Moving Past ‘Safetyism’

 

I was listening to a Bari Weiss podcast and she dropped the word “safetyism” (the context was discussing how to address overly aggressive COVID measures) which was frankly new to me. After some searching, I found that it was first coined in The Coddling of the American Mind. I had heard a great deal about the magazine article and subsequent book at the time. I never read them because the premise seemed obviously true to me.

Anyway, the authors’ definition of safetyism is “a culture or belief system in which safety (which includes “emotional safety”) has become a sacred value, which means that people become unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.” I think the focus at the time was more on trigger warnings and supposed psychological effects rather than physical safety. However, at the moment I want to talk about physical safety.

While of course the refusal of people and institutions to even briefly consider whether there were trade-offs in dealing with COVID, I think that there is a pretty obvious progression of this faulty thinking. Going back to my military service, the safety office on Air Force bases was the subject of much derision. I remember the local safety NCO (northern Mississippi) posting a notice in the gym one morning that people shouldn’t run outside as the temperature would drop to 20 that day. I had arrived there from Grand Forks, ND, a month prior and told him that I’d be just fine, thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong; safety observers play an important role in fire and other emergency services, but there is always the risk of sliding past prudent caution into full-blown ridiculousness. I was talking to a veteran incident manager about a big wildfire where they had to fire the safety manager after he demanded that firefighters had to wear their emergency shelters in the dining hall line.

I guess when safety measures jump the shark we can call them “Karenism.” (I’d love to think I just coined that but it was too easy).

A couple of other points.

I have noticed that every time I had to deal with a safety guy in the corporate world, their business cards had these multiple character certification acronyms after their names. I’m always immediately suspicious when someone feels the need to add these obscure certifications to their card. We used to joke in the military about how the shorter the office symbol, the more important you were, and this seems like the same principle in action.

HR is the manifestation of safetyism in corporate employment. HR will never tell a manager to take any risk to support corporate goals.

This is sort of a companion piece to my conversation on moving on past COVID. I guess the conclusion is that what’s going on isn’t some huge sea change. It’s the next step in something that’s been growing for decades. Which is very frightening.

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  1. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    I think we should all be forced to take regular testosterone shots!

    • #1
  2. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I think we should all be forced to take regular testosterone shots!

    Ahem… A few of us don’t need them…

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Great points, Tex! And I think you’re right–it’s jus the next step in this paranoid environment. 

    • #3
  4. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    I’ve been working in commercial real estate/facility management for over 20 years. There are some OSHA and NFPA mandates that make sense & good practice:  Lock out-Tag out procedures, eye protection where warranted, harness for lifts and roof work, reactivity & combustibility signage, chemical and flammable storage, respiratory masks and protections against fumes and particulates, “Wet Floor” signage makes sense.

    There’s also nonsense. These mask mandates are in that category. The size of the viral particles vs the size of the mask fibers have been a farce from the start. Going through the motions of maintaining that farce have made me and many ‘essential workers’ very agitated. I’ve been working with HR types for months on Return to Work and these people don’t “get” that there’s been a substantial segment of the working population that hasn’t been working from home for 2+ years now – they’re like the teachers’ unions, it’s never safe enough, ‘couldn’t we just do this…’ – for Heaven’s sake, get out of your Jammies and get out of the house already!

    There are segments and classes of people now that have become (or have been revealed) as rather pathetic, mouse-like creatures. It’s been similar to having to live with the ‘lie’ of Transgenderism.

    • #4
  5. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I think we should all be forced to take regular testosterone shots!

    Ahem… A few of us don’t need them…

    Everybody can use a bit more testosterone

    • #5
  6. Cosmik Phred Member
    Cosmik Phred
    @CosmikPhred

    So many good things can go off the rails.

    I consulted at a large utility for a couple of years and witnessed many safety culture things that make sense for a lineman, gas worker, etc., but are just – frankly – retarded when you’re in a building in an office park.  But gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phoney baloney jobs!

    I’ve also seen continuous improvement programs – lean – become lame via overuse.

    Oh, and to the original poster.  My dear departed dad – UND alum – always told me:  the wind doesn’t blow in Grand Forks.  Minnesota sucks.

    • #6
  7. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    When we moved from Orange County, California to western New York state in 2000 (just before California went totally insane), we found in New York state a “safety” focus that surprised us. A focus that valued physical safety above all else, and really discouraged risk-taking. A lot of “Is that allowed?” as the first consideration for a decision. Not “is that good?” or “Will that help?”

    Now that we have moved to Texas (2018) and still talk to friends in New York, I am astonished at the extent to which safety focus has become even more prevalent among my New York friends. A lot of “We can’t be too careful.” 

    • #7
  8. hoowitts Coolidge
    hoowitts
    @hoowitts

    Geez, what an awesome thread…where to start:

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):
    Oh, and to the original poster.  My dear departed dad – UND alum – always told me:  the wind doesn’t blow in Grand Forks.  Minnesota sucks.

    Meeting some of those grizzled vets from Minot AFB, while at WPAFB confirmed such sentiments. Why not, Minot? At least it’s not Minnesota was the standard retort.

    WI Con (View Comment):
    There’s also nonsense. These mask mandates are in that category. The size of the viral particles vs the size of the mask fibers have been a farce from the start.

    So much this. From the beginning it’s essentially a physics problem: 100 nm aerosolized viral particles simply aren’t inhibited by 3 micron/3,000 nanometer surgical masks…not to mention cloth masks. Disrupt airflow – sure…reduce viral concentration – NOT.

    Tex929rr: I remember the local safety NCO (northern Mississippi) posting a notice in the gym one morning that people shouldn’t run outside as the temperature would drop to 20 that day.  I had arrived there from Grand Forks, ND, a month prior and told him that I’d be just fine, thank you very much.

    Indeed! Loss of perspective is way too easy…or maybe it’s more conditioning and acclimatization.  This made me chuckle recalling those Ft. Drum, NY boys showing up at Ft. Sam Houston. Their warning was running outside in 100 degrees + 100% humidity might just kill you.

    • #8
  9. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Here is the issue.  The other side is into safety for any reason.  I was having a discussion this morning.  My coworker sent the via text.  “I won’t ever understand how wearing a mask it too much trouble to avoid this stuff or give this to another”.  These folk have a completely different mindset then we do.  I was raised on Ayn Rand and her point of view.  they come from a community point of view where sacrifice for the community is expected

    • #9
  10. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    We just had a perfect example.  A big cold front hit here last night.  Temps dropped from 75 yesterday afternoon to hovering around freezing this morning.  There is a very slight chance of snow or sleet today, but highs even here in the hill country should be around 40. When you drive from my home to San Antonio the ambient temperature is usually 5-10 degrees warmer.

    So all the rural districts north of San Antonio are having a full school day today.

    Every school district in San Antonio is closed, and they announced it yesterday,  well before the front got here.  Two of the school districts are on active military bases where essentially every kid lives within walking distance, and they are closed.  The upside was that Costco was almost empty since so many people were home doing surprise child care.

    • #10
  11. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Cosmik Phred (View Comment):

    Oh, and to the original poster. My dear departed dad – UND alum – always told me: the wind doesn’t blow in Grand Forks. Minnesota sucks.

    We used to hear that “Montana blows and Minnesota sucks”.

    It was routine for people to point out that North Dakota was the world’s third largest nuclear power. 

     

    • #11
  12. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I think we should all be forced to take regular testosterone shots!

    Ahem… A few of us don’t need them…

    OK, there will be a test first.

    • #12
  13. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser
    @Buckpasser

    It’s not just a safety mindset.  It’s a lack of common sense.  In my working days we had a ware.house built that I was going to operate in Southern California. This was a Northeastern company that used the same blueprint to build their warehouses.  When they gave me a tour, I asked about a small room that didn’t seem to belong.  They said you needed it for people to hang up their winter coats and store their snow boots.  Only later that day did they say:  I guess you don’t wear snow boots in San Diego.

    • #13
  14. Mad Gerald Lincoln
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    Here is the issue. The other side is into safety for any reason. I was having a discussion this morning. My coworker sent the via text. “I won’t ever understand how wearing a mask it too much trouble to avoid this stuff or give this to another”. These folk have a completely different mindset then we do. I was raised on Ayn Rand and her point of view. they come from a community point of view where sacrifice for the community is expected

    We should lower the national speed limit to 5 mph (If it saves one life…)

    Change my mind.

    • #14
  15. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I think we should all be forced to take regular testosterone shots!

    Ahem… A few of us don’t need them…

    OK, there will be a test first.

    One of the things my doctor tested for last year was testosterone level, and it was on the low side if normal.  So I started taking DHEA (dehydroepiandosterone) and I’ve increased it over the last year to 75mg per day.

    Something’s happening.

    My hairline has started receding again.

    • #15
  16. Patricia Jay Coolidge
    Patricia Jay
    @Patriciajay

    I knew safetyism had become a thing when “Merry Christmas” slowly devolved into “Have a safe holiday.”

    That’s it? That’s the best we can expect from our most important holiday?

    • #16
  17. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Great piece and big thank you.

    With regards to COIVD safetyism, take some comfort in how recently, the British restrictions are falling into the toilet, and that in Germany and EU other nations the public seems to be having had an effect as well.

    Twenty states in the USA are tired of COIVD safetyism as well. 

    As a counterpoint: Yet even as their citizens pack up and leave, the citizens in Calif, Ore, WA, MN, Illinois, and NY are feeling the boot of COVID Oppression from their governors.  Because the economies in those states have not suffered enough yet? Or because these governors like having large percentages of people kill themselves as they are harassed and slammed around  over pointless restrictions?

     

    • #17
  18. Connie the Cat Member
    Connie the Cat
    @ConnietheCat

    I can confirm the attitude of Air Force safety offices.  Safety Uber Alles!

    • #18
  19. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Patricia Jay (View Comment):

    I knew safetyism had become a thing when “Merry Christmas” slowly devolved into “Have a safe holiday.”

    That’s it? That’s the best we can expect from our most important holiday?

    Happy Valentines Day devolved into Shelter in Place.

    • #19
  20. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim
    @SomeCallMeTim

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    It’s not just a safety mindset. It’s a lack of common sense. In my working days we had a ware.house built that I was going to operate in Southern California. This was a Northeastern company that used the same blueprint to build their warehouses. When they gave me a tour, I asked about a small room that didn’t seem to belong. They said you needed it for people to hang up their winter coats and store their snow boots. Only later that day did they say: I guess you don’t wear snow boots in San Diego.

    Maybe it cost more to change the plans than just to build the small room. 

    • #20
  21. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    I work for an electric utility, and safety is very big with our power plant workers and linemen and other field personnel.

    But it also means that the safety office involves itself in office safety in a way that office personnel in a company that is all office workers with no dangerous jobs don’t experience.

    There is a mandate that all meetings start with a safety moment, which I don’t have a problem participating in, but it reminds me of having a prayer before a meeting (and some smaller businesses with a religious focus do indeed have prayers before meetings, as do religious organizations).

    Safetyism goes way beyond the physical, as hinted in the original post.  For example, when someone says that they are triggered, they are usually implying that they are fearful of their safety.

    And most people have heard of safe spaces on college campuses, which I first heard about at least 10-15 years ago and is used as an excuse for racial segregation.  White men are not allowed safe spaces, unless they can claim membership of some other victim group (usually gay/transgender).  Now that enough people have graduated from some of the more radical campuses, usually elite schools, we’re seeing this trend start in the corporate world.

    It’s also an excuse for public health to get involved in areas like racism, gun control, traffic safety, and a whole host of other problems.  It made sense to those that have been pushing this for decades when the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium, even though that’s not in their area of expertise.

    Basically the left is very proficient at hijacking a word that implies a good thing, in this case safety, and using that concept to advance their agenda.

    • #21
  22. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Tex929rr: I was talking to a veteran incident manager about a big wildfire where they had to fire the safety manager after he demanded that firefighters had to wear their emergency shelters in the dining hall line.

    Well context is important.  If you are in the field with a base camp that’s not far from the fire, I can sort of understand the requirement, though even then it’s a little excessive.

    Big wildfires usually have a large incident command staff that’s located some distance from the fire, and those kind of safety measures aren’t needed at all.

    • #22
  23. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim
    @SomeCallMeTim

    Great post, and an enjoyable read.

    During WW II, the US armed forces experienced a significant amount of training casualties from accidents (especially in aviation), many of which could probably have been avoided with a greater emphasis on safety.  But these losses, though regrettable, were mainly written off as the cost of doing business.  I thought that was pretty callous.  Then in my active duty time (1980-2000), there was an increasing emphasis on ground safety that sought to replace common sense with a proliferating number of rules whose only reason seemed to be CYA.  By the end of my career, I thought we could use a more WW II like attitude.

    I was a ground-pounder, and the ground safety guy was ALWAYS a huge pain in the ass.  And the job usually went to someone not on the fast track.  On the aviation side, they took aviation safety extremely seriously (rightfully so) and did a good job of addressing the issues.   The aviation safety billet (job) in a squadron was a good job, usually filled by a very competent individual.

     

    • #23
  24. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Some Call Me …Tim (View Comment):
    I was a ground-pounder, and the ground safety guy was ALWAYS a huge pain in the ass.  And the job usually went to someone not on the fast track.  On the aviation side, they took aviation safety extremely seriously (rightfully so) and did a good job of addressing the issues.   The aviation safety billet (job) in a squadron was a good job, usually filled by a very competent individual.

    I was in the Coast Guard in the 1980’s.  I served at sea (with some shore billets).  One big difference between sea duty and aviation that I noticed is that airdales were allowed, no required, to get sleep or at least enough time off to get sleep before being sent off to crew an aircraft.

    Not so for those on Coast Guard cutters (and the Navy has the same problem).  I was aware of a few groundings at sea because the watchstander simply did not have enough sleep because of other job requirements, but was still required to stand his watch.

    The U.S. Navy has recently suffered some high profile collisions at sea (well, what such collision isn’t high profile? ).  One area identified was a lack of training because of a personnel shortage and not enough time to hold that training.  Another area that didn’t get the same attention, but was still identified, was that those watch standers weren’t getting enough sleep, because there was a shortage of personnel.

    To this day, I don’t think either service has bright line sleep requirements for sea duty personnel like aviation crews do.

    • #24
  25. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    WI Con (View Comment):
    There’s also nonsense. These mask mandates are in that category. The size of the viral particles vs the size of the mask fibers have been a farce from the start. Going through the motions of maintaining that farce have made me and many ‘essential workers’ very agitated.

    I’m to the point where seeing people in masks pushes me toward panic attacks.

    Unless it’s children, in which case it pushes me toward RAGE.

    • #25
  26. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    A couple of years ago the USAF took formation T38 landings out of the the syllabus after a training fatality.  Mrs Tex flew countless formation takeoffs and landings as a T38 instructor.  Our friends who were instructors with her and later flew fighters said formation landings were an essential skill in the fighter world (big discussion at a squadron reunion).  Flying supersonic fast movers is inherently dangerous but in the new world commanders think that they can remove all risk when what they are actually doing is preventing the acquisition of a skill that might save a life later.

    • #26
  27. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Patricia Jay (View Comment):

    I knew safetyism had become a thing when “Merry Christmas” slowly devolved into “Have a safe holiday.”

    That’s it? That’s the best we can expect from our most important holiday?

    Happy Valentines Day devolved into Shelter in Place.

    Of course, sometimes sheltering in place on Feb 14th can bring forth that holiday’s meaning!

    • #27
  28. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Patricia Jay (View Comment):

    I knew safetyism had become a thing when “Merry Christmas” slowly devolved into “Have a safe holiday.”

    That’s it? That’s the best we can expect from our most important holiday?

    Happy Valentines Day devolved into Shelter in Place.

    Of course, sometimes sheltering in place on Feb 14th can bring forth that holiday’s meaning!

    This just stimulated an interesting conversation in our home.  Say no more.

    • #28
  29. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    WI Con (View Comment):
    There’s also nonsense. These mask mandates are in that category. The size of the viral particles vs the size of the mask fibers have been a farce from the start. Going through the motions of maintaining that farce have made me and many ‘essential workers’ very agitated.

    I’m to the point where seeing people in masks pushes me toward panic attacks.

    Unless it’s children, in which case it pushes me toward RAGE.

    I just watched a live-streamed Seattle Chamber Music Festival concert, from Benaroya Hall in Seattle.  I felt that panic attack/disgust reaction at seeing all the musicians masked.  It was awful, and detracted from my enjoyment of the music.  And after the concert, the education director went backstage to have a short conversation with one of the players.  Both were masked, and I could not understand anything that was said.  Later, there was a “virtual backstage” Zoom conversation with the music director, the outreach coordinator, and a bunch of remote audience.  The moderator was masked, and I could not understand some of what she was saying.  The music director removed his mask, and I was able to understand him.  Fortunately, none of the remote audience members wore a mask, but I would not have been surprised if some did.  Seattle is 100% compliant, a bunch of stupid sheep.  And this kind of garbage is making me rethink my support of the Chamber Music Festival.  Live music must be seen in person to be worthwhile, and I will never, ever, sit through a concert masked.

    • #29
  30. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    The safest Navy never leaves port. Kind of defeats the purpose of having one. 

    • #30
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