Monday, December 11, 2017

Nanny State

Saskatoon sunset

A while ago "Trail Closed" signs appeared on the lower unofficial dirt trail along the river. That's my walking route to work, so I ignored the signs and kept taking the trail. Judging by the packed snow on the trail, I wasn't far from the only one.

It always annoys me when they attempt to close these unofficial trails. The city or Meewasin (I'm never sure who does what) didn't build the trails (I suspect they were animal trails originally.) They didn't open the trails and they do little to maintain them.

It annoys me even more when they "close" them for no reason. I never did figure out why the signs were there. There didn't appear to be any construction or washouts which were the usual excuses. Perhaps something had been going on and they just forgot to remove the signs after they were done (common).

It does make me happy to see that I'm not the only one that objects to these attempts to control the wild trails. When there was a landslide on the East side of the river there was a long term battle between the closers (the "stop its" as my father called them) and the trail users. When signs didn't work, they put up fences. When people went around, they put up more fences. When people knocked down the fence, they put up stronger fences. People still knocked them down. What was so wrong about people walking around the trail damage? Or was it just the control freaks don't like being ignored?

Bureaucracies, no matter how well meaning, like to control things. They probably view it as protecting people. Of course, recipients, like me, see it as meddling attempts at control.

Out on my run, I encountered new signs: "Natural area closed. Beavers active. Danger of falling trees." Again, like most people, I ignored the signs and continued on down the trail.

The beavers have been fairly active. But there are always beavers along the river. You never know where they will decide to feed. And the activity was mostly in the fall when they were presumably stocking up for winter. I haven't seen much signs of recent activity. Of course, bureaucracies move very slowly, this is probably a response to what occurred two months ago.

Our culture is afraid of nature. That's partly because we are so disconnected from it. I think it's also because we can't stand the thought that we're not in control, that we're not the top dog. We (humans) think we are the supreme beings, in charge of everything. We don't want to admit that we are never going to be in charge of nature. There's no doubt that we can mess it up, chop down the forests, plow up the prairies, poison the oceans, etc. But being able to destroy does not imply control. A bull can destroy a china shop, that doesn't make him in charge.

Our culture is also obsessed with eliminating risk. But no matter how much we think we can remove risk, it is always there. You could have a heart attack. The brakes in your car could fail. The brakes in the oncoming car could fail and hit you. You could slip on a patch of ice. We cannot put up a sign for every possible risk. Nor would doing so eliminate all the risks.

For the people who don't ignore the signs, all you're accomplishing is making them even more afraid of nature. Less likely to care about protecting it, and more likely to want to turn it into a playground. Next thing you know we'll have to "do something" about the "beaver problem". A euphemism for more attacks on nature.

If you walk in a forest, there is a chance that a tree could fall. If you see that beavers have been chewing on the trees, then you can probably guess that there's a very slightly higher chance of a tree falling. Do we need to "close" a forest because there is a chance of a tree falling? If you really want to be a nanny state, then go ahead and put up your signs saying "Slightly higher danger of tree falling due to beaver activity." I wouldn't recommend standing among the trees in a windstorm, but that's regardless of whether the beavers have been around.

Of course, another reason for these signs is that we're also a culture that doesn't like to take responsibility for anything. If a dead tree falls on us because we stood under it in a wind storm, then we need someone to blame, preferably to sue. Because we're sure as heck not going to admit we did something stupid and paid the price. We sue MacDonalds because the coffee is hot. Really? On the one hand we think we're masters of the universe, on the other hand it's not our fault if we can't remember that coffee is hot? There is no limit to the extremes we will go to blame someone else for our bad luck or stupidity. And thus, we need those signs to supposedly limit liability, even though that's probably useless.

Realistically, what are the odds of a tree falling on you? I've never heard of it happening other than in a windstorm. But every year people get hit by lightning while they're golfing. They don't "close" the golf courses (except maybe during a storm). People get in car accidents all the time, but we don't "close" the roads. Realistically, I'm pretty sure I'm safer on the trail, even with the dastardly beavers, than I am walking and crossing icy streets, contending with drivers late for work with a phone in one hand and a coffee in the other.

let it snow

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