Matthew Crawford: the dangers of Safetyism
Freddie Sayers meets philosopher-mechanic Matthew Crawford
Matthew Crawford is a motorcycle mechanic turned philosopher with a unique perspective on the current moment (see HERE for John Gray’s review of his new book, Why We Drive). Instead of talking in terms of partisan politics, he talks in terms of lived experience and what a good life feels like.
I’ve been a fan since his first book, and was delighted to have this wide-ranging conversation about risk, autonomy and and the new politics. In such a divided time, his is one of the few voices that could appeal equally to a Californian surfer dude and a midwestern religious conservative. That’s why it’s so important. Have a watch.
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Click here to listen to the podcast version.
a small piece of cloth over their mouths. You’re in favour of mask-wearing: fine, but consider your bias in the words ‘small’, ‘mouth’ and ‘temporary’.
You are downplaying the negatives of mask wearing (discomfort, social withdrawal) and right-out misrepresenting (masks must cover noses as well as mouths) in a way that will not impress doubters.
You also state that wearing a mask would be a temporary inconvenience for a lasting victory without in any way addressing the temporary nature (until we have a vaccine?) or providing convincing evidence of there being a lasting victory on offer.
It is clear that we will be required to wear face masks, but I very much doubt if any useful ones can be small, mouth-only or only a temporary measure.
Our society will be permanently changed by this and it is unreasonable of you to attempt cajolery by pretending otherwise.
Thank you both for this discussion. And thank you, Freddie Sayers for Unherd.com and Lockdown TV. These gentle, open discussions have helped both my partner and I remain relatively sane during lockdown in the UK (with a 3 year old!) It is wonderful to hear calm, sensible voices saying the very things that we are also thinking, but perhaps our peers are not. I have discovered so many wonderful thinkers, journalists, philosophers, economists, etc. through Unherd which have been entirely enriching!
Another brilliant interview. I fear COVID19 is “safetyism’s” dream scenario. I am not looking forward to my remaining lifetime in a mask.
Its like you read my mind! I was first introduced to ‘safetyism’ in one of unherd’s articles in May but the concept has been playing on mind in recent weeks. In internet search and voila! I’ve found this. I cannot wait to read his books. You can count me in as one of life’s risk takers! The moment is where we are truly alive.
What about the ordinary French citizens, are they not sickened by this thuggery and criminality from both sides. These events are about ethnic group behaviour that does not belong in the host nations, multiculturalism is a failure and it is time this was fully recognised, if foreign nationals want to stay they have to integrate and not expect to keep their original national identities and intolerance and ingratitude to the host nation.
I enjoyed this very much, thank you.
I started to notice health and safety issues the moment I moved to the UK. I’m beginning to regret the Dutch laisser faire.
Not surprised at the state of our society now with too much safetyism in place. It transformed a whole generation. Yes, libertarians are sceptical with respect to the government. During lockdown I panicked at the realisation that it was my neighbours and the majority in this country that asked for it. I could not find a single petition against the lockdown but several asking for it and for closing the schools. I could not blame the government, I wish I could. Hey, that was demos kratos in all its splendour, how could I complain?
Beginning of the LockDown my GP told me that a mask (unless N95) only protects against bacteria. Also that you have to change masks every 2 hours. It should be only put on carefully, after washing your hands, and never moved during the time you wear it. Most people randomly put them on and off and many wear them under their noses. I find it all ridiculous.
Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze (have your hankies with you all times ) and don’t try to get too close to other people would be a sensible advice.
Note that according to Aris NATO was responsible for the so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya. It had nothing to do with President Barack “Hopey Changey” Obama or his Secretary of State, “Crooked” Hillary Clinton. But when we get to the Russian Federation’s support of the Assad regime, the tone suddenly becomes personalized and Aris starts fingerpointing: Bad Vlad “Putin’s refusal to countenance Western airstrikes against the Syrian government, and to Russia’s own, brutal and ” so far ” successful aerial intervention to prop up Assad’s rule”. Obama’s breakup of Syria oddly anticipated his breakup of Ukraine. Russia was essentially a defensive player in Syria, defending its only naval base on the Mediterranean. Obama could not remove Assad and deprive Russia of its base, but broke the country up trying. In Ukraine the prize was the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Obama could not kick the Russians out and turn it into a NATO naval base, but broke Ukraine up trying. Again, Putin was essentially the defensive player, trying to preserve the main Russian naval base in the face of the aggressive regime-changing tactics of the US president, but NATO war hawks made it seem like Bad Vlad was the aggressor. (And Putin is bad, but he was not so much to blame in this situation.)
Note in the passage quoted above that Western airstrikes are not criticized, but Russian airstrikes are brutal. Gaddafi was brutal too: “America and its European allies were able to overthrow a brutal dictator.” This was, according to Aris, the highwater mark of American hegemony, Gaddafi being sodomized by a National Transition Council soldier’s bayonet then shot to death by several soldiers as he pleaded for his life. If this was the highwater mark, then maybe it’s no bad thing that American hegemony is ebbing away or that NATO could be falling apart.
Mattew is not the first prominent motorcycle mechanic and philosopher. I’m
thinking of Robert M Pirsig who in the 70’s wrote “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” followed later by “LILA An inquiry into morals”.
These were well received and highly rated books at the time. I was very excited by them, I still have them on my bookshelf. I wonder how Matttew compares to Pirsig.
Vey very different books. Both excellent. Crawford’s, whilst riffing on driving, is about autonomy. He’s a fine writer as well.
The handling of this pandemic has been inadequate in many areas. The mask issue is just more of the same poor performance by the advisors and politicians. Let’s hope we can get a vaccine soon and we can put these events behind us all.
I don’t see why John Lichfield considers Marine Le Pen’s interpretation of what happened in Dijon deeply misleading. “Il n’est pas de pire destin pour un pays que la guerre civile” (“There is no worse fate for a country than civil war”) she said. John says that there are probably no more than 100 Chechens in Dijon. Big deal. Le Pen was talking about France, not Dijon, and as he says, there are about 30,000 Chechens in the country. This seems like rather a large number considering there are only 1.207 million Chechens in Chechnya according to the 2010 census. His own account of the Chechen-Arab conflict notes: “Local people complained that the police stood back and made no attempt to intervene. No arrests were made.” So if this isn’t the same as a descent into civil war it is certainly a step in that direction. I suspect John would be more likely to agree with Le Pen if he was the owner of one of the cars that got torched by the hoodlums.
Thank you Matthew and Freddie for the very thoughtful and illuminating discussion. One of if not the best Lockdown conversations.
Peter doesn’t himself present evidence of the importance of community use of face masks, only links to a couple of articles. I only looked at the first one, “Community Use of Face Masks and COVID-19”, which was a “Fast Track Ahead of Print Version of a peer-reviewed manuscript”. I’m not even sure what that means, but I take it that it means this is something close to a peer-reviewed paper, without being a peer-reviewed paper. The authors of the paper note that: “We are unable to measure facial cover use in the community (i.e. compliance with the mandate). As such, the estimates represent the intent-to-treat effects of these mandates, i.e. their effects as passed, and not the individual level effect of wearing a face mask in public on own COVID-19 risk.” So, pace Peter, it doesn’t strictly speaking provide evidence that mask-wearing reduces transmission, only that passing legislation to that effect does. Will people in states where such mandates are law take all the other behaviours respected of them more seriously in the period following the declaration of such a mandate, no matter how slackly the mandate is enforced? We really don’t know. And the study doesn’t do anything like a proper cost-benefit analysis of community wearing of masks. Masks do cost money, you know. As evidence, it looks a little thin as a basis on which to change all our social norms. People still spit in the street all the time, by the way, after all these years, or at least they do in Ontario. Maybe people are better behaved in England.
I feel sad at the idea that driverless cars might become not just a thing, but the only thing, for the reasons outlined in this enjoyable piece.
Those who imagine coexistence of driverless & human driven vehicles haven’t yet thought this through. Either driverless vehicles will prove associated with fewer collisions, injuries & fatalities or they won’t. Let’s assume they are (safer) because they’re set a very high threshold even to become widely used.
It will occur to everyone very quickly that even permitting humans to drive is akin to approving statistically of murder: knowing there will be avoidable killings yet doing nothing about it. No. Driverless cars will swiftly mean no human drivers.
As someone who has enjoyed motorcycling for 43 years, I wonder what this might mean for my lot. I don’t doubt that in time, riderless bikes could be developed but I doubt they would be. Who would be the user? Not me. I ride because it’s me doing the riding. Effectively being pillion on my own machine is not interesting.
Why do I still own & occasionally use motorcycles, usually old ones, prone to breakdown & very easy to get hurt or killed on than almost any other means of transport?
I think Murakami put his finger on it, with this saying from ‘Kafka on the shore’:
“Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents”.
I know that, in my shed, lurk several motorcycles on which, at any time, I could mount & set off around the world on. Or just go for a ride on. When I think of this, I find solace, whether I’m busy or relaxing, feeling ok or (as often I am these days) in pain. I’m unlikely to say the least to bike round the world. But I could. I’m probably happier at the thought than if I attempted it. I doubt I will ever sell off the last one, and I credit Murakami with my reason.
The pass age about life being portrayed as no more than a journey from one appetite to the next put me in mind of Hobbes “So that in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death”
What a very enjoyable listen. Freddie: great interview & kudos for attracting Matthew to Lockdown TV.
Matthew: I’m going to buy your new book. I’ve not read all your titles but I have a well thumbed copy of “..working with your hands”. I’m a just retired Bioscience PhD, fresh out of big pharma & biotech (thank you, Bay Area financiers for taking a chance on me!).
I often think about issues with old motorcycles & you’re right, some problems are as intellectual as the science I practised. But the bigger buzz is reducing to practise & fixing something I’d lived with for years until I figured it out.
I liken that feeling to what Haruki Murakami might have included when one of his characters said, “Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents”.
Did you ever discuss your philosophy with Haruki?
Driving is an easy avenue for skilless people to feel the thrill of a risk. Buy when they screw up it impacts others no interested in unneeded risky behavior.
There are many activities to provide risk where others are not at risk like: skiing, sailing, cycling, scuba, skydiving. The list goes on. The difference is that these take real skills and effort. Unlike driving a car.
Risky drivers are lazy people who don’t deserve to drive.
I really do not get it
You have one of the most intelligent British philosopher at hand:
and you do not involve him in the conversation with Crawford?
how so that this simple connection does not come together in the planning of FREDDIE SAYERS?
a total mystery
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