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The Only Escape from Risk Is Death

Here’s a letter to a long-time Café Hayek reader:

Mr. Q__:

Thanks for your e-mail in response to my sharing, at Café Hayek, this photo – and my agreeing with the sentiment there expressed by Michelle Obama: “You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”

While I can’t speak for Ms. Obama, I assure you that my favorable posting of her remark was not, contrary to your interpretation, a “rash call to ignore risks.” Of course risks must be accounted for. And also of course, the higher the risk of harm from any particular source, the greater should be the amount of precaution taken against that source.

But this reality – this counsel of prudence – doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to overreact to any one risk. After all, it’s typically the case that the greater the precaution you take against risk X, the greater becomes your exposure to risks Y and Z. And so if you focus exclusively on risk X you ignore these other risks. Therefore, while you might succeed in your narrow effort to reduce as much as possible your exposure to risk X, you’ll be unaware of your resulting higher – and likely excessive – exposure to other risks.

I posted that photo at my blog as evidence that in a more-sane era – namely, before March 2020 – there was popular understanding that an action is not inadvisable merely because that action entails some risk. Yet too many people today ignore this truth on all matters related to Covid. Too many people today assume that no amount of risk, regardless of how small, of encountering Covid-19 is acceptable – and, therefore, that no price is too high to pay for even the minutest increment of reduction in the risks of encountering Covid.

This attitude is what I call Covid Derangement Syndrome. I’m convinced that this syndrome poses to society a far larger risk than does Covid itself. Against the latter we have vaccines (and, if we only had the good sense to use it, the option of Focused Protection); against the former we have too few defenses.