Thursday 7 November 2019

Racing driver or Sunday Afternoon driver? Avoidance versus coping skills in dealing with the ethical hazards of Western secular modernity

When it comes to matters such a sex education in particular, and ethical education in general (eg attitudes to alcohol, drugs, violence...); the mainstream view is that in raising and preparing children for life, the best idea is to 'equip' them with skills for difficult life situations; so that when they confront difficulties, they will be able to cope.

A more traditional approach is to avoid the situations in the first place, as much as possible.

Of course, some combination is required - but avoidance is far more effective than coping skills; as ought to be very obvious from history. But perhaps the analogy of the racing driver will help.

A professional racing driver, for example in Formula One, is a supremely skilled driver - as he must be, because Formula One racing is extremely difficult and dangerous.

By contrast, a Little Old Lady who, after passing her test, drives only a few hundred miles per year (mostly on Sunday afternoons) is a very low skill driver.

If the LOL was forced into a Formula One race, she would be killed very quickly (and probably kill some others), if she could even get her car moved off the starting line.

But who is most likely to be killed, or have a serious accident? The racing driver, of course!

Many of the greatest racing drivers in history were killed, while racing. The racing environment is many thousands, or millions, of times more hazardous than a 30mph putter through the countryside for a few miles. By contrast, little old ladies with low mileage are a very low risk group - as reflected in their low insurance premiums.

Clearly it would be better to be somewhat more skilled than the LOL, but how much is worthwhile, especially if/ when increasing skills is also likely to increase exposure to risk?

Of course, the racing drivers would be even safer than the LOL - but would a dedicated driver with thousands of hours of training and experience be willing - after all that - to have such low mileage at such low speeds? Unlikely. And he might be killed during the training.

So training all drivers to the highest possible standard is Not a way to reduce death and injury IF those drivers are then inserted into a high risk environment. In practice, it will kill more than it helps.

(Mathematically; we could say that skill increased linearly with training, but hazards increase exponentially - so with increasing training-hazards the hazards increasingly outstrip the gains from training.)

The ethical analogy is that we might be trying to reduce sexual promiscuity, teen pregnancy, venereal disease, dangerous drug usage, alcohol binge drinking, or some such. The mainstream modern idea is that this is done by increasing 'coping skills'. It Does not Work - obviously...

Yet such people mock those who advocate abstinence and avoidance, which do work - and also are relatively robust. Complete avoidance may not be achievable, just as zero mileage in a car is impossible for many people. But low exposure (lower frequency, lower severity) is lower risk than frequent exposure; just as moderate mileage (10,000 miles per year) is lower risk than high mileage (100,000 miles per year).

As a strong generalisation, avoidance and risk minimisation is the only powerfully effective way of reducing the harms of risk. 

A highly selected and superbly trained Marine or Paratrooper is much more likely to be killed than a feeble stay-at-home; and one who lives in a frequent environment of promiscuity, drug use, alcohol overconsumption is much more likely to become a promiscuous junkie alcoholic than someone who tries to avoid such situations.   

In high risk situations, skills, training, coping mechanisms are never enough. Reducing the exposure to high risk situations is far more effective.

And at a social level, although complete risk removal is very seldom possible; nonetheless reducing the pervasiveness and severity of morally hazardous situations is the best way of promoting ethical behaviour. 

Obviously! - one would have thought...

If you want to avoid being killed in a road traffic accident, the little old lady is a better role model than Lewis Hamilton. But not so 'cool' - and therein lies the problem...


Bruce Charlton said...

LOL is US doctor's slang that was popularised from 1978 by The House of God - a novel about being a medical intern - it is part of LOL in NAD - Little Old Lady in No Apparent Distress; a code, written by the admitting doctor on the patient's notes/ chart.

(I once wrote about this in a piece concerned with medical slang for an article in The Times (of London) back in the day when I did paid journalism, and when freelance journalism was well paid...)

Dave said...

Which is why most white people cope with diversity by moving out into rural areas. In a low-trust society where minor disputes often turn deadly, it helps to minimize contact with other people.

Because martial-arts training is no guarantee you'll survive a real street fight, and the training itself takes a toll on your body.

Faculty X said...

General agreement though the details are vexing.

If the general principle is avoidance when does one move forward?

From a spiritual perspective if you wait and practice great avoidance you are a monk.

However life can call too.

Do you think it is possible when we have little information before a big decision that would involve such matters of being in the world to make better choices?

I would like to think the Most High would guide us in these types of decisions but I have no experience of such guidance being reliable or even perceivable.

Bruce Charlton said...

FX. As I said some combination is required. But our culture disdains avoidance and encourages training to cope with deliberate high exposure to immorality. This is encouraged by our demon serving leaders, precisely because it does not work.