rate will go up if my husband has tickets because the vehicle is in both our names….

    It’s sort of like the 7-11 calling your insurance agent and telling him that you’re smoking again so they can increase the rates on your life insurance. Or the corner Dairy Queen or …. well, you get the idea.

    Hit me with a financial penalty once, fines are steep…but don’t ding me twice…and more than twice, auto policies run for 6 months and points on your driving record last for about 3 years I think.

  4. I sometimes catch myself thinking “that can’t be right? They would never allow that someone might get hurt or killed”. It’s a dangerous way to think, but it is the way we have been programmed to think. Breaking the nanny state and entitlement line of thinking is difficult considering how many sources are feeding it to us 24/7 & 365. I think Benjamin Franklin said, “Men who would trade freedom for security deserve neither freedom or security”. I enjoyed your article.

    Hey how about we sell the government land to pay down the debt?

    • Interesting idea. Let’s see… We’ve got almost 650 million acres of public land. Most of it is wilderness land and hard to do a lot with. Let’s say we can get $5000 per acre, or roughly $1 per square yard. That gives us 3.25 trillion dollars for our entire public land trust, or less than 1/5 the national debt. Maybe we should use that land as our new currency standard, since there’s not enough gold in the world to cover our debt. Let’s take that same dollar per square yard and make it the baseline for our annual budget. If the government can’t cover its spending with some kind of hard value (land) then it can’t spend it.

      Of course anyone who is talking realistically about what it would take to actually get our finances in order is branded a lunatic. It would be painful. But, it will hurt more the longer we go on in the current fashion. If our entire artificial economy is predicated on growth, then we’d better find a way to generate some growth. Hint: Those of us who have gotten wealthy by sucking the lifeblood from streams of money as they pass by had better find a new career. That only works when we are fat enough to afford the overhead.

      We could aggressively pull back all of the industry that we have allowed to go elsewhere. We honestly could create new growth through innovation, but everything from our educational system to our regulatory environment and trade agreements work against that. We could find new resources as the basis for new economic growth. Two possibilities. One is we could just become an open empire. If we need more, we just take it. Some would say that’s how we do it anyway, while trying to look like everyone’s friendly big brother. The other is more outlandish, and faces a million arguments of its own, but we could do the obvious thing and start getting our resources in space. One smallish metallic asteroid is probably worth trillions of dollars, and the industry it would take to get there would be its own economic engine of growth. The other basic benefits are that we would have people off the Earth just in case something really bad happens, we’d have new frontier to focus our energy on (go west), and we should really grab our piece of space before China (who is working hard to get there) gains the permanent high ground. Think about it. If we have no space program, and China does, then there will come point when they can just sit up there and deny us access to unlimited resources. As a bonus, any American real estate in space adds to the pool of hard value the government can use for currency. I digress. The point is that there are always solutions, as long as we have the will and a leadership that serves our best interests. Anyone care to speculate on whose interests they actually serve?

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