Do people have a right to be "safe"?

Certainly people like being safe, and where possible take steps to make themselves safe. But especially in situations regarding the actions of other people, at what point does the quest to be safe become tyrannical?

After 9/11 the government spent billions on attempts to prevent terrorism; some of these were no doubt worthwhile, while others (particularly with regards to air travel) were intrusive and of doubtful utility. The militarization of civil police is decried, “free speech zones” are an affront to the First Amendment, and in general many quote Benjamin Franklin’s warning that “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

Or in a more recent and controversial example, the outpouring of anguish on YesAllWomen, where women voice how sick they are of having to structure their lives around the risk of rape and harassment. Certainly it’s wrong that so many misogynist men oppress women; but what to do about it? Is it practical or even possible to insist that the answer is to eliminate jerkassness from society?

And then there is the whole firearms controversy, which revolves around two competing and incompatible versions of what constitutes “safety”: the right to possess weapons for self-defense versus the potential threat the existence of guns poses. Both sides insist they are motivated by a desire to seek safety, and denigrate the other side’s position as cowardice.

Certainly a laissez-faire attitude of “shit happens” and “life isn’t fair” can be taken too far; but seeking an infinite guarantee of safety seems equally irrational. Where do you draw the line?

I think that people have a right to be safe from controllable dangers, and that society and government have an obligation to control things like fire, flood, mob violence, repeat violence and intimidation for the good of all. This extends to things like zoning laws to prevent people from building residences in excessively dangerous areas.

But from there it’s many fine gray lines to a “nanny state” that is prohibiting or controlling things like alcohol, tobacco, and other practices that are “unsafe” only to the person choosing to indulge in them. (If a drunk gets violent, it falls into a different category.)

I think you’re really asking the fundamental question of the purpose of government. For your answer, see… pretty much everything written since Voltaire.

I would say that not only is it irrational, but also impossible. The human imagination can concoct an infinity of things to be paranoid about.

Let’s take the YesAllWomen example: Women do have a legitimate concern. They tend to be smaller and weaker than men, and certainly a portion of the male population takes advantage of that. But the problem is that no amount of security is going to change the fact that they are smaller and weaker, which by itself is going to generate a certain amount of fear. There’s nothing that can be done to change that, and the occasional instance of someone taking advantage will be used to justify those fears to the broader populace. One well-publicized rape can confirm the worst fears of millions.

Even if the rapist is caught and punished, the outcry inevitably becomes, “Why wasn’t more done to prevent it?” Rationally we understand that you can’t prevent all rapes, no more than you can prevent all murders, harrassments, bullyings, or what-have-you, but when you are one of the fearful that golden apple of total security seems like it should be easier picking than it actually is. The fearful are always pushing for more security, when the reality is that it can never be enough.

And there’s the whole firearm controversy you eluded to. This introduces another aspect of the problem: over-compensation. As of 2005, there are 89 guns in the US for every 100 citizens, far and away more than any other country. And yet, the US comes in 15th in gun related homicides. (3.6 per 100K of the population as of 2011.) If possession of guns equaled security, we should be dead last. The freedom to enhance our security by possessing firearms also increases the likelihood that we will be assaulted with said firearms. Obviously other factors come in to play, or else the US would be #1. Even so, it’s obvious that the possession of firearms is out of pace with the amount of security they actually provide.

To answer the OP, IMHO total security is impossible, and people need to accept that. In addition, anything less than total security is not enough in the minds of most people. The contradiction is obvious.

Safety is pretty much the reason society exists and governments are formed. It’s not a guaranteed right in the U.S. Constitution and the precise meaning of safety is hard to pin down, but it’s probably fair to say people have a right to be safe a government that can’t keep its citizens safe is failing at one of the most basic aspects of its job. And yes, it’s very difficult to manage the fine points of this arrangement because people don’t want to be unreasonably inconvenienced or have their freedoms abridged any more than necessary, and a lot of problems can seem more preventable than they actually are.

I don’t think this was framed as an issue of policing and laws for the most part - although there are some legal issues that could reasonably be included there, like the failure to quickly test rape kits. I thought the hashtag was more about people’s experiences and attitudes.

I think maybe rape goes a little bit further than “jerkassness.”

This. I don’t think I am going out on a limb by suggesting that a woman’s right to not be groped by a stranger outweighs my interest in groping her.

That’s exactly right. And it seems to me that the US differs in that respect from most other western democracies. US culture seems uniquely defined by the “liberty and pursuit of happiness” clause from the Declaration of Independence, which is in marked contrast to the “peaceful and just society” concept that is the core of many other nations’ founding principles. While you can make philosophical arguments either way, this does have bearing on the issue of safety, and helps explain why gun control for one example is such a very difficult and divisive issue. The historical accident of the Second Amendment (or, more accurately, its modern re-interpretation) is a complicating factor, but it could be done away with entirely if there was sufficient public will. The real issue runs much deeper.

Well, not really. This whole idea of limited government really only applies to the federal government. The state governments have always had plenary power, which in real life means they can do pretty much anything.

The federal constitution is the source of the federal government’s authority. The feds can only do what the constitution says they can. The state constitution is a check on state government’s power, and works the opposite way: the state government can do anything unless the state constitution says they can’t.

So we’ve never historically had this (much cited) society where people can do as they please unless the government has a good reason to prohibit something. That has developed over a long period of time basically from thin air.

It’s not just federal and state governments that determine the overall state of public governance – it’s founding documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and the resultant culture, and Supreme Court rulings which most definitely limit what individual states can do. Gun control for example is an issue nationwide, and absolutist interpretations of First Amendment rights limit everything from hate speech regulation to regulation of campaign finance and issue advocacy spending.

Certainly people have a right to be secure in their persons and their property. The devil, as usual, is in the details as to what steps can be taken to assure that security. But being secure is not the same as feeling safe. No-one can be responsible for someone else’s feelings.

I don’t think it makes sense for a woman (or anyone, but it seems to come up most with women) to insist that she has a right to not feel threatened. What I mean is that her feeling may not be grounded in any current situation or reality. So if a woman was once attacked by a man, maybe now she is (not rationally) afraid of all men. That doesn’t give her the right to insist that I not enter the elevator where she is the only passenger (as an example) or to threaten me with a weapon when I do so.

I don’t want to get in the middle of the gun debate, because in a sense both sides are right. There is no reason why a normal, rational person should not own a gun, but there are a lot of caveats: will the gun be properly stored to keep it away from children and other irresponsible people; is the person buying the gun really a normal, rational person, or is he planning a mass murder; was the person rational when he bought the gun but now is a nut? What to do about all these caveats I have no idea. But what some nuts do with guns probably should not prevent normal, rational people from owning them.

There is no way to bubble-wrap society so that everyone is safe all the time. We can only do our best to protect the rights of those who respect the rights of everyone else.

Well, I don’t know any women who won’t let a man in the elevator with them, but personally if a man I don’t know gets on an elevator where I am the only other passenger, I am likely to either get off or get my phone and my keys in my hand. That’s not insisting I have a right not to feel threatened, it’s just saying if only the education of men were different maybe I could live in a world where I wouldn’t have to feel threatened enough to leave the elevator.