The coward dies a thousand deaths

We worry too much.

Each decision forecloses some options and opens others. Some decisions are better than others, but nothing is free and very little is an unmitigated disaster. The important thing is to keep on trying and that requires optimism, at least enough optimism to believe in the possibility of success. We also cannot demand perfection. Pessimists love to do just that. It frees them from the need to do something to solve problems. Some of my best friends are liberals and I enjoy their company. The people I can't abide are pessimists.

To look at the paper or watch the news, we have all the troubles in the world. Various NGOs regularly publish report cards on subjects ranging from the environment to infrastructure to the state of the Union. The grades are almost always low and they seem to have a downward bias. My local infrastructure just got mostly Ds. One of the big near failures was our local metro system. The problem used to be that there weren't enough customers. For the last decades, local jurisdictions have encouraged development near Metro stops. Now riders are at record levels. You would think this would be a good thing or at worst a challenge to do even better. Instead it is a problem. Imagine the reverse. What if we faced empty stations? Would that be better? Is there is an ideal number?

Pessimism has its value. Pressure groups like to talk about how bad things are because it gets them bigger budgets and more attention. But we shouldn't believe them.

Another story of overreaction is all over our local papers. A couple of schools had to be shut down because of mercury contamination. What does that mean? It turns out that a one school some students spilled the mercury from the equivalent of 5-10 thermometers. It was a stupid prank. So they closed the school. The cleanup and related expenses will exceed $100,000. The second school was closed when a student accidentally dropped a thermometer on the floor, spilling a couple of drops of mercury.

I am not saying that mercury is not toxic, but come on. My father kept a little jar of mercury in his workshop. He called it quicksilver and sometime my sister and I played with it. When we were done, I would wander over to play in a swamp created by wastewater from a local foundry. These days it would be a toxic waste dump. So I am not advocating toxic waste, but a little perspective would be useful. Maybe when there is a toxic waste spill from a thermometer, somebody can wipe it up. For $100,000, I sure would be willing to risk my life in that fashion.

All dangers and all priorities are not equal. We should make a list of problems from the worst to the least worrisome and stop pretending they all are equally important.

Eventually something will kill us. Until that time, we should live free of fear as much as possible.

Posted by Jack at March 9, 2005 9:32 AM