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“better paranoid than dead”

November 17, 2009

I got an email of the “forward this to your entire world and then some” variety – complete with 24-point font in 12 colors – on the subject of keeping your (female) self from being serial-killed. For whatever reason, i actually read through the whole thing.

So, okay, the visual issues with the formatting really, really bothered me, but that only scratches the surface. To be clear, i am in full support of being careful, and i’ve got no general problem with safety tips, but this really rubbed me the wrong way.

For one,  focusing on serial killers is just weird to me – but weird and stupid. Seriously, of all the terrible things that are likely to happen to you, where do serial killers rank? I know this kind of crime is more exciting because you can chalk it up to crazy and evil, and, therefore, not have to think about the deeper causes. But even if your tips work and we all managed to elude all serial killers forever…oh, right, people would still be getting “just” shot and mugged and robbed and raped and beaten pretty regularly. Would there even be a blip in the statistics? Can we perhaps go back to useful tips to reduce the risk of all those things just mentioned that happen to people every day? Take, for example, these sexual assault prevention tips.

My second complaint is common to most advice i’ve seen on these more relevant subjects as well, though it was far more shrill in this particular example. This email included, at the end of one of the bits of advice, the comment, “better paranoid than dead.” At first, i though my reaction was simply “good lord, that is so over the top,” but, no, that line caught my attention because i disagree.

I deeply disagree with that statement; i find it dehumanizing. I don’t disagree that dead is bad, but i think it is terribly anti-social to say that dying is the worst thing that can happen. It discounts that anything could be more important than “me,” to the detriment of society, and promotes the idea that nothing is more important than being alive, to the detriment of living.

Socially, it seems that promoting complete lack of compassion as a safety measure can only make our life less safe in the long run. The logic goes, in the short-term, that anyone could be a criminal, just waiting to…(in this particularly paranoid example, kill you), so you had better not ever help anybody (see, they might just be trying to lure you in) or interact with suspicious characters (did we mention that everyone is suspicious?). In the long run, this equates to “anyone i don’t know personally is a non-person at best; a potential serial killer at worst.” Which is the same sort of anti-social attitude that begets criminal behavior, or at least ignores crimes committed against others.

Personally, how unhappy would you be living in that sort of a bubble? I like to hope that interacting with other people as if they are people makes them a bit happy as well. And i can very simply say that if something awful happens someday as a result (god knows i hope it doesn’t – but i also don’t believe it works that way, which i’ll get to in a moment), i have had a pretty great life so far, in large part because of such “reckless” behavior. Or, from a less depressing perspective, if i could guarantee nothing bad happen to me by means of paranoia, there is simply no way i would do it; what is the point of living forever if you can’t enjoy doing it?

To continue my parenthetical: this sort of advice is also a side-effect of our blame-the-victim attitude towards crime. The idea that that steps x, y, z will result in total safety is – well, a total fallacy, but also – detrimental.

It is a fallacy because, while there are steps you can take to increase your safety (being careful and/or not stupid, which i generally support), there isn’t a damn thing you can do to guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to you. This is, essentially, the law of diminishing returns, and there is a point somewhere where the safety output per precaution taken falls to a point that it is not worth the sacrifices you make for it.

It is detrimental because assuming action x, y or z can prevent harm implies it is your fault if you come to harm, because you didn’t take that action. And there is always some action you didn’t take. Of course, there are no actions you can take to completely control someone else’s actions. And that is the part that this entire thing ignores: this whole safety thing is, in large part, a matter of other people’s actions.

So, better dead than paranoid, but i’ll take neither, if i may.

Lady Brett

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2009 2:46 pm

    I absolutely agree with you on this and wish that I could express thoughts as articulately as you. I also choose neither, but refuse to live my life in fear.

  2. November 17, 2009 9:30 pm

    true true true. and how many lives are restricted and constrained into oblivion because of fears of safety? it’s something i have struggled with a lot — who has ownership over my body? me? or others? who am i preserving it for?

    i’d rather live hard, and full, and fast, right now, than be a perfectly preserved 95 year old looking back over a life of enforced calm. i’d rather start a riot and make some change and get some wrinkles and spend too long in the sun fighting for equality than sit on a chair taking it easy.

    and i am of course convinced that these scare tactics are deeply rooted in misogyny, designed to keep women inside and unaware of the power and privilege that is being stolen from us every day.

    phew. great post. maybe i need to write my own blog instead of ranting on others. xx fg

  3. November 18, 2009 8:29 am

    fg, you are perfectly welcome to rant here, but of course i would be interested to see your own blog on the subject as well. i think you are completely right about the misogyny of it; that is an angle i tend not to notice on my own.

  4. November 20, 2009 1:43 pm

    man o man, you are right on it, aren’t you!?! Thanks for pulling that apart and making into something real. I got that email a few months ago and was really disturbed by it – quite disturbed actually. I didn’t take the time to figure out why but I knew I felt angry. Thanks for writing this post.

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