Wednesday, April 18, 2007

tigers, lions, cars and the evolution of risk assessment

Emily and I were bemoaning the "new" uncertainties that afflict the middle-class American, but we had to admit that historic uncertainties were rather greater. After all, how can industrial acquisitions compare to the risk of being acquired by a saber-toothed tiger?

Surely our lives don't have risks like that? Or do they? What is a Suburban but a tiger on wheels? We drive about all the time, but at any moment that seemingly sated 18-wheeler might "decide" to take out my Subaru.

A hundred years from now, assuming our great-grandchildren are not again tiger-bait, they'll be appalled that we ever accepted the risk of human-controlled vehicles. Perhaps, Emily suggests, it's the lions and tigers. For eons before we were the apex of the apex predators, we fed the sharp-tooths. We had to develop faculties that allowed us to go about our lives despite the ever present risk of being munchies. It is those faculties, perhaps, that cause us to irrationally accept the risk of driving a car ... And, perhaps, other irrational risks ...

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