Civil Liberties

What a Suicidal Pilot Can Teach Us About Trying to Predict All Risk

Watch out when folks play the "safety card." Consider what we might lose in its pursuit.


Juergen Lehle (

Like everyone else, I wish that the suicidal Germanwings pilot had been stopped from boarding the plane. I even think it makes sense for Europe to copy our "two people in the cockpit at all times" rule. Nonetheless,  I love this essay by Stacey Gordon on her blog Xray Vision about the impossibility of predicting and preventing every tragedy:

After every tragedy that involves numerous casualties has been analyzed from every conceivable angle; after it has been Monday morning quarterbacked to death by the 24 hours news cycle, a mantra is born. It is always the same question, over and over again.  Whether it's a school shooting or the crash of an airliner, the chant has become: How can we keep this exact circumstance from happening again?

The truth is; it is only possible in retrospect….

The litigious society we live in now sees negligence at every turn, demanding that somehow, someone should have seen it coming.  Every tragedy is boiled down to a mere lack of vigilance, the implication being, if somehow we could "increase" our vigilance enough, fate would be assuaged and safety assured.

Risk management is an oxymoron.

This is dangerous and superstitious thinking.  The scary truth is, we can't foresee or prevent every calamity, no matter how cautious, no matter how many rules, regulations and government security organizations we create.  Our anger and our pain drive us to demand that some "one" or some "thing" be held accountable. We demand action for the future, because in our arrogance we presume that it will tip the scales in our favor.

In the end, no amount of dancing for lawyers will prevent heartbreak and catastrophe.

We could never fully account for the unintended consequences of every precaution we implement….

Terrorists busting down your cockpit doors?

Make the doors stronger, unbreakable from the outside.

So unbreakable, that a suicidal co-pilot may now effectively lock a pilot out of the cockpit.

Read the rest here.  Stacey is not advocating complacency when it comes to safety. In fact, she sent me a little  follow-up to her post that is so great, I have to reprint it, too:

There are certain dangers or threats that we should mitigate because 1) They happen with a certain frequency and 2) The mitigation does not appreciably diminish our quality of life. (seatbelts, helmets etc…) 

Sadly, many are ignoring these qualifications and are demanding that every awful event result in some law, plan, or procedure that will protect us from "the next time." We cannot live this way and truly be a free people. We are  vulnerable… Let's just accept that vulnerability and live free.   I do not have children but I am a fan of Free Range Kids because I'm a big believer in freedom and personal choice.  Whether or not Lenore intended to become a political activist, I see her on the cutting edge of the battle between freedom on the one hand the loss of our rights in the name of unattainable, perfect security.  

Political activist or not, I agree: The demand for perfect safety steamrolls over everything else in life. Watch out when folks play the "safety card." Consider what we might lose in its pursuit.

This post was originally published at Free-Range Kids.