A small fire is hard to see but it’s easy to put out; a large fire is easy to see but very difficult to put out.
– Dr. Mike Ryan, on COVID-19
When I began writing “to karen (1),” I was already personally clear that “Karen,”
while a problem, is not The Problem.
I’d begun to identify The Problem for myself, but did not yet have words
to begin describing it.
I don’t yet have great words, but you know what?
It’s by writing that I find those words, and also
build them into muscle memory.
Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb has guided how I assess the problem of “Karen.” For me, having read Taleb, karening involved what I described as “a transference of skin in the game.”
“To karen,” I decided, means to “take acts that decrease one’s anxiety—to increase one’s subjective sense of well being—by transferring (or attempting to transfer) objective risks and costs to someone else.”
Having read Taleb, the problem with this definition was almost immediately clear to me: The woman-on-the-street engaged in karening has a very limited reach. The individuals with whom she comes in touch may be imperiled by her urgent need to reduce her anxiety at someone else’s expense, but …
From a societal perspective, any individual “Karen” causes qualitatively large but quantitatively small harm.
The much greater danger to life and liberty wouldn’t be one Karen-in-the-park, but people enabled to sacrifice numerous lives and livelihoods all at once:
People who could put not only one or two people’s skin in the game,
but put in thousands, or millions, all at once.
While wrapping up “to karen (1),” I tried finding the Taleb passages I sought in his Skin in the Game. Continue reading “to karen (2), or: “small fires””