Are we addicted to safety?

Excessive need of safety and a need to control all possible dangers has made some Europeans, especially the young and old, increasingly frightened. Sometimes so afraid they are unable to lead a worthwhile life.

Do we really need the authorities to treat us like children? If we don’t want a future society filled of people that have to be taken care of it’s time for governments and the European Union to step back and let people use their judgement about what’s safe and what’s not.

It’s a result of governments cushioning their citizens from conception to death in order to control the people. But the irony is that these governments have become scared as well and are hence forbidding anything that could possibly pose a remote danger for a small fraction of the population. As a result both the public and the authorities are increasingly unable to handle a crisis and get paralyzed when “danger” strikes.

Protected from conception to death

Many Europeans live in a padded world and expect perfect safety. Anything that could possibly pose a danger is swiftly outlawed. It’s illegal for children under 15 to cycle without a helmet and many of the toys we played with as children are forbidden since they may be dangerous.

When it comes to old age life should be saved at all costs in the safe world. Sincerely what’s the point of keeping a 90-year-old who had a severe heart attack that ruined half the brain alive? Maybe the chance is one in a million that he will suddenly wake up from his coma to find all his loved ones dead and gone. It’s crazy to keep life away from danger, no matter what. And what kind of life? But to let someone like that pass away would, from the authorities point of view, be dangerous. To whom?

When it comes to safety on the roads the Swedish governmental authority in charge is aiming for no deaths in traffic. I’m sorry but the only way of achieving that is to stop traffic on the streets completely. Not only cars but cycles, pedestrians and anything else as well.

Off course we all want the world to be safe. But it can go too far as it seems to me it has done in some European countries, notably Sweden. The European Union and governments are forbidding one thing after another and if they don’t stop we will not be able to do anything because it could, after all, be dangerous, even though there are no evidence supporting such claims.

Do we really need to ban everything that could possibly be dangerous?

Zillions of chemicals have been banned by the European Union without any evidence proving they are dangerous. Usually it’s a case of they may have been harmful to some animal and chances of them posing a threat to human beings are one in 10,000 or 1,000,000. Naturally dangerous substances should be banned. But do we really have to ban things that have not so far posed any danger to mankind, just because some scientist have shown that they may, possibly have a harmful effect on, say, mice?

How many workplaces in Western Europe are not safe?

Same goes for working environment. How many workplaces in Western Europe are currently not safe? However, to justify their existence government authorities in charge of such issues are now targeting small and irrelevant issues. Companies and hospitals are suddenly told that they will be fined unless they inform employees in writing about what safety precautions to take. Even though they have all been told and are taking the necessary precautions. The only thing this achieves is making companies and hospitals, spend a lot of time dealing with bureaucracy in order to avoid being penalized. Time that could be better spent.

People start relying on the state to take care of everything

Many times this is due to well-meaning efforts but it has over the years also become a tool for governments to control the population. The side effect is that people believe the government will protect them against everything and stop thinking for themselves. Whenever something goes wrong in their lives they hence expect the authorities to sort it out. So addicted to safety are, above all Swedes, that depression and other psychic ailments have increased tremendously. In particular for people born after the 70s.

How did we survive childhood?

Do we really want to live in nanny states that tell us in detail what we can or cannot do? Can’t help wondering how we survived childhood playing with dangerous toys and cycling without helmets? And we were outside doing things all the time without getting into danger. And so were older people.

Now with the environment being so sanitized and nothing dangerous around Swedes should presumably be healthier? But no, severe allergies such as asthma has increased 35-40%. Higher than in Southern Poland with all their pollution.

People have stopped thinking for themselves

But what scares me most is that people have stopped thinking for themselves and just rely on the state to tell them what to do. Teenagers get panic attacks because of their girlfriend leaving them is common. They then get depressed, can’t work/go to school and expect the state to provide counselling and cradle them back to safety.

There is no such thing as safety. The only thing that’s certain in life is that everything is uncertain. Understand completely that it’s in the interest of politicians to get power and control the people by making them dependant on them. But the result is people who cannot judge what’s dangerous, handle a problem and move on. If we don’t want a future society filled of people who have to be taken care of it’s time for governments and the European Union to step back and let people use their judgement about what’s safe and what’s not. Let children fall when they are cycling and play with whatever toys they want. We could handle it, why should today’s children be different?

Photo: PhotoXpress – Waldemar Boniecki

40 thoughts on “Are we addicted to safety?

  1. Ha ha! Came across this great article after having a somewhat similar discussion with a US friend. She was telling me how people were affraid to let the neighbors' kids come over to play on their trampoline.
    If something were to happen to the kids, like fall off and break something, they might get sued… 😮

  2. A very interesting discussion, thanks for getting it going. I'm afraid that the balance between government intervention with e goal of keeping us safe vs. civil liberties is shifting in the favor of government.

  3. Years ago I was in New Hampshire, the state whose motto is, “Live Free or Die” and noted that people were driving their motorcycles without helmets. That seemed crazy to me and I wondered why they didn’t have legislation forcing them to wear them. It was at that point that I wondered if the fact that they don’t have public health coverage didn’t influence their laws. Since then, when I see governments behaving in extremely cautionary ways around safety matters, I always turn to health expenditures as a possible cause. It’s not a perfect correlation, but it seems that the more money a nation spends as a percentage of GDP on health costs, the more likely they are to start implementing restrictive safety measures. I can’t say for sure, but from the examples you provided, Canadian and Swedish governments have adopted similar approaches. Actually, you might even be less cautious than Canada because you have better outcomes and spend less. In 2010, Sweden spent slightly less (1.8%) on health as a percent of GDP than Canada and yet you do better on life expectancy and infant mortality.

    Essentially, we are spending similar amounts but Sweden has more physicians, nurses and hospital beds per 1000 population than Canada. Given what you spend and the outcomes you are achieving, there is every incentive for your government to keep doing what it’s doing. It’s ridiculous forcing people to live in a bubble, but I think it’s a common response to government funded healthcare.

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    1. That's a positive aspect of some of the regulations, Debra. But it's mainly the European Union that's coming out with the regulations so they apply to all 27 member states. Many of them are the result of lobbying by, for instance, pharmaceutical companies. As a result vitamins can not be strong and some herbal supplements are not allowed. Ecological lampbulbs that make little difference when it comes to the environment but are really expensive is another result of lobbying. Another aspect is that socialists the last century wanted to make people rely on them to think and not think for themselves. And many people do rely on the government to sort everything out. Teenagers today demand counselling when their boyfriend or girlfriend dumped them. Wonder how we survived our teens without getting counselling?

      1. We've seem similar challenges around herbal remedies here, but because the regulatory system was not initially set up to look at them, they stayed available on the market. The herbal remedies folks were also alert to any threats and aggressively responded to any attempts to limit their availability. I wrote about it in my post called "It's alive, 5 lessons on advocating with social media." Having said that, there has been tremendous pressure to manage it.

        As to counselling teenagers over break ups, clearly there is something good to be said about difficult economic times. We can't afford to pay for that so its not going to happen here. And I guess that's your point, whether its affordable, sensible or doable, it not up to your government alone to decide. It makes you question the value of your citizenship. Certainly would make me question the political structures that influence how I live.
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        1. Debra, the main point I'm making is that by making people stop thinking for themselves you ruin people. If it's expensive or not to have teenagers see a counsellor when they break up with their boy/girlfriend is beside the point. What's important is that they are not able to handle it by themselves as we did. And it's common that they see counsellors. When you spoil people so much they don't even think for themselves you also make sure their future is bleak. How are they going to compete on the global market? Would they be able to live on the other side of the world where the government doesn't protect them? How would they cope with, say, life in Africa?

      1. Grace, don't you think using seat belts is one of the laws that do make sense? Have friends that had relatives who died for one reason only – they did not use a seat belt. That's different from forbidding a chemical that could, maybe, cause cancer in one in 100 million people. Or deciding that vitamins can only be very weak in order to convey with the demands of the pharmaceutical lobbyists. Another idiotic thing is that you can only use one type of "environmentally friendly" lampbulb that is extremely expensive. And the sad part is that it hardly benefits the environment at all. Why? Because the lobbyists from that kind of industries were successful.

  4. I agree that there is no such thing as complete safety. I remember as a child, like you do, that we rode bikes without helmets and played in the dirt. Now, if a child gets his hands dirty, his or her mother rushes to wash them immediately. Can't risk any germs!

    I think our Mayor of New York City has a done a terrific job in his almost 12 years in office. But even he did something silly. He tried to get a law passed that would have banned large size bottles of soda with sugar because of our obesity problem here in the U.S. What was to stop people from buying two smaller bottles!? It caused an uproar and he abandoned the idea. You can't legislate everyone's behavior all the time.
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  5. This is a very good question. I see it happening here in the USA due to and after 9/11. There is this sense that the government is responsible for the safety of all its citizens. I understand why that is but at what cost. The truth is no government can be an all protector. To try or to do so could lead to dyer consequences. Just my thoughts.

  6. There are some rules that I like, such as bans on trans fats. Then there are others that I find ridiculous, like the sizes of soda can bans (these are in NYC). I don't mind some government intervention, but I certainly do not want a nanny state. At the other extreme, a baby cousin once sailed out of a car because he was born in Israel before they had car seat rules. He survived (he's now a young man), but car seats are a safety rule I will continue to favor. From complaints of friends in Europe, it sounds like the government nanny state is getting out of hand.
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    1. Glad we agree that the nanny state has gone too far, Leora. Agree with you completely that safetybelts and other essential rules are good and should be law. Funnily enough there is no EU rule against sending SMS's while driving. That's another lethal phenomena.

  7. Great thinking Catarina. My husband is Swedish, I am from Serbia.
    We lived in Sweden, Spain, Netherlands and now in Serbia. In Sweden, the first thing I learned was " You are not allowed". In Spain " no problem". In the Netherlands, " That is impossible".
    In Serbia ' This is Serbia, everything is possible and impossible at the same time".

    I think it is in a need of the government to scare their population, since than it is easiest way to control the same . Whether it is death, or economical survival, or riding a bike, the more one is scared, the less one uses its brain, gets to be part of the masses, because everyone is doing it – that it must be right ? – and therefore easier to control.
    In Serbia, there is no control and that is on the other end of the scale, where little progress in the society can be done because it is difficult to get people together and move in agreed direction. The progress is left to individuals. On the other hand I found that in Sweden there was too much of the control. It is not only the government that tells you what to do, it is the ordinary people one meets on the street that would gladly correct you if you step just a bit outside the " prescribed" . I admire Sweden for having a system , that people can relay on , not having one in my country, but sometimes it feels like a nice prison.

    I remember driving our car in Sweden, on the highway in the night, nobody on the road and my , to be husband, reminded me to keep the speed limit to 110km/ h. I would wait until he falls asleep and than hit the road – to the speed that felt right and safe for me to handle – 140 km/ h .

    Greetings, Mirjana Joksimovic Bohlin

  8. Very interesting question Catarina, and good discussion. I have to think that cultures which hold a more natural view of life and death will have some military/economic advantage. Risk taking is essential for rapid progress!

  9. People need to take some responsibility for their own actions. I agree with Julia that in the US, consumers often sue companies for the results of their own stupidity. It gets to the point where there are cautions everywhere. Do we really need to be warned that a cup of hot coffee could burn is if we spill it in our lap?

    1. Good comment Sherryl. We don't need to be warned that a cup of hot coffee will burn if we spill it in our lap. But that's what politicians are devoting time to. Gives them power but makes people stop thinking for themselves.

  10. You touched on the reason yourself Catarina. All this preoccupation with prevention and protection stems from the expense incurred by taking care of a populace. Add into the mix the litigious nature of the last 20 years and it becomes clear where all this concern for human welfare came from. Of course there are many who are willing to forgoe some freedom and freewill if it means protecting some people from themselves, but the real incentive comes when insurance companies and social programs begin feeling any pain from compensation and care. THEN we are really concerned and start passing laws.

    1. Yes Paul that's a good description of how it works in the United States. In Europe it's the welfare state that picks up the bill. The socialists started this in Sweden to control the people. And despite the fact that we no longer have a socialist government the practice continuous. In other words politicians are afraid to do somehing about it in case they don't get re-elected.

  11. Ecxellent article as usual Catarina. Our governemnt at times jumps to do what is happening overseas re safety without thinking the issues through. Luckily they come to their senses probably due to the cost of implementing the idea.

    The closest thing the Labor party did in its last term was try and put a censor on the internet so that they would decide what we should be able to see as a nation. After a long campaign they shelved the idea for the moment just before the recent election and hopefully that is where it will stay.

    1. Thanks Susan. Can't believe they actually tried implementing censorship. Glad they didn't succeed.

      It was the socialists that started all this way back in the beginning of last century. A few years ago the the socialists were in power. Another political party suggested that it would facilitate integrating immigrants if they learnt Swedish. The socialists said that would be dangerous. Can you imagine?

  12. Great post! The problem is with governments that crave power to regulate. The regulation in turn creates a fearful society who survives solely on dependence instead of rational thinking. What are the solutions since this system has been in place for such a long time?

    1. In Europe the solution is that The European Union and governments, above all in Sweden stop forbidding anything that could possibly harm human beings. Why do we need to be protected against remote possibilites such as getting a rare kind of cancer that h1 in ten million people get when they are over 75 years old?

  13. It is the same in the US. Not only are there rules and regulations to keep us safe from our own actions. Consumers sue companies for accidents that happen using one of their products even if the accident occurred out of the consumers stupidity. the sad thing is they often win. People actually expect to be kept completely safe.

  14. I couldn't agree more, Catarina. The state of western democracies today is that politicians increasingly are implementing "Nanny States" and – whether consciously or unconsciously – reducing people to the status of dependent children. Like it or not, life is – as you say – about learning from mistakes. That’s what builds character!

    Unfortunately, the “Nanny State” approach encourages people to abrogate responsibility for their own lives and mistakes. They look to the state to protect them in every way and at all times and, as is human nature, their demands increase with time. This costs money. Money that governments simply cannot afford.

    It’s time to slim government, let people make their own mistakes (and, hopefully, learn from them) and not look to the state to protect them at all times and from everything. Government should set the rules for society and provide the basic framework. People should take responsibility for their own lives.

    1. Glad we agree Guy. Sweden is leading the nanny state development and the European Union in Brussels are following suit. The UK however, doesn't apply all the EU decisions about forbidding x,y,z. Hence this phenomena wasn't as obvious when I lived in London five years ago.

      So let's hope the socialists EU MEPs don't manage to turn Europe into even more of a nanny state.

  15. Very interesting article. We're seeing similar things in the United States. You are correct; it is very controlling and crippling.

    I don't believe in doctors aiding someone's death nor do I believe in having to use heroic measures for someone who cannot survive.

    Thank you for sharing your insights!

  16. Terrific article Catarina, I do not know how most of us lived this long I mean we even used to roll around in the grass and dirt, climb rocks and trees, swallowed water from lakes and rivers..we actually were the rebels who defied authority and rules, now we became them and worse…In most countries you don't need any credentials to be a politician/leader and yet they set the rules? Imagine if we did that in business!

    Thanks for the article, I agree we should be free again….

    Who said knowledge is power…life still is a 4-letter word…

    Have a great week!

    1. Glad we agree Mike. At least the UK doesn't implement all EU legislation that forbid anything that could pose a risk to one in ten million people. Sweden and many other EU countries do.

  17. Loved the article and even though I'm Portuguese, living in Portugal with a completly different reality of Sweden of course, I believe that in some ways the same is applicable here. Often we listen to people complaining but doing nothing for themselves, just complaining against the governments as if the source of all evil and good came from it. That gives the politicians a tremends power but it will take a lot of time to a significant part of the population to realise this and starts overcoming this mentality.

    1. MJC in Sweden it's gone so far people don't take initiatives anymore but wait for the government to tell them what to do. The European Union in Brussels are working the same way as the Swedish government and the result is that they are forbidding all kinds of things that could have a negative impact on one out of 10 million people.

  18. I agree with you to the fact that to guarantee 100% safety is impossible. What some governments and media are contributing to develop and to maintain is the feeling of insecurity.
    In many areas, media are playing on the emotional side of people. When you watch the new on TV about an airplane crash with victims, it is of course tragic, but does it mean that airplane is an unsafe mode of transport? How many victims are there everyday's, involved in car accidents? The airplane crash implies more people and is more spectacular.
    Other example, the flue virus H1N1. Some statistics shows that the ordinary flue and other deceases like tuberculosis made more victims than the H1N1 virus. But the contract of tamiflu signed by the authorities with some pharmaceutical groups explain maybe a lot of things. I agree that we have to prevent some danger, but we have to stay consistent.
    Other example, I remember some years ago around christmas time in Brussels, some reinforcement of safety measure due to some terrorist threat risks. The government never explained clearly where they collected the informations and what was precisely these risks. They made us believe that they get control on the things, and on the other end, in some areas of criminality, they totally lost the control.
    The total safety does not exist. The most important thing is to evaluate the risk of a danger and to try to reduce it. But tomorrow, when you are leaving your home, you could receive a flowerpot on you head. The zero risk does not exist but the risk to receive a flowerpot on your head everyday is very low.

    1. True Eric there is no such thing as one hundred percent safety. The Swedish socialists started controlling people by telling them exactly what they could and couldn't do. The result is that people have stopped thinking for themselves and don't take initiatives such as becoming entrepreneurs since it involves a risk.

      And the European Union in Brussels are following in the footsteps of the Swedes. It is a nice thought with the unfortunate result that people stop thinking for themselves. They rely on the government to do the thinking for them. The result is teenagers feeling they need counselling for any small issue. Makes you wonder how we survived as teenagers without getting counselling if we say didn't win the school championship in tennis.

      When people are cushioned the way Swedes are the result is they cannot handle any problem or set back and expect the authorities to sort things out for them.

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