The Washington Times  [Printer-friendly version]
February 21, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In recent weeks, the Reverend Sun Myung
Moon's ultra-right-wing newspaper, the Washington Times, has
stepped up its attacks on the precautionary principle. Here the
Reverend Mr. Moon opens his columns to the American Enterprise
Institute, which claims that precaution has paralyzed business
leaders, frightened judges out of their wits, falsely labeled
children as "vulnerable," and stifled needed innovation. Notice that
zero evidence is offered to support these claims.]

By Shelley Widhalm

Risk was too risky and fear was too common even before September 11,
and the growing obsession with avoiding danger may threaten our
society's future, scholars said at a recent Washington conference.
"Most human experiences come with a health warning, continually
reminding us that we cannot be expected to manage the risks we face,"
said Frank Furedi, a professor at the University of Kent in
England. "A powerful culture of precaution works to estrange the
public from the ideals of risk taking, innovation and
experimentation." Policy-making has become more arbitrary, driven by
"what if?" questions, said Mr. Furedi, author of "Politics of Fear:
Beyond Left and Right," speaking last week at the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI).

A disaster occurs, some kind of meaning is attributed to it, someone
is blamed and policy is implemented or changed with safety as the
ultimate goal, he said. Social policy, as a result, is focused on
reassuring people that they are safe, but what they get instead is
the illusion of safety while losing autonomy and control over their
own lives, he said.

"Nobody gets criticized for being safe," Mr. Furedi said. "What is
irresponsible is taking risks."

Last week's conference, "Panic Attack: The Precautionary Culture, the
Politics of Fear and the Risks to Innovation," was co-sponsored by
AEI in cooperation with the Institute of Ideas, a British think tank.
The conference focused on exploring the impact risk aversion has on
many aspects of life, ranging from education to business. It also
focused on the power that the precautionary principle -- a loose term
that calls for precaution to the point of risk avoidance in
innovation, human relationships and anything humans do -- has on
Western culture.

Such is the politics of fear, Mr. Furedi said, that children, women
and the elderly are labeled as "vulnerable" -- about 80 percent to 90
percent of the population.

The corporate "social responsibility" movement, initiated by some
advocacy groups, pressures businesses to avoid risk, said Jon
Entine, an adjunct fellow at AEI and scholar in residence at Miami
University in Oxford, Ohio.

"Business leaders are increasingly paralyzed by caution... reacting
rather than leading," Mr. Entine said.

The benefits of most innovations are unseen, while the risks are made
public, said James K. Glassman, a resident fellow at AEI. If one
person is harmed from the side effects of a medication that helped
many others, the media tell the story of harm, he said. "Bad news
gets attention," Mr. Glassman said. "In other words, forget the
science; just ban it."

The media generate an exaggerated sense of danger, said Ronald Bailey
of Reason magazine.

"The media regularly fan the flames of fear of new technologies," he
said, citing fear-mongering accounts of the dangers of cell phones,
chemicals, in-vitro fertilization, population growth and genetically
enhanced crops.

In the legal world, risk focuses on the lowest common denominator --
the few people who may be displeased by a product, said Philip
Howard,vice chairman of the law firm of Covington & Burling in New
York. For fear of lawsuits, he said, some playgrounds have been
stripped of climbing ropes or jungle gyms, businesses do not give
employment references, and products have warning labels that nobody
reads. "Our leaders lost authority in themselves," Mr. Howard said.
Judges, he said, no longer believe they have the authority to dismiss
fraudulent cases. As a result, people can sue for almost any reason,
he said.

"There needs to be a major revolution in the way judges perceive
their jobs," Mr. Howard said.

Excessive fears extend down to the cradle. Though American children,
with few exceptions, are mentally and emotionally sound, many adults
regard them as fragile and vulnerable, Christina Hoff Sommers said.

Adults try to insulate children from the remote possibility of
getting hurt or injured or enduring a slight to their self-esteem,
including from any kind of competition, even in sports, said Ms.
Sommers, a resident scholar at AEI.

Psychologists state that, though the message has not reached the
public, children need self-control, not bolsters to their self-
esteem, she said.

"Today's children are the most overprotected in history. They're also
the most overpraised," Ms. Sommers said, adding that some adversity
is necessary. "We shortchange them," she said.

Copyright 2006 News World Communications, Inc.