Monday, January 5, 2009


The other day I was listening to NPR and they were covering a news story about several snowmobilers who had been buried in an avalanche. The reporter was interviewing the local police chief who was in charge of the recovery operation (it was not a rescue operation because no one survived), and in the course of the interview asked a question that I thought was rather interesting. The question itself was not interesting but I quickly understood why the reporter asked the question because it displayed her personal philosophy.

The reporter asked if "They [the snowmobilers] were adequately prepared?" In the context of the interview the reporter meant, "Were they adequately warned by the authorities of the danger of an avalanche." From the context of the interview and the way the reporter was asking the questions that lead up to that question I understood her question to be one of responsibility, that is, who ultimately was responsible for their deaths. In her opinion (as I gathered from her questions) was that she considered it the responsibility of the "authorities" to watch and determine when there was a danger of an avalanche. Thus it was incumbent on the "authorities" to warn the public of the danger and if they do not then they are responsible for any deaths that result from their failure to warn the public.

As I was listening I also found it interesting that she did not ask any questions about how individuals may recognize the conditions that would make avalanches possible. Thus as I surmised, from the questions she chose to ask and those that she did not, she felt that it was the responsibility of the "authorities" (and their responsibility alone) to recognize the danger and prevent all possible problems. In other words it was never the responsibility of the individuals to recognize and avoid the danger. From her perspective the individuals could never, or should never be held personally responsible for entering an area that was susceptible to avalanches.

It is this same idea, or philosophy, can be found all throughout our society. How many warning labels do we have on our stuff. Just from where I sit I can see several, and legally if they were not there and I got hurt then the company that made that product would be liable. In some cases I see where they would be useful, such as the instructions as to how to install a car seat, and having at least one warning to let me know that a car seat should not go in the front seat next to an air bag. I recognize that there might be some situations I would not think of or be aware of without a warning, but generally that can be overcome through education, and not through labels on each and every single item ever made.

While it may be a good idea to warn people of danger they may not know about, I think that unfortunately the attitude in our society has gone too far and thus many people have abdicated personal responsibility. This kind of attitude and philosophy results in everything from warning labels on every known idem to reporters asking questions about who is responsible for people dieing in an avalanche rather than asking how we might recognize that conditions that contribute avalanche danger so that we might avoid it. As a final note, the police chief responded to the question by saying that it is difficult to constantly monitor the mountain slopes for avalanche danger and that people should always use precaution when entering those areas. So at least there are some practical people still left who want people to take personal responsibility for their own actions.

1 comment:

Spenceanna said...

so about that car seat... bun in the oven?