The Leftist delusion of a world without danger

Thomas Hobbs, who was born into the waning years of the 16th Century and lived three-quarters of the way through the 17th Century, in his great work, Leviathan, characterized man’s life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He was not an optimist.

William Hogarth's Gin Lane

Hobbs may have been a pessimist, but he was also quite accurate.  In a pre-industrial, pre-scientific era, half of the children lucky enough to survive childbirth would die before their fifth birthday, with death usually resulting either from disease or accident (falling into an open fireplace or drowning in a well or waterhole were accidents common to the pre-modern era).

If one was lucky enough to survive early childhood, life still didn’t get much easier.  Even in stable communities, food supplies were unreliable; crime was prevalent; war had a nasty habit of breaking out all over; disease stalked everyone; childbirth was the scourge of young women; lightning and cooking caused deadly fires that swept through wood-built communities; and weather forecasts were nonexistent and weather deaths (cold, heat, lightening, floods, winds, etc.) were commonplace.  Old age was a rarity — or at the very least, was defined differently, with a toothless crone in her late 40s qualifying as “old.”

For those who managed to avoid premature death, life was dark indeed.  I mean that literally.  Except for the very rich, who could enj0y beeswax, the poor lit their homes (which usually had no windows) with smoky fires or tallow lights that left everything smelling like an old fryer at McDonalds.

Personal cleanliness was viewed with suspicion (as a sign of moral debauchery) so it wasn’t uncommon for people to go a lifetime without bathing.  Nor was this filth limited to the lower classes who had no access to running water.  James I of England was famous for his certainty that bathing would kill him.  Even the marginally clean English found his personal habits distasteful.  Streets and sewers were interchangeable, with people in buildings tossing the contents of their chamber pots into the streets, regardless of passing pedestrians.

Child Labor minor miners

The Hobbesian world began to change with the industrial revolution.  Wealth was no longer tied to the land and, therefore, finite.  It was suddenly infinite.  Although the initial transition from agricultural to industrial wrought appalling havoc for the poor, by chaining them to factory labor or coal mines in conditions that were little better than slavery, working their children to death, and herding them into filthy urban ghettos, overall the standard of living rose for everyone.  The rich, of course, benefited first, but the poor did too, to the point at which (at least before the endless Obama recession) even the poorest in American (unless they were insane homeless people) were able to buy cool shoes and disposable cell phones at Walmart.  Poverty became a matter of discomfort, not death.

Louis Pasteur

Things became even better when the scientific revolution picked up steam.  Suddenly, scientists and physicians had the comforting illusion that, when it come to the mysteries of disease, they could see all and know all.  Bacteria were visible and, with Penicillin, vulnerable.  Ailments originating within the body (a hot appendix, a bladder stone, even a damaged heart valve) could be fixed.  Viruses bowed down before vaccinations.  We were going to live forever.  Indeed, even though we 21st century residents haven’t actually achieved immortality, our modern lifespans would have been unimaginable only a century ago.

Battledore and Shuttlecock in 1845

One of the most stunning byproducts of the industrial and scientific ages was childhood, not just as a biological reality, but as an intellectual construct.  Past times recognized infancy and early childhood (until about 7 years old) as times of necessary development and dependency.  After that, though, right up until the Victorian age, children older than 7 or 10 years were regarded as mini-adults.  They were put to work in field or factory, indentured to trade, married in their mid-teens, and generally given responsibilities that, nowadays, we still consider too extreme even for “children” in their mid-20s.  Even twenty years ago, people would have laughed at the thought that “children” of 26 were dependents for insurance purposes.  Go back a time a few more decades than that, and the rules were simple:  if you survived childhood, you headed rapidly into adulthood.

These very positive historical trends have left us with one very wrongheaded delusion:  the belief that we can insulate ourselves and, especially, our children from all danger.

Old-time football player

Sometimes, the very act of insulation creates greater, counter-intuitive risks.  Those of us who don’t remember football being so dangerous in decades past are right.  It’s not just that we were less aware of the risks, it’s that football players had less protective gear.  It was a speed and passing game, one that favored smaller players and less aggressive contact.  Leather helmets provided some protection, but did not encourage players to pretend that they were big horn sheep who could engage in serious headbutting.  Once players became enswathed in protective gear — high-tech helmets and shoulder pads — they began to play a more aggressive game, one that favored big players and high impact tackles.  In other words, the counter-intuitive result of more protective gear in football is a higher, rather than a lower injury rate.

19th century boxers

The same is true in the boxing world.  When boxers were bare handed, they couldn’t land a hit harder than their own knuckles would bear.  As between a solid jaw bone and a knuckle bone, the jaw usually won.  Even with the advent of gloves, the early gloves were thin enough that the striker still had a risk about equal to that of the person on the receiving end.  It was only when the boxing world shifted to massively padded gloves, which successfully insulate the knuckles, that boxers were able to land such devastating strikes against their opponents’ jaws, eye sockets, and temples.

Tony Peitrantonio knockout

We’ve also over-protected ourselves is in the battle between antibiotics and bacteria. After a seventy year run in the antibiotics’ favor, the bacteria have regrouped and are coming back strong. One regularly reads upsetting stories about treatment-resistant bacteria.  Tuberculosis has the potential to become a scourge again; MRSA haunts hospital hallways; and many of us our digging out our grandmothers’ household hint books to find out how people treated garden-variety infections (cuts and ear aches) in the era before antibiotics came along.  In the same way, we’re facing the ugly truth that, due to a combination of parents resisting vaccination, and diseases resisting vaccination, old childhood scourges such as chicken pox, whooping cough, and measles are on the upswing.

We can’t win for losing.  Or rather, we have become so confident of our victories that we forget that the enemy — even one that lacks cognitive abilities — is as intent upon its own survival and is as adaptable as we are.

The above are, in a way, mechanical protective reflexes, where industrialism and science enable us to place barriers between us and objects or pathogens that are dangerous.  What is a peculiarly Leftist foible is believing that we can ignore entirely Nature writ large, human nature, or cultural pathology.

Going back to the topic of childhood mortality, the sad fact is that, while kids once fell prey to disease, they now fall prey to all sorts of other things, some new and some old.  Here’s a 2007 snapshot of the things that killed American children who survived congenital diseases in infancy:

Car accidents:  6,683 deaths
Firearm homicide:  2,186 deaths
Suffocation/strangling:  1,263 deaths
Non-firearm homicides:  1,159
Drowning:  1,045 deaths
Poisoning:  927 deaths
Suffocation suicide:  739 deaths
Firearm suicide:  683 deaths
Fires/Burns:  544 deaths
Firearm accidents:  138 deaths
Poisoning suicide:  133 deaths

What may leap out at you is how many children died in 2007. What leaps out to me, since I’ve always bathed my brain in history, is how few children died in 2007.  Although each of the above numbers represents indescribable grief, the percentage of child deaths is infinitesimal compared to the overall population of children in America.  Moreover, by far the largest number of deaths occurred in a peculiarly utilitarian way:  car accidents.  These were unintentional deaths that resulted from an object that is integral to our society’s functioning.

Bloods gang member with gun

The next highest number of deaths, as any Progressive would point out, is indeed from guns.  But here’s what the white liberals ignore until there’s a Columbine or Sandy Hook that makes them feel vulnerable  In that same year (2007) that 3,345 American children were murdered, here are the statistics for male youth deaths within the black community:

52.3% of black, male 15-19 year olds who died were murdered.
15.5% of black, male 10-14 year olds who died were murdered.
6.3% of black, male 5-9 year olds who died were murdered.
14.3% of black, male 1-4 year olds who died were murdered.

The situation is better, but not much, for black girls in 2007, as they are less likely to die as teens, but more likely to die as toddlers:

18.3% of black, female 15-19 year olds who died were murdered.
9.3% of black, female 10-14 year olds who died were murdered.
6.5% of black, female 5-9 year olds who died were murdered.
15.3% of black, female 1-4 year olds who died were murdered.

In other words, we don’t have a gun problem:  we have a black-children-are-getting-murdered problem. Those liberals who pay any attention at all to deaths that don’t involve white suburban children, never bothered looking at human nature in order to determine how to deal with the problem.

They didn’t look at the way welfare renders stable, earning males obsolete, thereby breaking down the family unit and forcing young men to find other ways than family and maturity to prove their “manliness.”  They didn’t consider that if you attack Judeo-Christian morality without providing an alternative morality, you end up with no morality.  They didn’t consider that advancing abortion in all-black communities is a subliminal message that black lives are disposable.  Instead, they ignored the human factor entirely and decided that, if they made weapons illegal, the communities would instantly become hippie-like communes of peace, with a little pot on the side.

Because Progressives thought they could bring a mechanical solution to a human problem, even more black children died.  Think of it this way:  Getting rid of bacteria doesn’t make them go away.  They come back stronger in different ways.  Likewise, getting rid of guns doesn’t make murder vanish.  Humans get creative with other forms of murder, and guns go underground and, removed from law and morality, get applied in ever more violent ways.

We cannot protect ourselves into safety.  The world is a dangerous place, albeit infinitely less dangerous than it has ever before been.  We are deluding ourselves if we believe that, either through hyper-safety mechanisms or bans (bans on bacteria or bans on guns) we can instantly make things safer.  In fact, it’s often the case that eradicating the danger entirely is either a delusion (bacteria are still out there) or creates worse dangers than that we originally sought to avoid.

What we can do is try to modify certain behaviors in order to decrease (although never eliminate) risk.  If antibiotics are becoming less useful, let’s wash our hands more often.  If violence is plaguing a community, let’s try to temper the community by giving people constructive purposes in life and by creating a sensibility that values life.  Getting rid of guns will not get rid of violence.  Valuing life might just diminish it somewhat, though.

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  • David Foster

    To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.
    –Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

  • JKB

    This is from just a bit over 100 years ago
    At about that time one of my students, interested in the early history of New York, happened to call upon an old woman living in a shanty midway between these two schools. She was an old inhabitant, and one of the early roadways that the student was hunting had passed near her house. In conversation with the woman he learned that she had had five children, all of whom had been taken from her some years before, within a fortnight, by scarlet fever; and that since then she had been living alone. When he remarked that she must feel lonesome at times, tears came to her eyes, and she replied, “Sometimes.” As he was leaving she thanked him for his call and remarked that she seldom had any visitors; she added that, if some one would drop in now and then, either to talk or to read to her, she would greatly appreciate it; her eyes had so failed that she could no longer read for herself.

    Just 100 years ago in the Liberal bastion that is today’s New York City, five children of the same mother dead in 2 weeks.  And then, eyes failing she lived in loneliness unable even to read.  


  • Earl

    I’m afraid you’re committing logic in public again, BW….. 
    That generally gets you nowhere, these days.

  • Ymarsakar

    Getting rid of the Left is the first step of prosperity and security for humanity. In order to do that, people have to start understanding the true nature of the problem and where it really comes from.

  • Spartacus

    Possibly landed in the parking lot, Mrs. B-Dub, but definitely cleared the stadium wall.

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  • johnfromcolumbus

    “If violence is plaguing a community, let’s try to temper the community by giving people constructive purposes in life and by creating a sensibility that values life.”
    BW, you nailed it!
    Ymarsakar, I agree with you.  I’ve tried to convince my left wing friends to see the error of their thinking and end up despondent.
    By the way, when I ride my motorcycle with a full face helmet, as opposed to either no helmet or a half helmet, I ride much more aggressively.  The full face helmet blocks out the wind force and noise giving me a false sense of safety and my reaction is to ride it like I stole it.  Much more dangerous that way.

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  • Earl

    johnfromcolumbus:  Bingo.  I remember reading about a study of accidents done shortly after airbags were mandated in all cars.  They expected deaths to drop dramatically and it didn’t happen.  Digging deeper, they found that people WITH airbags drove more aggressively than people without them….just as you observed in your motorcycle riding.
    It’s been a long time, so maybe it was fewer deaths, but lots more accidents – the precipitating driver behavior was, however, more aggressive driving.

  • Ymarsakar

    One cannot convince a religious believer that what they are in is a death cult bent on human sacrifices and evil… without some serious firepower, boots on the neck, or some other interrogative/psychologically traumatic process.
    One should not underestimate the loyalty of the human slave to their masters, nor the difficulty of de brainwashing those in a cult. Ask the guys who tried to get Jim Jones’ cult members out, if you don’t believe me. You think it was easy? You think words could have convinced them to leave? It didn’t.
    I no more expect Leftists to see the truth than I expect religious missionaries to be able to convert me with the Word or vice a versa. The difference is that it’s fine by me if people don’t believe me. But the Left… the LEft has several things in store for you if you don’t believe. Quite nasty all in all.

  • Ymarsakar

    Earl, hearing from some associates in Australia, they think their nation has figured out the solution, because they don’t have gun rampages any more. So they want us to adopt some of the stuff they have adopted in Australia or perhaps EU. Things like nationalized gun registration. They make mention of the 22 casualties in China from the knife guy, but they take care to say that those 22 children didn’t “die”. The “trauma” of “violence” is infinitely to be preferred, they say, over our actual “gun deaths” here in the US.
    That is, of course, viewed by many here in the US as serf thinking. To be become inured to “tolerating violence” because one has invested all power and writ of right into the “government”. To get to the point where one thinks being stabbed by mad men with knives is “better” than being killed by rampaging mass murderers with rifles and guns…. that somehow the “automatic” potential of “military style” rifles is the reason why we have deaths.
    You see, they, like many Americans, have no idea what the real issue is, so their solutions often tend to make the problem worse or make the population into slaves. A single madmen cannot destroy a country’s virtue and character… but a nation of slaves can.
    The fact that Sidney has one of the highest knife crime and assaults in existence, especially around the “bars” there… speaks well of the fact that government regulations increase violence, not decrease it. The fact that the sheep are satisfied that guns aren’t there to kill them, is the reward they think is worth perpetual violence and trauma… not something you would have heard an American frontiers man or woman claim for their reward. The beliefs of many Americans, even now, is we got to kill the people who need killing, and that’s how we get rid of the problem source.
    If you see converts, you must target the victims of the Left’s violence. The blacks, the minorities suffering from poverty and crime. Make them hate the Left via telling the truth, one doesn’t even need lies to generate true hatred. Make them see what the real problem is, and their hate will redirect towards the righteous cause. They can be convinced. The white overlords watching from on high as the kiddies get slaughter, while talking out the other side of their mouth how taxing the rich will pay for all these poverty induced sufferings… won’t be convinced. Not without that boot on the neck at least. But then, the LEft already has their boot on the neck of born blacks in the US. That’s the trick, you see.

  • Earl

    Ymar: That all sounds right, except that I don’t think that John Q. Public is nearly as happy as the (fully protected) “intellectual” class, in either Australia or the UK.
    Consider this:
    Caravanner, 61, prosecuted for having Swiss Army knife in his glove box… to cut up fruit on picnics
    “He was arrested for suspected drink-driving but a breath test showed he was under the legal limit, the court was told.
    But Knowles was charged with possession of the (Swiss Army) knife, which was found in its pouch in the car glove compartment.”
    The comments are instructive……

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  • USMaleSF

    The “health and safety” obsession of Liberals is well situated within this delusion of being able to create a world without risk, as you so clearly point out.

    Your post made me realize that the Sandy Hook gun control push is a classic moral panic.

    It has all the earmarks. Which makes it just as rational and useful as pogroms or burning witches.

  • Freddie Sykes

    RE Although the initial transition from agricultural to industrial wrought appalling havoc for the poor…

    Prior to the agricultural reveloution, perhaps 80% of workers were food producers. This number quickly dropped to 40% and continued to decline. I think that the timing of the industrial revolution resulted in a overall decrease in the suffering of these vast numbers of displaced workers. In England, there was a painful transition from farm to factory. In Ireland, factories were not an option and millions either starved when their subsistence crop failed or were forced to emigrate.

  • Ron19

    Ymarsakar # 16:

    If you see converts, you must target the victims of the Left’s violence. The blacks, the minorities suffering from poverty and crime. Make them hate the Left via telling the truth, one doesn’t even need lies to generate true hatred. Make them see what the real problem is, and their hate will redirect towards the righteous cause. They can be convinced.

     Some suplementary reading material, by Kevin Jackson:

    The BIG Black Lie: How I Learned The Truth About The Democrat Party

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