I was at a conference in Milwaukee and someone asked me if I was still blogging. To my semi-astonishment, I realized that I had three distinct blogs that were all sitting idle. The other two at least have a distinct purpose that I could jumpstart if I had a notion; this one, with no more podcast, is for what, free-form pontificating?
Yes! Plenty of research has shown the high levels of expressive motivation held by bloggers, and I am no exception. So here's what's been on my mind: When did we all start to shit our pants over safety so much?
My perception of this history of this phenomenon is truncated by the fact that I'm only 30, but my sense is that for centuries, probably up until the post-WWII era, death was understood to be a part of life. You tried to avoid it, obviously, but illness and famine and industrial accidents happened. Infant mortality was high. Wars were fought sword-to-sword, and they were fought relatively often. You did what you could.
Over the last half-century, things have changed dramatically. Medical technology has evolved as quickly as any other sector, and more quickly than most. Dangerous workplaces have implemented safety provisions (as the behest of government regulation, for the most part) and become less dangerous. We don't go to war like we used to -- wars are primarily rationalized as defensive, fought with fewer troops and with fewer direct confrontations. We've got way more food than we need (and by "we," I mean the west). And yet, just in my lifetime, we have become a society in which children are supervised and thoroughly padded throughout the vast majority of their leisure time, and in which no one bats an eye when the president says his job is to "provide security for the American people" (it's actually to preserve and defend the Constitution -- says so right in the oath!).
You might think I have some theory I'm leading towards, and I do. We've reached a point where we are much closer to functional immortality than we've ever been before. Obviously we're not there yet -- people are still dying in massive numbers, after all -- but the number of problems we can't fix or easily avoid is much, much smaller than it ever was. This is the uncanny valley of mortality. As we get closer and closer to solving the problem of death, we completely lose our minds about it, giving over huge amounts of power to those how suggest they can get us to the promised land. Now, I don't know if this is true, of course, but I'm fairly confident that the manic fear of death is on an upward trajectory within American society. I'm hopeful that the General Social Survey has some helpful data on this and will be taking a look into it.