The Ethics of Danger


This sign on the beach states that it’s prohibited to swim. It’s not prohibited to swim everywhere on that beach, but it’s prohibited where the live guards are unable see you. So 50m to the right and to the left it’s allowed to swim. What a farce.
First of all it’s highly unethical to prohibit anyone anywhere from swimming in the sea. Same as every private beach at the sea or at lakes is a disaster for human kind. If nature can only be enjoyed by the privileged few than we (and it doesn’t matter if it’s one private square meter or 1 million) end up in the world of „Gattaca“ or „Soylent Green“. But that’s a different story. So again: You cannot forbid anyone to swim in the ocean, where ever he likes to swim.
The reason of the prohibition here is safety. You should swim, where the life guards can see you, so you should swim, where you can be rescued, where it’s safe. This is another charade.
As a human it is my own decision, if I want to do something dangerous that is not hurting anyone else. It is definitely not the decision of the city council or whoever made these signs. If I want to swim at a spot in the ocean, where no lifeguards protect me, it’s my own decision. You cannot not allow me to put myself at risk and danger. The solution here would be to put a sign that states „no lifeguard protection in this area“. It’s very responsible to inform someone of an inherent danger. But in the end the responsibility for myself lies within me. If I want to swim in the dangerous ocean it’s my decision, if I want to swim in the storm, it’s my decision. Same as it would be my right as a human to commit suicide. In contrary to the beliefs of some controversial religious world views like christianity, my life belongs to me and if I feel like ending it, than this is my right to do so.
We are moving into a direction where the state thinks he needs to take more and more responsibilities off the people. Like in some countries you have to wear a helmet when you ride a bike. Now some people might say „yes, it makes a lot of sense to wear a helmet when you ride a bike“. Yes that’s very true, but that’s not the point. It also „makes sense“ to swim where the life guards can see you. Yes this all makes a lot of sense. But life is not just about making sense from a certain point of view, which is mostly safety in thats case (hidden as rationality). So the state and the society that it represents have this code of ethics where it assumes that the most important thing for human beings is safety and health. But only because this is the common view doesn’t authorize the state to induce this view on every citizen. A human being can have a complete different point of view where he beliefs, for example, that the most important things are freedom or experiences or suffering or whatever. And as long as I don’t hurt anyone else, my beliefs have to be accepted. That’s why you cannot make it a law that people need to wear helmets. Because it’s my own responsibility. You can show me a statistic where you show the severeness of injuries in road accidents where the biker didn’t wear a helmet, and I thank you for that, but that’s it. If I want to bike without a helmet it’s my own decision. You can even argue that there is something like a risk homeostasis where wearing a helmet makes you more prone to have an accident because you feel more safe. Boom.
We can make this list longer and longer. Like the law that you have to wear a seat belt. Again, I don’t potentially hurt anyone else than myself by not wearing a seat belt. The 3 point belt is one of the greatest inventions of the automotive history and most likely the most crucial safety factor in the car. To wear the seat belt is rational, it makes a lot of sense. I never had a moment where I thought „now I don’t want to wear a seat belt“, but still it’s my responsibility and if I get a fine over 30€ (germany) for not wearing a seat belt than again this is a farce.
I admit here that there is another thing to it: that many people are not putting responsibility in their own hands. Here a simple statistic: When germany started to fine people 40DM for not putting their seat belts in the year 1984 it increased the percentage of belted passengers from 60% to 90%.
But does the fact that we are idiots allow the government to take responsibilties away from us?
Crossing a red light is a bit more tricky for example, because I can potentially hurt other people. But if I cross a red light on an empty street, than the responsibility again belongs to me.
The state or institutions taking away responsibilites from the people is especially an anglo-saxon phenomenon. London is full of these signs.
Please let me put myself at danger. Let me swim in the ocean, take the 147 flights of stairs, ride the bicycle without a helmet, cross a red light, climb trees, balance in height. As long as I don’t (also potentially) hurt someone else, please just let me be.

„That government is best which governs least“
H. D. Thoreau

Joseph Bartz
Originally posted on Facebook: The Ethics of Danger

Response to Discussion on Facebook

Great discussion. There are a few main topics here discussed, I'll try to summarize them and add what I think:
First of all children where mentioned and I just want to say, that for me, children and adults are two complete different entities. This text is referring to adults.
Most of the other remarks are accusing me of having an egoistical view on the topic. I purposefully chose to do that in this text, yes. Let me tell you, that I am very aware of the other side of the coin. As Jens mentioned: I missed a few Blablas.
We can sum it up like that:
If you die, your mother will be full of grief for the rest of her life. It doesn't really matter why you died (at least in our society. There might be some places in the world where a martyrdom is held so high that a mother is proud of it's sons death blabla).
I use the picture of the Mother here as the epitome of induced sadness by the one that died.
Now please read this sentence again, that many of you missed, but is one of the key points of my text:
"As long as I don’t (also potentially) hurt someone else, please just let me be".
Realize there is the word "potentially". Of course this has to be put into perspective, because the potential is always given. If I step out of the door in the morning, it might be, that I get killed this day, let's say by a car and therefore induce grief to my friends and familiy, the policemen and firefighters that examine my dead body as well as the driver who will most likely never fully recover from the shock of having killed another human being. But the potential of that happening is very low. Same as when I drive the car: I can potentially very easily kill people, but as long as I drive with reason, the risk is very low. (Yes now someone will tell me, that this is not true and blabla)
So I already included that complexity into my initial text, but didn't go deeper into it. This is a HUGE topic. (I would like to mention here, that in the particular case of this beach the likelyhood of needing a lifeguard if you can swim is 0, as there is almost no surf and the water is very shallow).
"Let's say you don't wear a helmet while riding your bicycle; if a car hits you, and kills you because you didn't wear the helmet, you have forced killing into the life of another person." Sean.
If we go to complexity in the topic, than we can go even more complex than that. First of all, I suppose it's very difficult to clearly say that someone wouldn't have died if wearing a helmet, it's guess work. As Roland (Philia Jameel) mentioned there is no evidence that bike helmets are clearly more safe. I could go further here, but I think that's enough, I actually love Sean's point, if traffic has a certain potential danger and everyone agreed on certain measurements against them, that therefore shape behavior and there is an evident reduction of the danger through this behavior it makes a lot of sense to dial in. (for example: In Europe you are taking over left from other cars. Everyone agreed on this and it makes driving more safe. Other countries like Thailand don't have this rule, there people are aware that you can be overtaken left and right, which means: Overtaking someone from the right in germany is potentially much more dangerous than in Thailand).
Another point mentioned is that the sign doesn't really change the reality. This is an inductive mistake. Only because a sign that you saw somewhere didn't change your reality doesn't mean that all signs do not change reality. Actually this sign changed my reality because the life guards shouted at me to go to the area they are protecting (a bit of a paradox, realizing it was a 5m difference). Yes there are many signs that do not change reality. We are training Parkour at a place in Berlin with a sign that states you shouldn't jump the walls for example, but it's just for insurance reasons, no one ever complains. But now you go to a country like the Emirates where there are very harsh penalties on possessing Marijuhana. I do not hurt anyone (leave out for now the cost for society of me becoming potentially less economicly efficient as a worker as well as the probablity of changes in my charakter through a high dose of weed and therefore grief induced to the people close to me) using Marijuhana for myself, but now my reality is changed, because possessing it in the Emirates might get me into jail for several years. Blabla. It also changes my reality if I get fined for not wearing a helmet while biking.
Another thing mentioned is that if I do not use the seatbelt while driving I might potentially hurt others through my body flying around. Fair enoug, I was actually aware of that, but wanted to use the example anyway to make a point.
Some people mentioned the cost to society of someones death or injury. There is a cost of me being alive, there is a cost of me dying and being dead. There is economics, there is a cost for nature (do I just take, or do I give back?) etc. etc. this is a completely different topic. I could as well argue now that if I do not wear a bike helmet I am hurting the bike helmet industry and now someone is out of a job and he cannot pay for the education of his children. Yes, we are all connected. Yes, no one is an island. If I step into a lake I changed it. All my actions and unactions have effect. Every breath that I take has effect. Every blink of my eyes has an effect on the world.
Thanks for the discussion guys, open for arguments.