Our Responsibility to Reduce Personal Risk

Insofar as the {expected value of the world with us alive} minus {the expected value of the world with us dead} is positive, we have an obligation to remain alive.Β  Therefore, it is unethical to bear personal risks of death when the expected benefits of doing so do not outweigh the expected marginal benefit of one remaining alive.

What does this mean? One has a responsibility to live carefully.

When I grew up, I frequently underwent considerable personal risk to try to display bravado and skill to my friends and have fun.Β  This had personal utility in the form of positive subjective experiences and confidence building, but it probably did not outweigh my {risk of death} times {the value of the future with me in it}.

Just for a quick list of some of the unnecessary risks I chose to bear:

  • Climbed dozens of trees to heights greater than 20 feet.
  • Drifted 4-wheelers and road very fast through narrow snowy trails in the woods, even after wiping out a few times and nearly having one land on me.
  • Sprinted through dense Florida forest at night to avoid getting tagged in games of ‘manhunt’.Β  Looking back on it, this gave me a relatively great probability of getting a stick in my eye, which would, sans a personal mindset revolution, be expected to reduce my life-long productivity.
  • Skiied down all of the black diamond trails at a park the first day I learned how to ski.
  • I’ve always been a very alert, focused driver, but I drove way too aggressively when I was 16-17. I would drift sometimes and weave aggressively through traffic to save a couple minutes on my commute.
  • I’ve done lots of breath holding activities alone in the water.

I know many people have assumed greater unnecessary risks, but my actions were morally problematic.Β  Combined, they easily gave me a ~3% chance of death.Β  Over the course of my life, I expect to give greater than $300,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation or a more impactful organization.Β  By rounding the WHO’s estimation of the efficacy of insecticide-treated bednets of $29 per Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), I expect to avert over 10,000 DALYs over the course of my life.Β  Just counting this impact alone and not even the direct impact of my career (which I expect to make up for the negative externalities of my continued living), I statistically allowed (10,000 years * .03) 300 years of human suffering to happen.Β  I did have fun doing these risky activities, but it perhaps all only adds up to .25 Quality Adjusted Life Years worth of well-being.

As you can see, the cost of these actions is somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 1200 times greater than the benefits.Β  I am not going to beat myself up for what already happened, but the question I have to ask myself now is, how can I reduce unnecessary risk in my life?

As much as part of me wants to continue to flirt with danger and get a motorcycle, ski down black diamonds, scuba dive in caves, and continue road cycling even on busy roads, I now plan on mitigating unnecessary risks as much as is possible.Β  The world doesn’t need me to be a “badass” who can risk his life for fun.Β  It needs me to only have enough leisure to be happy so that I can maximize my productivity and impact.

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