Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Avoiding Harm: A Primer

Who or what is likely to do you harm, and how can you keep them from doing so? This question, always a pervasive part of our lives, has been amplified in public discussion by news of killing by both individuals and groups, and restrictions placed on freedom by governments.

The worst kind of harm is death, followed by physical impairment and pain, denial of resources needed for sustenance, and degradation of lifestyle above and beyond what we need to survive. Each has its own range of possibilities, including who is targeted and why.

Sources of harm are threats, and they can vary from specific individuals, to groups, technologies (physical and cultural), other species, and non-living natural phenomena. The particular threats that might affect you depends on where you are and what relationships you have with each of those potential sources – including how much you know about them.

How we avoid harm depends on the threats and our own capabilities, but tends to involve either confrontation, mitigation, or escape. Confrontation is elimination of the threat, while mitigation is an attempt to limit the harm it causes while living with it, and escape is separation from the threat.

Errors in threat identification and application of avoidance strategies can themselves cause harm, including the creation of new threats, so it is critical that they be minimized as much as possible. This requires robust acquisition of accurate knowledge and understanding of the world around us, and the formation and maintenance of healthy relationships with the people, species, and objects we might interact with. Taking such action has the added benefit of reducing the possibility and magnitude of harm under any circumstance, though of course it can't be expected to totally eliminate it.

When we experience non-lethal harm, we will naturally attempt to discontinue it and then recover from it. We must be just as careful in this process as we are in avoiding it in the first place. This includes learning from the experience so we can reduce errors in avoidance after our recovery.

These basic concepts will hopefully provide useful context for thinking and discussion about related issues.

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